Evolution, Significance and Designs of Khruang Kwaen: A Deep Dive into Thai Art History

เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - Designs 

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In the realm of Thai cultural history, few art forms are as mesmerizing and symbolic as the Khruang Kwaen. This intricate floral arrangement, deeply rooted in spiritual and ceremonial rites, has evolved over the centuries, reflecting the changing cultural and societal landscape of Thailand. As we embark on a journey into the heart of this fascinating art form, it's important to note that the information about Khruang Kwaen is scarce, and much of its origins remain shrouded in mystery. Our exploration is largely based on the rich history of floral art and its prominent role in Buddhist ceremonies.

เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - Boat

"A magnificent Khruang Kwaen is installed on the prow of a royal barge, likely during the Royal Barge Procession in Thailand, also known as 'Krabi–Rabam Phra Kiew'."

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Khruang Kwaen symbolizes a vibrant past, mirroring the spiritual, societal, and cultural shifts of Thailand. Yet, like many traditional arts, it risks fading into oblivion. In this context, reviving Khruang Kwaen becomes more than just preserving an art form—it's about sustaining a cultural legacy.

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In the face of this challenge, artisans like Nicha stand out. Through her enterprise, Macrame by Nicha, she innovatively crafts Khruang Kwaen with durable cotton, blending tradition with modernity. Her handwork is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also an embodiment of Thai cultural preservation. As we delve into the world of Khruang Kwaen, let's also acknowledge Nicha's efforts in ensuring this valuable art form continues to resonate in our contemporary times.

เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Chandelier by Macrame by Nicha - Contemporay collection2

Historical Evolution of the Khrueang Kwaen Thai "เครื่องแขวนไทย" (Thai Hanging Adornments)

Floral art, a cornerstone of Thai culture, has deep-seated roots within the realm of religious and ceremonial rites. From honoring Buddha in Buddhist temples with flowers, the tradition has evolved into intricate art forms such as Khruang Kwaen or Phuang Malai. The growth of these art forms encapsulates the evolution of an age-old know-how, passed down through generations.

Sri Ayodhaya - เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - Designs

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The inception of this floral art is believed to have occurred during the Sukhothai era, a period renowned for its cultural boom in the artistic field. The art form reached its zenith during the Ayutthaya period, which was a prosperous and rich kingdom known for its artistic and cultural flourish.

The triangular Khruang Kwaen (read on to learn more about the different models!) a symbol of this flourishing cultural tapestry, has often been depicted in various forms of media, including the film Sri Ayodhaya, where it is showcased within the royal palace.

ประวัติเครื่องแขวนไทย - History of the Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha

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Even in the Ramakien, Thailand's national epic, there are traces of floral decoration usage in ceremonies such as "The Coronation of King Rama". This further emphasizes the importance of these floral crafts in the cultural tapestry of Thailand.

History of Khruang Kwaen -ประวัติเครื่องแขวนไทย - Macrame by Nicha

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The reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and Queen Saovabha Phongsri marked a significant era for these art forms. Their openness to foreign influences, including those from the Western world and China, played a transformative role in shaping the Khruang Kwaen we see today. This adoption and adaptation of foreign aesthetics into traditional Thai art forms highlight the fluidity and resilience of Thai cultural expressions.

Khruang Kwaen: An Emblem of Spirituality and Prosperity in Thai Culture

The symbolism behind Khruang Kwaen is multifaceted, intertwining with spiritual and social practices.

Traditionally, Khruang Kwaen were used in religious ceremonies, for adornment, and as tokens of respect or good luck. Mostly, these intricately crafted pieces were offerings made by wealthy individuals due to their high cost. This led to their prevalence in palaces and affluent households.

เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - Designs34

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A traditional belief holds that a Khruang Kwaen should be set up on a window, allowing the wind to carry the sweet aroma of jasmine flowers into the home. This practice of incorporating sensory experiences into spiritual rituals embodies the holistic approach of Thai culture towards spirituality.

Furthermore, Khruang Kwaen have also been prominently used in prestigious Thai weddings, adding to their cultural and symbolic significance.

Blending Thai Traditions: The Evolution of Khruang Kwaen Designs

Thai hanging adornments are a remarkable expression of meticulous and elegant Thai craftsmanship. They range from the simple to the intricate, with many designs reflecting a keen attention to detail and the unwavering dedication to Thai traditions that are increasingly becoming rare.

Traditional Thai Khruang Kwaen designs 

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  • One of the earliest designs is the 'Elephant Net - ตาข่ายหน้าช้าง - Ta Khaai Na Chaang' believed to be one of the first hanging adornments created. Its triangle design, usually used to decorate important places and to cover the forehead of a prominent elephant during ceremonial.
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    • The 'Lady Fan' - พัดหน้านาง - Phat Na Naang’, design is similar to a lady's fan or a Buddhist monk's talipot fan. The fan is strung in a radial pattern with budding flowers, resembling a palm-leaf fan. Its top and bottom are embellished with tassels and pendants, making it ideal for decorating doorways, windows, or walls.
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      • Apart from the Lady Fan, 'the 'Jamun' - พัดจามร - Phat Chamun’, design is another Thai fan with a delicate and beautiful appearance. It's suitable for transformation into a hanging adornment. When decorated with bright, colorful flowers, it becomes an eye-catching piece that invites admiration.
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        • The 'Crocodile Fragrance' - กลิ่นจระเข้ - Klin Chra Khê’, is shaped like a crocodile and consists of several overlapping rhombus, which vary in size. The new outline string is used to encase the design and decorate the corners, making it visually attractive.

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        • The 'Hexagonal Star Scent - กลิ่นตะแคง - Glin Takhaeng' brings a stellar touch with its six-pointed star or hexagonal shape, embellished with real flower tassels at each corner. Crown flowers and Jasmine flowers are the popular choices threaded into this design. Hang it up, and it breathes life and freshness into any space, heightening the ambiance with its vibrant beauty.
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          • The 'Flower Bundle' - พู่กลิ่น - Phu Klin’, is a floral garland resembling a bundle with a hollow center and tapered ends. It is used to decorate a room for its beauty and to emit the fragrance of fresh flowers. The 'Flower Bundle' comes in different sizes ranging from 3-7 layers. In auspicious events, an odd number of layers is used, while an even number is used for funerals.
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            • The 'Glass Staircase' - บันไดแก้ว - Ban Dai Kæw’, design resembles a three-step staircase. It's tied together with side strings and a string twisting around the knot, embellished with pendants. All flowers used are of a pale white color, giving a feeling similar to a glass staircase, believed to be the divine staircase used by the deity Indra to welcome Buddha descending from Tavatimsa heaven.
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              • The 'Silver Staircase' - บันไดเงิน - Ban Dai Ngoen’, design is similar to the 'Glass Staircase,' but it differs in the color of the flowers used. Blue, white, pale, and some gray flowers are used, and the decorations are more varied. According to Buddhist history, all Brahmas used the 'Silver Staircase' to send Buddha back from Tavatimsa heaven, with Maha Brahma holding a parasol for him.
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                • The 'Gold Staircase' - บันไดทอง - Ban Dai Thong’, design is similar to the 'Glass Staircase' and 'Silver Staircase,' but it uses golden yellow flowers to give the feeling of a gold staircase. Deities used it to send Buddha back from Tavatimsa heaven to earth, with Indra holding a bowl leading the way."

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                • The 'Chinese Essence - กลิ่นจีน' is an artistry reminiscent of delicate Chinese earrings. At its heart lies a six-pointed star, cradled by a crescent moon on top and grounded by a pair of united squares at the bottom. These elements are intricately tied together, dressed with petite tassels of fresh flowers, exuding an ethereal sense of lightness and grace.

                เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - Designs0036

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                • The 'Celestial Platform - วิมานแท่น - Viman Thaen' presents a two-tiered square structure, akin to a unique window into another world. Adorned with a reverse elephant motif at its pinnacle, this masterpiece showcases floral tassels, gracing each of its four corners, adding an alluring charm to it.

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                • Finally, the 'Celestial Palace - วิมานพระอินทร์ - Viman Phra' is a splendid ornament for doors and windows. This exquisite creation elevates the elephant motif design, fusing it with a square frame akin to a window nestled between the top and bottom gables. Some might even feature a floral tassel in the center of the gable, amplifying its elegance.

                The Evolution of Khruang Kwaen: Blending Thai Tradition with Global Influences

                Initially, the designs of Khruang Kwen were mainly linear and two-dimensional. Over time, they started to explore three-dimensional forms, influenced by the shapes of traditional Chinese lanterns and later, Western chandeliers.

                เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - Chinese Lantern

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                Chinese lanterns, for instance, come in various shapes including round, cylinder, oval, rectangular, and pagoda. Each shape carries its own unique cultural significance and aesthetic appeal.

                For example, round lanterns, often red with golden tassels, are the most traditional type. Cylinder lanterns, taller than they are wide, often feature intricate patterns or scenes from Chinese mythology or history.

                Oval lanterns are elongated versions of round lanterns, while rectangular lanterns, also known as palace lanterns, are larger and more ornate.

                Pagoda lanterns mimic the structure of a pagoda and are often used in larger displays or installations.

                Later influences from the West introduced the form to the grandeur of chandeliers.

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                Credit: คุณ ฉัตรชัย เชิดชัย

                Western chandeliers come in a variety of shapes, each adding a unique aesthetic touch to the space they illuminate.

                Round or circular chandeliers, often featuring multiple tiers of lights, create a focal point in the room. Rectangular or linear chandeliers provide uniform lighting across long dining tables or kitchen islands.

                Square chandeliers create a modern and symmetrical look, while Empire chandeliers, shaped like an inverted bell, add an element of elegance.

                Other shapes include Sputnik, drum, tiered, lantern, candelabra or candle-style, and crystal chandeliers, each boasting its own unique design and lighting effect.

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                As Khruang Kwen continues to evolve, it persistently mirrors the rich tapestry of Thai culture, effortlessly blending local traditions with foreign influences to create beautiful works of art.

                Which flowers to use to make a Khruang Kwaen?

                Traditionally, this elaborate ornament is crafted from a variety of fresh flowers, selected not only for their vibrant colors and pleasing scents but also for their symbolic meanings.

                เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Chandelier by Macrame by Nicha - Contemporay collection - Jasmine flowers

                Jasmine flower

                Flowers include jasmine, associated with love and happiness and known for its enchanting scent; the crown flower, also often associated with love and respect; and champaca, a sweet-smelling flower that represents purity and elegance.

                เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Chandelier by Macrame by Nicha - Contemporay collection - Champaca flowers

                Champaca flower

                The tradition of using fresh flowers in crafting Khruang Kwaen carries a deep cultural significance. Fresh flowers are believed to be auspicious and bring good luck, offering a unique vibrancy and fragrance that artificial substitutes can't replicate.

                However, recently, there has been a trend towards crafting Khruang Kwaen with plastic flowers, justified by the durability and lower cost of plastic. Despite these advantages, the use of plastic materials raises some concerns. It is argued that this practice deviates from the tradition, which is centered on appreciating the natural beauty and scent of fresh flowers.

                The advent of cotton-based khruang kwaen represents a sustainable choice for those looking for a natural and durable ornament. The use of natural cotton is becoming a true alternative to the use of artificial artifacts.

                Reviving the Aromatic Elegance: A Journey to Resurrect the Traditional Khruang Kwaen Art

                In Peril: The Threatened Existence of Khruang Kwaen Tradition

                As we navigate the ebb and flow of cultural evolution, it's disheartening to note that the traditional Khruang Kwaen, a cornerstone of Thai ceremonies, is on the brink of extinction. The intricate pieces that once graced numerous events with their ethereal beauty and fragrant allure are now scarcely seen.

                The few examples that remain can be seen on public buildings, but reduced to plastic imitations that lack the aesthetic appeal and vibrant life of their organic counterparts.

                The reasons behind this decline are multifaceted. Notably, the cost of creating these intricate designs is high, especially considering their short lifespan of just two or three days. This transient nature, coupled with the financial implications, has resulted in a cultural shift away from these traditional adornments.

                Yet, the disappearance of Khruang Kwaen represents more than just the loss of a beautiful craft. It signifies the erosion of a cultural identity deeply rooted in Thai heritage. As such, preserving and revitalizing this traditional art form is paramount.

                Macrame by Nicha: Innovating Khruang Kwaen for Cultural Preservation

                เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Chandelier by Macrame by Nicha - Contemporay collection

                Enter Nicha and her enterprise, Macrame by Nicha, which is breathing new life into Khruang Kwaen. In a bid to preserve this Thai cultural heritage, Nicha has innovatively replaced the traditional flower components with cotton, a natural and durable alternative. This adaptation ensures that these adornments can now be a permanent fixture in our homes, symbolizing the eternity of Thai cultural heritage.

                The Khruang Kwaen-Chandelier - เครื่องแขวน-โคมระย้า 3

                Mixing knotting, macrame, and crochet techniques, Nicha has successfully integrated tradition with novelty. In doing so, she has not only revived a fading art form but also created something truly original, authentic, and deeply connected to Thai culture.

                เครื่องแขวนไทย - Khruang Kwaen Macrame by Nicha - 'Elephant Net - ตาข่ายหน้าช้าง

                Furthermore, the scent, an integral part of the Khruang Kwaen tradition, is not lost in this new incarnation. The cotton can be sprayed with traditional Thai fragrances, like those used in Phuang Malai, to reproduce the enchanting aroma of the original pieces. Alternatively, jasmine or a favorite personal perfume can be used, adding a touch of personalization while evoking a sense of familiarity and homeliness.

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                As we appreciate the beauty and tradition of Khruang Kwaen, let us also recognize the importance of supporting endeavors like Nicha's, which safeguard our cultural identity.

                By embracing these revived traditions, we can ensure that our rich heritage continues to flourish, reminding us of our roots as we navigate the path to the future.


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