Phaya is an adage, a proverb, or a riddle. It is a rhymed expression, with scansion and meters. Phaya is therefore an expression that requires laconic wit, ingenuity and brevity.
Lam Phaya is a traditional folk singing of courtship dialogue of the northeasterners, in which a male Mo Lam (singer) and a female one are engaged in the following verbal acts: Chai Phaya, Wao Phaya, Phut Phaya, and Khae Phaya. The male singer poses the question or “attacks,” the female singer responds or counterattacks. The singing is accompanied by a khaen (kind of reed mouth organ), a phin (a plucked pair-string musical instrument), a drum, a wot (a kind of Thai traditional pipes, similar to panpipes, with six to nine small bamboo tubes of different length arranged together in a round bundle instead of in a row) and a pair of ching (a pair of small cymbals).
In the old days, Lam Phaya only involves Chai Phaya Kiao (a courtship dialogue exchanges) of the young men and women during religious merit-making festivals, the community’s traditional festivals, marriage ceremonies, the Long Khuang rite (a courtship ritual when the man will court the woman while she is weaving at home in the evening), the Long Khaek practice (a traditional practice where community or group members contribute to a collaborative activity) or funeral rites. Later Lam Phaya has developed into a more elaborate spectacle and is performed during many occasions to entertain the audience who also benefit from the knowledge and the wisdom in the Lam Phaya. In the past, young men and women enjoyed exchanging of Phaya words that challenged them to find witty words and expressions to counter each other. Attraction is brought on by the appreciation of each other’s wit.
In the old days people usually sat on the floor: the Mo Lam or Mo Phaya and Mo Khaen sat in an inner circle, while the audience sat in an outer circle. Sometimes the performers stood up to dance (but the person who Chai Phaya did not dance). Sometimes the spectators and the performers worked while the Lam Phaya was performed. Sometimes the performers were joined by a Mo Soi, who interrupted to give more amusement to the spectators. (“Soi” in the northeastern dialect means the expressions that the northeasterners often say to interrupt the Mo Lam or add to his words. It is a bawdy raillery in short verses, improvised to rib the Mo Lam and the spectators. A person skilled in this art is called “Mo Soi”).
In later development, the performers stand during the performance, which compels them to make some dance movements. Consequently, the music accompaniment expands from merely one khaen to include a drum, a pair of ching, a pair of chap (a pair of large cymbal) and other instruments. The number of performers also increases from two persons to between three to five persons or into a larger group called the Mo Lam Phaya troupe. The northeasterners continue to enrich their legendary oral tradition of Phaya until today.
Examples of prominent Mo Phaya are Mae Da Samong, Mae Sam-ang Unnawong, Mae Poe Phonlapheng, Mae Bumlueam Phonlapheng of Ban Don Tan Village, Don Tan District, Mukdahan Province.