Nang Talung is a folk shadow puppet spectacle of the southern region of Thailand. It is a very popular kind of entertainment. Academics believe that this kind of “shadow play” featured in human culture since time immemorial and was prevalent both in Europe and Asia. In Asia, shadow puppet spectacle spread to Java (Indonesia), Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand.
The local people in the south of Thailand formerly called Nang Talung in a shortened form–“Nang”. Therefore it is thought that the word “Nang Talung” probably originated after the shadow puppet spectacle from the south was shown in the central region. Wanting to distinguish this kind of “Nang” (shadow puppet spectacle) from the Nang Yai (Grand Shadow Puppet Spectacle), the central region people added “Talung” to the word “Nang”. The word “Talung” came from “Phatthalung”. The southerner’s shadow puppet spectacle was performed in Bangkok for the first time during King Rama III’s reign when Chao Phraya Phatthalung (Phueak) brought the troupe to perform in Nang Loeng sub-district. The puppeteer was from Phatthalung Province.
Nang Talung tells a story in verses, which are sung (called “wa bot”) in dialect, interspersed with dialogue, and uses the puppets’ shadow on the screen to attract the audience attention. All these tasks are performed solely by nai nang talung–the Nang Talung puppeteer.
The principal elements and equipments for a Nang Talung spectacle are: the screen, the lighting equipments, and the musical instruments. The musical ensemble comprises a pi nai (a kind of Thai oboe); a mong ( mediumsized gong), a thap (tuned one-sided drums), a klong tuk (a kind of drum), a pair of ching (a pair of small cymbals) and a pair of trae (a pair of claves [hardwood sticks]). The musicians are called “luk khu” who plays the music during the spectacle. Thap is the most important musical instrument in the band because it controls the tempo and rhythm for the other members of the band to follow.
The set of leather puppets comprising the ruesi (rishia hermit), Phra Isuan (the Hindu God Ishvara or Shiva), Chao Mueang, Nang Mueang, the hero and the heroine, the deities, the demons, the comedian, and other characters are kept in a phaeng nang. The comedian character is the most important of the whole set and indispensable. The comic parts add colour to the spectacle and leave strong and longlasting impression on the audience. People will talk about the jokes and the funny bits and tell others about them. If the puppeteer succeeds in creating a hilarious character that people keep talking about can be considered a truly accomplished puppeteer.
Besides its entertaining value, Nang Talung’s lasting popularity from the past to the present also rests on the sharp wit of the puppeteer who comments on the prevailing social occurrences and happenings through the puppets. This reflects the character of the southern people who are keen on following social and political development and occurrences in the nation. Nang Talung has therefore been a part of the social and cultural landscape of the southern people throughout the ages.
Examples of prominent Nang Talung troupes are: Nang Imtheng Chitphakdi, Nang Chin Oramut, Nang Suchat Sapsin, National Artist Nang Nakharin Chathong, Nang Siphat Kueasakun, and Nang Narong Talungbandit.