Thai theatrical puppetry was invented in 1901 by the legendary khon dancer, Krae Saptawanit. Maestro Krae was inspired to create puppets when he saw the grace and ingenuity of the royal puppets and of the puppets of the deputy king's palace. The first puppet that was created was the character that he portrayed on the khon stage, the principal male character. This puppet stood two feet tall. However, he found that in order to make its movements realistic and approximate the movements of khon dances, he needed the help of his theatrical colleagues. The mechanisms and the techniques were quickly perfected, and a new kind of puppetry was invented.
After creating his first puppet and perfecting the mechanism and the techniques for manipulating it, Maestro Krae Saptawanit made more puppets and soon founded a troupe of puppeteers that could perform khon with puppets. Performances were frequent and popular.
The principal characters were each manipulated by three puppeteers, and the rest were manipulated by two puppeteers, or even by one puppeteer, depending on how much movement was required. In the early decades of the theatrical puppetry, the puppeteers stood behind a screen and manipulated the puppets from above it, so the viewers could only see the puppets but not the puppeteers. There were male and female puppeteers, but there was no division of labor.
Thai aristocrats and theater people who saw Maestro Krae Saptawanit 's performances called his invent Hun Lakorn Lek -'hun' means model or puppet; 'lakorn' refers to staged drama; and 'lek' means small because the puppets were smaller than the characters of Thai staged dramas. The original Thai name is sometimes tranlated as 'Small Theatrical Puppetry', which is misleading in European languages as western puppets are always small, and to add the adjective ' small' to puppets would suggest that the puppets are minuscule. In fact, the so...