“Tung” – in the Cultural Life of Northern Thais

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Exploring cultures other than one’s own is always an interesting experience if one appreciates the basic elements of the subject of exploration. In the Northern part of Thailand or Lanna Kingdom, one such interesting element is the objects used in their rites and rituals. The culture of people of Lanna has been created from their embedded belief in Buddhism. They have strong belief in sin, the law of destiny, heaven, hell and life after death, which are determined by one’s past deeds. This belief reflects in an object used as a devotion to Buddhism called “Tung”.

I. Meaning and Legend

Tung in Northern dialect, can literally means ‘flag’ The Tung resembles a normal flag in that it is a rectangular piece of cloth attached on the shorter side to a pole. There is also a triangular-shaped cloth, most commonly called “Jau”. The materials that go into making Tung vary from paper, cloth, wood, brass or sheet metal. The length or size of the Tung varies from some ten or twelve inches to six or seven yards. What distinguished all variants of Tung from ordinary mundane objects are their functions.

There are many different appearances and uses for the Tung. Every single Buddhist related ceremony would not be considered complete without a Tung. Historical evidence reveals that the use of the Tung in Thai culture dates back thousands of years. The Tung was used by the reigning, present ruler of the era to show his nationality, and by the blue-collar worker to represent his status in government.

The legend of the beginning of the Tung in Lanna Kingdom has been handed down for many generations. The legend states that there were five sacred monks who wished to make Tung to show their filial devotion to the Lord Buddha and their parents. These five monks were brothers. Each of them decided to make a handicraft from cloth, paper and metal, which were materials they could find during their life as ascetics.

Another legend states that the Tung was first heard of...
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