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10.3.18

Malai「มาลัย」

malai thai flower arrangements

English
Thailand is a developing country where poverty meets the eye as part of the everyday life. From the old man who sells mandarines by the BTS station near home - patiently sitting there when you leave, still there when you come back 10h later - to the blind lady carrying a money box as necklace who sings by the stairs of Mo Chit BTS station from which I head home from work. Sukhumvit area is even worse, filled with mothers and infants or physically disabled beggars, often portraying deformity or amputation.

It hurts me when I see all this. I know there's little in my hand to fix it - other than band-aiding by giving away all my coins on daily basis. Still, developing a thick skin through all these ASEAN trips has also taught me to see through the dust and seek focus on the local beauty - which is always there hiding behind the layer of disgrace.

In Bangkok, everyday beauty crystallizes in the shape of malai「มาลัย i.e. the flower arrangements used to decorate temples, motorbikes and statues along the street. You can buy one on the street stalls for roughly 100BHT (€2.5). The custom around malai as part of everyday thai life stroke me during my first trip here. I had never seen such pretty and intricate arrangements, but I understood the delivery volumes during our stroll around the flower market, where humongous bags of white and yellow flowers were being filled, ready to be used.

What do these Thai flower decorations mean? When did this custom started?

Español
Tailandia es un país en vías de desarrollo, por muchos rascacielos, centros comerciales de lujo y turistas que haya. La pobreza te abofetea en la cara, arremolinándose en torno a las estaciones de metro y monorrail. Es cuestión de bajar las escaleras y cruzarte con las prostitutas de Sukhumvit, el anciano que vende mandarinas en Ari o la chica invidente que se dedica a cantar con una hucha colgada del cuello en Mo Chit.

Pero si algo me han enseñado todos estos viajes por países desfavorecidos, es a ver la belleza que se esconde tras el polvo de las calles, tanto en la amabilidad de su gente, como en pequeños detalles que iluminan el día a día. En Bangkok, desde nuestro primer viaje en 2010, siempre me llamaron mucho la atención los malai「มาลัย」, que son arreglos florales que inundan templos, motos y las típicas estatuillas de los minitemplos que te cruzas yendo por la calle.

Siempre me había preguntado acerca de su origen y significado...


malai thai flower arrangements

English
There is no written record on who invented it but, the first historical note dates from the reign of King Rama V (1853 – 1910) a very prominent figure that reigned Thailand almost in parallel to the Meiji Restoration in Japan (1868-1912). King Rama V was also the monarch who steered Thailand clear of colonization and initiated the Chakri Reformation to put Thailand on the road to modernization. At the time, fresh flower garlands were made by the king's chief concubine, Tao Srijulalux, turning this kind of arrangement into an important ornament for every ceremony. The remaining girls in palace, including the Queen, became expected to acquire the phuang malai making skills.

Español
Aunque no se sepa quién los inventó realmente, el primer registro histórico data del reinado Rama V (1853 – 1910), una período crítico en el que el rey protegió a Tailandia del colonialismo (mientras los países colindantes caían como moscas) e inició la reforma Chakri, iniciando la modernización de Siam. Irónicamente, sus objetivos recuerdan mucho a los del emperador Meiji (1868-1912) que reinaba con objetivos similares en Japón - la restauración Meiji mantuvo el poder imperial y aceleró la industrialización nipona.

malai thai flower arrangements
Which one is your favourite? Cuál es tu favorito?

English
Malai are further divided into six groups, depending on their shape:
  1. Creature malai: Resembles animals, such as mouse, rabbit, squirrel...
  2. Chained malai: Series of rounded malais connected together which resemble a chain.
  3. Braided malai: Two rounded malais connected together, decorated with pine-shaped malai on each end.
  4. Vine malai: Series of semicircular malais arranged in a vine shape.
  5. Laced malai: Fully decorated by inserting golden and silver laces all over the malai both inside and out.
  6. Orchid malai: Made only from orchids.
The creations are used with 3 main purposes:
  • Malai chai deaw「มาลัยชายเดียว」is an offering to show respect, often found in temples and cementeries hanging from statues, tend to be chained (2) and braided malai (3)
  • Malai song chai「มาลัยสองชาย」is usually draped around a person's neck to show importance e.g. worn by bride and groom in the Thai wedding ceremony.
  • Malai chum rui「มาลัยชำร่วย」is the smallest form of malai, usually given as a souvenir to a large group of people in weddings, housewarmings, birthday parties and baby showers. Creature malai (1) is often used. Its purpose is very similar to the Hawaiian Lei.
Español
Los malai se dividen en 6 grupos, según su forma:
  1. Animal: Flores con forma de ratón, conejo, ardilla...
  2. Encadenado: Muchos malais redondos conectados, que terminan pareciendo una cadena.
  3. Trenzado: Dos malais redondos conectados y decorados con unas piñas de flores en los extremos.
  4. De vid: Series de malais semicirculares colocados de forma que recuerdan a una vid
  5. De encaje: Decorado con encajes dorados y plateados
  6. De orquídeas
Estas creaciones sirven 3 propósitos principalmente:
  • Malai chai deaw「มาลัยชายเดียว」 ofrenda que muestra respeto, se encuentran en templos y cementerios, suelen ser del tipo (2) y (3)
  • Malai song chai「มาลัยสองชาย」 se suele poner en torno al cuello de una persona importante e.g. los novios en la boda Thai.
  • Malai chum rui「มาลัยชำร่วย」 el malai más pequeño, a menudo se regala a un grupo grande de gente e.g. como recuerdo de una boda, inauguración de una casa, cumpleaños o baby shower, a menudo del tipo (1) pero con un propósito muy similar al lei Hawaiiano o Polinesio
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