This article attemps to describe a dance which is considered as a sacred knowledge among classical dancers in Thailand. This is the reflection of their unique idea, wai khru, which means showing respect to the teacher and the ritual based on this idea. In Thailand wai khru is generally practised wherever they have a person to be recognized as a teacher in their own comunities. In these days, however, under the influence of the modernization, the idea that the teacher has a special power and knowledge respected by his/ her students/ disciples is gradually fading. Even in these currents of modern times, in Thailand there are still some communities which strictly continue to practice wai khru. As one example of those communities, we may consider the world of classical Thai dance, in particular their traditional practices around wai khru. A part of my argumant involves data which I acquired through participant observation and most is based on interviews with many classical Thai dancers, who are also teachers of dance performance at National College of Dramatic Arts, Bangkok.
In a classical Thai dancer's community, the relationship between teacher and student/ disciple is very strict. The idea is said to have been introduced from India, which is the most important country for traditional Thai performances. This relationship is reinforced by three types of teacher they have: the living teacher, the dead teacher and the divine teacher. That is, in this community the idea of teacher, khru, excel our real world. The "divine teacher" means the deities and supernatural beings of Hinduism and Buddhism which are coincident with the supernatural characters of the classical stories such as "Ramayana" and "Mahabarata" introduced from India. In other words, the divine teacher is the ideal image of performances for those daners who mainly perform the classical stories.
In wai khru ritual, the student/ disciple learns a special kind of dance called ram naphat and they can comprehend the sacred things of the Thai classical world through the transmission of that dance in the ritual. They believe that ram naphat has a magical power because the dance represents the image of the divine teacher. Ram naphat transmitted in the wai khru ritual give many kinds of knowledge to the student/ disciple: the technique of the dance, the total image of teacher and the religious aspects of the classical Thai dance world based on the idea, wai khru.
In this paper, I offer one interpretation of the wai khru ritual in terms of the religious aspects of classical Thai dance. The interview data reveals that classical Thai dancers have three kinds of religious/ belief: Budddhism, Hinduism and an indigenious belief similar to the ancestor worship. Moreover these religious/ belief are integrated by the idea, wai khru.
In Thailand there is generally the same religious syncretism as above. Ususally these religious elements aren't completely integrated under one authority. However, viewed this syncretism through wai khru, we might find it clear that the idea, wai khru integrates any beliefs with teacher itself and the image of the teacher. Moreover those beliefs are coincident with the sacered knowledge, which is the indespensable elements for the community based on the relationship between teacher and student/ disciple. In the classical Thai dance, the dancers recognize the sacred knowledge as a sacred dance that represents the image of teacher, who is a sacred being for dancers. As a result, the wai khru ritual becomes the door to the sacred knowledge, the sacred dance. Thus it has worked as the space of the special tranmission.