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     In Bangkok, Thailand, enthusiastic foreigners are being introduced to the fascinating arts of Thailand under the leadership of the National Museum Volunteers sponsored by the Thai Fine Arts Department. Lectures, study groups and tours to archaeological sites are conducted regularly for the group's membership and for the public. In addition a number of service projects are carried on in conjunction with the museum, such as assisting in the library and slide library, helping with the cataloguing of artifacts, and conducting guided tours in a number of foreign languages.

     Many of these students and volunteers have felt handicapped by the strange new terns which they constantly encounter in their work and study. Many of the statues on display in the museum bear names of unfamiliar Hindu and Mahāyāna deities who reflect a bygone era when these religions existed in this part of the world. Throughout the decorative arts curious hybrid animals peer out from the abundant foliage. Thai temples overflow with bots, wihāns, sālas, ho trai, kutis, etc., all of which are bedecked with unusual motifs. Mural paintings depict tales unknown in western culture.

     This glossary is an attempt to define these unfamiliar terms. Furthermore, because Thailand is a Buddhist country and because most of its traditional art is religious in nature, a number of Buddhist terms have also required definition. No detailed discussion of religious beliefs has been attempted, however.

     Because many centuries ago there was a great deal of Indian influence in Southeast Asia, many of the words encountered in a study of the arts of Thailand have derived from Indian words. In this glossary the Pāli, Sanskrit and Thai variations of each word are listed wherever possible. Within each definition the particular variation most suited to the context is employed. Since the current religion practised here is Theravāda Buddhist, with texts written in Pāli, that language is favored when discussing both specifically Theravāda subjects and also ideas which are shared by both the Theravāda and Mahāyāna branches of Buddhism. For themes from ancient Indian culture, Hinduism or Mahāyāna Buddhism, Sanskrit becomes more appropriate because this was the original text. The Thai variation is emphasized when the Thai word is in common use in Thailand even by the foreign community.

     The author is deeply grateful to Clare Rosenfield who helped with research on Theravāda Buddhist terms and to Deborah Olson for assistance with architectural expressions. She also is grateful to Victor Kennedy, Sonia Krug, Sarah Thompson, Uraisri Varasarin, Roger Welty, Elizabeth Wray and Rose Yarger who kindly reviewed an early draft of the manuscript and offered valuable suggestions. In 1973 a preliminary version was distributed by the National Museum Volunteers under the direction of Jessie Gould, to whom the author is also indebted for her encouragement and assistance. Copies of that edition were submitted to Prince Suphadradis Diskul, Silpakom University, Dr. Schuyler V. R. Camraann, University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Ruth-Inge Heinze, University of California at Berkeley, all of whom carefully reviewed the manuscript and made many helpful comments. The author is deeply appreciative of the time and effort they devoted to that task.

     The current edition represents a complete rewriting and considerable expansion of the entire manuscript, prompted both by the suggestions of those who examined the work and by further research on the part of the author. It should be stressed that the definitions included herein are the sole responsibility of the author and not of any of the individuals listed above.

     It is hoped that this glossary will become a useful tool in the study of the arts of Thailand. Suggestions that might be considered in the event of future revisions will always be welcomed.

Dorothy H. Fickle
September 1974


P = Pāli
S = Sanskrit
T = Thai
K = Khmer





= u in hut


= a in father


=  i in bit


= ee in deed


= u in put


= oo in boot


= ay in say


= oa in boat

(e and o are always long in Sanskrit and Pāli; Thai has some short forms. Thai has other vowel sounds which should be obvious in the way the word is Romanized.)


k = c in cold

g = g in gold

c = ch in church

j = j in judge

t = t in take  - a dental

d = d in dog  - a dental

b = b in ball

p = p in pot

t,d = linguals, pronounced like t and d but with the tip of the tongue bent back and placed against the roof of the mouth

     Any of the above consonants combined with an h adds an audible aspiration.

ch    = ch h in churchhouse

s      = s in sat

ś, s   = sh in shot

jña   = gyah with a hard g

m    = m in man

n     = n in nut

n    = ng in singing

ñ    = n in Spanish senor

h    = a final audible h sound

m   = a nasal pronounced with an open mouth