Last week I took you through the Bann Ton Tan Market that happens every Sunday on the Riverside in Sao Hai district of Saraburi province in Thailand. I repeatedly heard the word Tai Yuan for the community residing here. And even visited Tai Yuan cultural centre in Saraburi which is just a few kilometers away from the floating market.
Tai Yuan Community of Saraburi
During our visit to the Tai Yuan cultural centre we were presented the local rice that we were told is the best in the country. I guessed that rice has a special meaning for this community as I also come from rice and wheat growing states of India. And I know how the people relate themselves to the produce that is their identity for the rest of the world. I come back and do some reading on the Internet and find out that the name Tau Yuan means people of the cultivated land. And they are very proud of their paddy fields. Tai Yuan people are a minority in Thailand. And they moved to Saraburi from Chiang Rai but they continue to practice their traditions – be it food or be it their music with large drums.
Tai Yuan Cultural Centre
A 100 or so year old wooden house of Mr. Sangchai Wannakul, that I would actually call a riverside mansion, has been converted into a cultural centre. It showcases the various traditional signs of Tao Yuan community. Like their textile weaving tradition, their spinning wheel that reminded me of our very own Charkha that Gandhi ji converted into a symbol for the freedom movement. Their music and dance forms that are even performed on the boats parked on the banks of the river.
This house was huge and built on the natural terrain by fitting the wooden planks in a way that it becomes a multi-storey house with a backyard by the riverside. There were smaller houses that stood on the river. And the narrow long boats were parked on the waters along it. Fragile wooden bridges could be used to reach these one-room houseboats like wood houses. The age of the wood gave away the age of the house.
Food – the Tai Yuan way
As we sat along the way river, some of us were invited to carry the food to our mats the way tradition Tao Yuan women would as the men played the music. We wore the traditional Thai wrap around skirt and carried the large basket cum table that has all the food for 5-6 people. It was heavy and we had to carry it down the steps. Some young girls led us to our mats while dancing in the front. It was quite an experience to act like a local while being absolutely observant as an outsider. Participant observer as the anthropologists would call this process.
We kept the food down and we were all supposed to eat from the same spread. This is exactly how I had seen the families eating at Riverside market. My vegetarian food was simple but tasted very good. The desserts came in as Pink flowers that we had seen earlier in the market.
Tai Yuan dancers performed various dances, including a peacock dance. The slow flowing movements with a lot of focus on hand movements resembled the Manipuri dance. The graceful dancers danced on the stage, on the staircase and on the boats behind us. We were left struggling between savoring the food and delightful dances. All said and done, the relaxed environment continued. After a few days in the big city of Bangkok, this was really a welcome place to be in. After food, I walked around the house looking at its carved wood windows, utensils, and paintings.
Video of Tai Yuan Dance
Watch the video to get a better perspective.
After coming back home, my Internet reading revealed that the word Yuan comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Yavan’ meaning stranger. Tai is a Thai prefix that refers to people. So probably these were migrants and hence got the name, Tai Yuan. They are also called Northern people. The language they speak is called Lanna and so are their dances. Wikipedia describes Lanna or Lan Na as the kingdom of million rice fields. It also mentions that Anachak Lan ha was an Indianized state from 13-18th CE. They are also referred as Northern Thai people.
Legend of Sao Hai, Saraburi
Sao Hai literally means Crying Pillar and this name has a legend associated with it. When the foundation pillar of Bangkok was to be installed, the king asked the most beautiful pillars from all over the country to be sent to Bangkok. People believe that the one sent from Saraburi was the perfect pillar to be chosen for the capital but it arrived a little late and another pillar was chosen. This made the Saraburi pillar very sad and it floated back home on Chao Phraya River and Pa Sak River. People of Saraburi heard the pillar crying and they re-erected it in Wat Sung, and the name stuck to the place. Etymology of places can sometimes give us the most amazing stories – that we would never know are fiction or fact.
Visiting the Tai Yuan cultural centre and experiencing their lifestyle for few hours felt like a celebration of minorities and their culture.
Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Thailand.