Tai Banners: Buddhist Import or
University of California, Los Angeles
My presentation is a preliminary examination of Tai banners in an attempt to understand their relationship to the larger world of banners in Asia, with specific attention paid to banners associated with the practice of Buddhism. The high value of cloth in pre-modern times likely played an important role in the function of banners as religious objects; as a result different forms of banners have been documented throughout Buddhist Asia, from the Indian subcontinent to Japan. However, Tai banners are markedly different from other Buddhist banners, in construction, appearance, and function. The motifs on banners make reference to both Buddhist and Tai cultural motifs present on other textile forms. Thus, a central concern in this study is whether an existing textile was adapted for use within the Tai Buddhist temple, or if a new textile form may have been introduced and adapted for local purposes. In part, then, my presentation on banners is an iconographical study that will examine physical characteristics and attempt to place these banners into their historical and cultural contexts. I ask what evidence can be deduced from the banners and their use to understand their incorporation into local Tai ceremonies. Banners are an essential visual element of Tai Buddhism whose iconography, production, and use reveal the delicate balance of external and local ideologies that exists in these cultures.