The Ancient Muay Thai Traditions Of The Mongkol, Prajet and Wai Kru
Anyone who has been to Bangkok will know Thailand is a nation of contrasts. An extremely modern nation full of very old, venerated culture and architecture. Muay Thai is very much part of that ancient tapestry. A centuries old discipline, dating back to the 16th century. From the reed pipe music to the Wai Kru; the ceremonial dance. Muay Thai is full of rich cultural traditions.
There is a strong connection between Muay Thai and the traditional spiritual landscape of the Thai people. To this day, every fighter comes out wearing a kind of crown called a Mongkol (pronounced Mongkon) and armbands called Prajet (pronounced Pra jiad). Then performs the ceremonial Wai Kru war dance. The stories behind the Mongkol, Prajet and Wai Kru are as interesting as they are ancient.
The Mongkol (Monkgon) crown is a holy object with special powers in Thai culture. Earned through the punishing training to become a Nak Muay. Blessed by monks and given to a Nak Muay when the Coach feels the fighter is competent to compete. Worn by the fighter for courage and as a good luck blessing from the gym or trainer.
The connection between Muay Thai and Buddhism is strong. Historically, a Mongkol was festooned by the bones of the fighters ancestors for extra luck. Today Thai fighters prefer the less dramatic custom of adorning their Mongkol with a Buddhist amulet to reinforce their luck.
Traditionally this crown was only to be touched by the fighter and Coach (Kru). Weaved by the Kru or trainers out of rope in the training camp.
When not being worn, the Mongkol should always be kept as far away from the ground as possible. It should be hung at head height or above. When carrying it, keep your Mongkol above the waist. Taken off the fighter’s head by the Coach after the Wai Kru. Then hung in the fighter’s corner for the duration of the fight. The Mongkol is an essential part of Muay Thai and yet another fascinating part of Thai culture.
Prajet (Pra jiad) are cloth armbands fighters wear just above their bicep. Often worn as a pair but sometimes only on one arm. The Prajet are worn throughout the fight. Worn for good luck by soldiers when Siam was at constant war with Burma. Torn from the mother’s dress as a good luck blessing for her son about to head into a battle. Nak Muay have carried on the tradition of the Prajet. Although they are now made along with the Mongkol, in the gym or bought from a boxing equipment shop. In the West, some gyms use colour coded Prajet as a kind of belt grading system.
Why keep the Mongkol and Prajet away from the ground?:
The Mongol and Prajet are mystical and powerful objects, which bring luck to the fighter. In Thai and wider Buddhist culture, the head is sacred and the ground is dirty. Therefore, if the Mongkol and Prajet will lose their mystical power if dropped or stepped.
The Wai Kru:
The Wai Kru or to give it it’s full name, the Wai Kru Ram Muay, is a war dance. ‘Wai’ is the traditional Thai greeting of holding the palms together and ‘Kru’ means teacher or guru. ‘Ram’ is traditional dance and ‘Muay’ is fighting. In this context it translates best as a ‘war dance saluting the teacher’ but there’s a little more to it than that.
Always performed before the fight, wearing the Mongkol and Prajets, to the frantic rhythm of traditional Thai reed pipe music. It is not only a salute to the teacher but a sign of respect to the fighter’s parents and ancestors. It is also holy with intrinsic ties into the Buddhist religion. Everything in the Wai Kru is done in threes. This is to honour the Buddha, his teaching (Dhamma) and the community of monks (Sangha). The Ram Muay itself is thought to be in accordance with the movements of the Monkey God Hanuman. Hanuman is also the god of strength and courage. So it makes perfect sense that a fighter heading into battle would also pay tribute to Hanuman.
Thai culture is rich with ancient and beautiful traditions. Of which Muay Thai, the Mongkol, Prajet and Wai Kru are an important part. If you are a Nak Muay or aspiring Nak Muay we recommend carrying on this proud tradition. We sell a selection of Mongkol and Prajet sets handmade in Thailand, click here to see more.