11 July 2024

Those unfamiliar with Thai culture might be curious as to the story behind the meticulously crafted costume worn by Miss Universe Thailand Anntonia Porsild in the national costume round of the beauty pageant.

Most Thais, of course, would understand the significance without any explanation, thanks to Anntonia’s skillful presentation. As she moved gracefully across the stage, it quickly became obvious that she was dressed as Phra Mae Thorani, the Mother of Earth or Nature, as the unique posture of hair “twisting” is characteristic of the goddess.

What the Thai-Danish beauty showcased on the stage of the Miss Universe 2023 pageant in El Salvador was not merely a dress but a living statement to the rich culture and beauty of her motherland.

The standout moment was when the Thai beauty queen danced and twisted her long hair in a gesture that resonated with most Thais and experts in Thai culture, who immediately connected it to Phra Mae Thorani Beeb Mauy Phom.

History doesn’t tell us exactly when the creation of images depicting Phra Mae Thorani twisting her hair began. However, archaeological evidence suggests its emergence in the Ayutthaya era when it was commonly depicted in murals illustrating Buddhist history.

In temple murals, Phra Mae Thorani is often depicted with the Buddha in the mudra known as ‘calling the earth to witness’. The waters flowing forth from her long hair wash away the armies of Mara and symbolize the water of the bodhisattva’s perfect generosity. The Buddhist mythology is slightly different from Hinduism because in the Hindu representation, the goddess doesn’t twist her hair and she is often depicted in a sitting position or holding a water jug.

To Buddhists, the goddess symbolizes the significance of nature to humans and embodies the protection of land and its prosperity, values held dearly by the Thai people. Worshipping the goddess is said to bring abundance on land and prosperity in life.

Designer Kamonrat Thulaphiriyakul drew inspiration from the masterpiece “Phra Mae Thorani” displayed as part of the Avery Brundage collection at the Asian Art Museum when designing the national costume, which he named the “Goddess of Ayodhaya”. The costume draws inspiration from the graven image of “Phra Mae Thorani” during the Siamese Kingdom (14th to 18th century), with the dress and accessories resembling the image from the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

The costume features imitation composite gemstone adornments, replicating precious stones found in important mineral sources in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, such as blue sapphire, emerald, yellow sapphire, and ruby found in Chanthaburi and Trat provinces.

The designer modelled the footwear on the Buddha image in the Ayutthaya style from Wat Paknam, Phasi Charoen.

 

Those interested in seeing the authentic image of Phra Mae Thorani twisting her hair need look no further than Sanam Luang (the Royal Ground), home to a statue built by King Rama VI. Initially created as a landmark for making merit with water (Utokatarn in Thai), its purpose was later changed by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram to serve as a place of worship.

Apart from Sanam Luang, another sighting of the goddess can be found at the headquarters of Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrats. The statue stands in front of the building and serves as the party’s logo for campaigns and official occasions.

For the perfect depiction of the goddess, visit Wat Chomphuwek in Nonthaburi province. The mural of Phra Mae Thorani twisting her hair here has been ranked as the most beautiful in Thailand.

Located on the boundary wall of the ubosot created by the Nonthaburi Artisan Family during the mid to late Ayutthaya period, this mural uses a technique of painting with a mixture of dust and tempera glue. Its beauty lies in the graceful brushstrokes depicting the twisting of the hair and waist, creating a gentle and rhythmic flow reminiscent of a dance.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk