I had a great opportunity to take photographs of old clay figures in postures of traditional massage. The ceramic miniatures are more than 500 years old and display some of the first teachings of alternative medicine from Lanna Thai traditional massage. It was said that they were examples and symbols of the way of healing and teaching people with an art form which was evidence to prove that massage postures were older than Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm).
Wat Pho is known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, as well as being Thailand's first "open" University. After the present Chakri Dynasty in 1782, HM the King gave a royal instruction to restore Wat Pho to be the first grade of the royal monastery. From the great restoration during King Rama I and King Rama III, Wat Po became the center of Thai Arts and Knowledge where the wisdom of Thai Traditional Medicine and Massage was gathered from ancestors and is still passed on today, e.g., instruction of herbal drug recipes, diagnosis and treatment of general ailments, baby illnesses and healing methods, massage inscriptions and drawings, ascetic statues
The clay figures were recovered from the old Phan kiln in Chiang Rai province. The faces of the figures are quite amusing and show emotions well. The soil from Phan District has a light color but it is very strong when heated in the kiln.
There is a problem between masseuse and client that needs to be considered. This is the precious wisdom of Thai traditional massage that passed from one generation to the next. Now, everyone knows that massage is necessary to help people whether they are sick or not. Physical therapy is a branch of effective medical treatment that heals people who break their limbs in an accident or patients who have paresis. Massage is the art of touch that gives good feeling after painful treatment if the client is new to this. Moreover, the attention from both masseuse and client becomes an 'art of living' issue dependent on different social classes and duty to service.
Typically in the expensive spas or local massage centers, the masseuse is a middle-aged or old woman who talks politely and dresses well in Thai traditional attire made from silk or cotton in white, cream and brown colors. They come with massage equipment and fragrant flowers such as champaks, jasmines and roses. There is a big silver bowl containing cold water and flowers to wash the face and body after massage. Many herbs are used to scrub and cover the skin which is the same skin treatment when people went to the spa. During winter in the past, many Thai people inhaled the steam from boiling, carefully-selected herbs to prevent colds and other respiratory illnesses.
My family used to have an umbrella factory in San Kamphaeng District, Chiang Mai province. I had a grandmother who was a great model in working with the community. She was a pattern designer for silk in a local clothing factory. My grandfather was a principal of a government high school, but my grandmother earned more than him and she also worked hard to support our family. They had eight children, four sons and four daughters. Half of them graduated in Thailand and furthered their education abroad with the money from my grandmother who was diligent and had brilliant ideas. With her responsibility, she managed around 50 employees daily. Each week, several masseuses were invited to massage the workers. This was an important time and preparation that everyone in the house had to accept. It might be Sunday afternoon that the massagers came to our house and the suitable place might be on the balcony or in the bedroom. It is somewhat strange that my grandfather seldom had a chance to be massaged to lessen his aches and pains. It might be the fact that he did not like massage or did not have enough money to pay for it. Thus, not to disturb the massage time of my grandmother and workers, my grandfather brought my siblings and me to cycle for a while along the super highway. Everyone wore sneakers. All the afternoon we went to many historical sites, temples and had lunch together. When we came back home in the evening, my grandmother looked refreshed and energetic for the hard work in the coming days. On this special occasion my grandmother, who dressed well after a relaxing massage, prepared dinner for us and some workers.
The roles of working men and women were equal in such endeavors as farming. They could cultivate hard work together. Weaving was a household industry and it was the job for women but trade could be done by both men and women. The massagers were both women and men and they could massage both genders. They paid homage to ancestors who gave them the knowledge with honesty and respect. Good performance and good results could bring money and fame.
A primary piece of massage equipment is the "compress", which contains herbs warmed in hot water. Main ingredients are Plai, Som Poi, Citronella, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime, Turmeric, Tamarind, Galangal, Camphor, Salt, Curcuma Amada, Lupulina Lindl, Aloe vera. In traditional Thai medicine, herbs are use to complement massages that treat illnesses. The herbal balls treatment, also known as "herbal heat revival", is believed to calm nerves and redirect the energy that is vital to good health. In the past the postures of the female masseuse were different from male massagers who provided service only for men as we see from the images of the clay figures. Massage is an art and culture of the Lanna Thai fusion style that helped workers to heal sickness and fatigue.
We should value the massagers as much as physical therapists and psychologists. I used to ask my grandmother if she slept during massage. She said she did not sleep because it was not so good to sleep while she was massaged. Everyone laughed.
We loved to ride bicycles on the weekend and talk about many things along the way. The family understood that it was necessary to have a splendid time to be alive.