Intricate looking tea sets, gorgeous coffee mugs, soup bowls, plates, cutlery and much more…If you find yourself ogling such colorful cutlery in Thailand, you are bound to be looking at the the beautiful Benjarong Ceramics. These handmade ceramics painted with artistic and serene looking designs were once reserved for royalty. Soon after, they became sought after gift items in the high strata of society. Even today, it is a luxury item and hence makes for precious gifts.
Benjarong, which literally means ‘five colors’ is a traditional Thai painted porcelain. It however originates in China where it dates back to the Ming dynasty of the 14th century. And it came to Thailand when a princess from China got married into the Siam kingdom and brought the Benjarong porcelain as dowry. Today, careful and skilful Thai artists practise this ancient art and created products using a myriad of colors and sometimes even gold. Each such product of theirs is considered unique and is a masterpiece.
While Benjarong shopping makes for great retail therapy, it is an even richer experience to actually see this ancient art unfold in front of your own eyes. On my recent trip to Thailand, I got to experience precisely that.
In a small village near Baan Amphawa, there lies a group of Thai artisans who have retained the ancient knowledge of Benjarong Porcelains and who survive on this special art to make their livelihood. They take special orders for royalty from across the globe, they create unique pieces for shops Benjarong shops across Thailand and finally, they keep some products in their village for visitors to buy. And the best part is that we as visitors to Thailand can meet them and see their agile, nimble and skilful hands at work.
In case you are interested in the process…They start with a bone china (clean white porcelain) raw product. They begin with drawing circular guide lines on a turning wheel. Then, the master craftsman makes the initial pattern drawing. This is like the foundation to the Benjarong painting. Then, skilful women fill in the colors and make small intricate patterns inside. A variety of tools are used for measurements, drawing, coloring and more. In fact, the work is so good that if you keep staring at it for a long while, you will slowly drift into Benjarong dream land. Once the colors have been added, they add liquid gold to the designs. This Thai style was developed in the early 19th century. Finally, they fire the painted product in the kiln for a defined time period. This firing ensures that the colors last a lifetime.
I didn’t get to see the actual firing process, but I did get to see and touch the final work products. And boy, did they look sensational! The colors look brighter in the finished product than when the actual painting is done. They artisans informed me that the Benajorong porcelain is resistant to fading, scratching and any kind of degeneration for a very long time.
They might not be dishwasher or microwave friendly, but if used well, they can definitely add a lot of glamour to your coffee and dining tables. And what’s even better is that they make for unbelievably great gifts. May be, you should check them out as potential gifting options this holiday season. And you should definitey see this ancient art form unfold in front of your very eyes the next time you visit Thailand. This Benjarong village is just a 2 hour drive from Bangkok city!