Phuang Malai: What Do These Flower Garlands Mean?

Thailand has many traditions, lots of which include colourful, beautiful offerings that adorn houses, cars, shrines and temples. But what are they? Why do locals use them? And what significance do they hold? Read on to find out all about Phuang Malai so you’re in the know when you see them in Thailand.

What is a Phuang Malai?

Phuang Malai are one of these such offerings that are used during ceremonies across the country. The floral garlands (similar to Hawaiian Lei) are intricately woven into different shapes and designs which are used for different occasions.  You’re likely to see floral offerings everywhere you go in Thailand so now you’ll be able to identify them from the list below.

There are six main categories of Phuang Malai which helps understand the shapes and why they are used.

  1. Creature malais resemble animal shapes such as mice, rabbits, squirrels and monkeys.
  2. Chained malais are made up of a series of rounded malais connected together to resemble a chain.
  3. Braided malais comprise of two rounded malais woven together and finished with a pine-shaped malai on each end.
  4. Vine malais, as the name suggests, are made up of semicircular malais arranged in a vine shape.
  5. Laced malais are intricate, decorative malais with golden and silver laces all over the malai both inside and out.
  6. Orchid malais are garlands that are specifically made from orchid flowers.

When and why did Phuang Malai originate?

Credit: sccart | Flickr

Making Phuang Malai is thought to have been officially introduced by King Rama V when he stated that fresh flower garlands were to be made for the fourth month ceremony by the king’s ‘chief concubine’. It was then expected that all females in the palace learn the skill of making Phuang Malai and as such the designs became more and more elaborate over time.

It is now common for women all over the country to learn this skill. Not only do locals use these garlands as personal offerings but many make a living selling these beautiful malais outside temples and shrines.

What do they mean?

Credit: Sven Peterson | Flickr

Generally speaking, Phuang Malai are used as a symbol of respect and importance and they are therefore given as a gift or offering. Sometimes people keep their Phuang Malai as a sign of good luck in the hope that it will bring them good fortune.

Malai chai deaw are the malais used as religious offerings so they are likely to be the braided garlands you see in temples and on statues. These are usually bright and delicate and can be bought for a few baht at temples.

Malai song chai are ceremonial garlands that are hung round a person’s neck to represent importance, such as a bride and groom at their wedding. These malai are often white as the main colour and are extremely detailed and intricate.

Malai chum rui are smaller gestures, often cute creature malai, that are given as a gift to friends and family at a gathering or party. These are usually offered by the host as a take-home keepsake.

Can you buy them?

While it’s best not to get involved in Buddhist ceremonies unless you understand the meaning behind them, you can still buy Phuang Malai if you want to. Buying these garlands is a lovely way to support the local community, praising them for their hard work, and it is also a sign of respect to offer money or flowers at temples and shrines across Thailand.

If you do decide to watch ladies creating these works of art on the side of the street, it is polite and respectful to purchase a garland rather than simply observing or taking photographs.

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