Ever watch a Muay Thai fight and wonder about the meaning behind a Muay Thai headband? The Muay Thai headband, also known as a “Mongkhon” (alt. Mongkon or Mongkol), is a traditional headgear unique to the sport of Muay Thai. It is worn by the athletes as part of their pre-fight attire and when they perform the Wai Kru Ram Muay (dance) ceremony that precedes their fights. Mongkhons are blessed objects that are said to offer luck to their wearers, empower them with strength while keeping them safe from injuries and dangers.
The history of the Muay Thai headband is said to trace back to ancient Siam (Thailand’s former name). During the period between the 12th to 18th centuries, Siam was constantly at war with neighboring nations. Siamese warriors would tie a bandana around their head whenever they go into battles. This tradition was passed down the generations, eventually making their way into Muay Thai as the act of entering a ring to fight is akin to entering the battlefield.
Muay Thai Mongkhons are traditionally handmade by the trainers of a gym/camp for their fighters and then brought to a temple to be blessed by revered Thai monks or holy men. The method of handweaving the Mongkhon is passed down from generation to generation, so the headbands have unique styles that differ between camps. Each fighter may have his own Mongkhon but there are also camps where a Mongkhon is shared between the team mates.
You can now buy them from Thai boxing supplies stores. Made for sale, commercialized Muay Thai headbands lose their significance if you think about the original meaning behind them.
Rituals & Beliefs
Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, mixed with many animist beliefs. Mongkhons are often adorned with Thai-Buddhist amulets and other religious objects including verses of the Quran for Muslim fighters from Southern Thailand.
Mongkhons are regarded as being sacred and so there are taboos like many things else in Thai culture. They are usually kept in high positions and not allowed to touch the floor as a sign of respect. Mongkhons are to be handled with care, and a prayer is recited each time it needs to be moved.
The rituals of wearing and removing the Mongkhon are performed before each fight. After a full body Thai oil massage, wrapping of hands and wearing the gloves in the backstage, the Mongkhon is put on the fighter’s head. This is done by a respected member of the fighter’s corner, usually the trainer or gym owner or sponsor, who recites a prayer after placing and adjusting the Mongkhon.
When it’s time for the fighter’s bout, he enters the ring and performs the Wai Kru Ram Muay (dance to honor his teacher, parents and Buddha). Mongkhons are not worn during fights, so they are removed after the dance is completed. This is done in the corner with the trainer reciting a prayer for more luck and protection before removal of the Mongkhon which is then hung on the ring pole of the respective corner.
The Mongkhons are part of the important traditions of Muay Thai culture which differentiates it from other modern fight sports. Although the sport is undergoing modernization, Muay Thai fighters continue to embrace many of the traditions not only in Thailand but around the world.