Sbai (Khmer: ស្បៃ [sɓaj]; Lao: ສະໄບ; Malay: Sebai; Jawi: سباي; Thai: สไบ, RTGS: sabai [sābāj]) or phaa biang (Lao: ຜ້າບ່ຽງ; Thai: ผ้าเบี่ยง [pʰâː bìa̯ŋ]) is a shawl-like garment or breast cloth worn in mainland Southeast Asia. Sbai is worn by women as a silk breast wrapper in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, while in coastal Sumatra, Borneo and Malay peninsula, the same term is used to describe a shoulder cloth.: 410 The sbai was derived from the Indian sari, the end of which is worn over one shoulder.: 153
Sbai is a Khmer word that refers to any kind of thin and soft garment. In clothing, it specifically refers to a shawl-like garment or breast cloth used mostly by women and to a lesser extent religious men.
Sbai is derived from the Indian sari which may have been introduced to Southeast Asia through the Indianized Kingdoms along with other traditions and elements of Indian culture.: 153
The sbai of Cambodia was introduced from ancient India as it resembles Indian sari. There are related mythologies in the Khmer culture concerning the history of sbai, which was likely introduced during the Kingdom of Funan alongside chang kben in the first century AD. The sbai is mentioned in the legends of Preah Thong and Neang Neak. In one scene, Preah Thong clings to a piece of cloth worn on the Nagini in order to make the journey to the Nāga's kingdom; that piece of cloth is a sbai. In that tale, the sbai is symbolic of the tail of Neang Neak, the Naga princess.
In Angkorian period, although it was common for men and women to be topless, however clothes for the upper body were worn: the bas reliefs of Bayon, Preah Khan, and other Angkorian temples depict women wearing a shawl-like sbai while religious male figures are adorned with stylized sbai. At Angkor Wat, there are depictions of topless Apsaras holding sbai connected to their sampot, while the northern wall of Angkor Wat depicts a group of ladies wearing long sbai holding various offerings.
Nowadays, sbai along with chang kben and sampot are regarded as Cambodia national costume. Sbai most often used in traditional Khmer weddings with different type and decoration during the rite of Preah Thong Taong Sbai Neang Neak (transl. Preah Thong holding on to the sbai of Neang Neak) which represents the legend of the foundation of Funan and where the groom holds on to the bride's sbai as they go to their room. The groom also wears a sbai.
For men, especially Brahmin and Buddhist monk, the sbai called sbong sbai trai chivor, and is considered the robe of Hindu and Buddhist monks. For women, sbai can be freely used and in different ways such as to wrapping it around the body, covering the shoulder, and commonly covering the breast and stomach over the left shoulder. Different styles of sbai are used by Cambodian women based on their preferences and traditions.
In Laos, this garment is known as phaa biang or sabai. It is common for Lao women to wear sabai as it is considered traditional clothing. A sabai can also be worn by men in weddings or when attending religious ceremonies. The type of sabai typically worn by Lao men often has checkered patterns. Sabai can also be a long piece of silk, about a foot wide, that is draped diagonally over the chest covering one shoulder with one end dropping behind the back.
In Malaysia, Sebai is a cloth wrapped around the neck to cover the shoulders with both ends hanging on the chest similar to a scarf hung over the shoulders.
The ethnic Mon is also known to have similar tradition of wearing the shawl-like sabai called Yat Toot in Mon language, diagonally over the chest covering one shoulder with one end dropping behind the back like that worn by Lao women. This tradition distinguished them from other ethnic groups in Myanmar. The today Mon people of Myanmar and Thailand were the descendants of various Indianized polities notably Dvaravati. Artifacts from Mon Dvaravati sites in what is now Thailand depicted a group of ladies wearing what is similar to sabai.
Dvaravati sites depicting group of ladies wearing what is similar to sabai. Sabai (Thai: สไบ, RTGS: sabai, pronounced [sābāj]) or pha biang (Thai: ผ้าเบี่ยง pronounced [pʰâː.bìaŋ]) is shawl-like garment, or breast cloth. Sabais can be used by women or men. The sabai is also known as a long piece of silk, about a foot wide, draped diagonally around the chest by covering one shoulder which its end drops behind the back. Sabais could be worn around the naked chest or on top of another cloth. The practice of wearing Sabai along with Victorian cloth was a common practice during the reign of King Chulalongkorn and lasted until the reign of King Vajiravudh when Westernized clothing became more fashionable.
Figures wearing sbai depicted on the Bayon temple, Angkor Wat
Figures wearing stylised sbai depicted on Angkorian temples
Queen Ang Mey and her daughters wearing sbai in the 1800s
Lady Pun Bunnag, Somdet Chaophraya Borom Maha Sri Suriwongse's wife wearing pha biang, 1866
Siamese girl wearing pha biang, 1921
Cambodian bride wearing a sbai in a wedding ceremony
Dancer wearing sbai
Cambodian lady wearing sbai in late 1800s
Different styles of wrapping sbai used in Cambodia