This weekend sees the coronation of Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun as Rama X of Thailand. This is a once in a lifetime event (Last one was 69 years ago) and has aroused much national pride here which it is a privilege to be part of. And, if you thought that Britain excelled at pomp and ceremony… well Thailand can gives us a run for our money.
As the eldest son of the much loved ‘father of the nation’ Bhumibol Adulyadej, Maha technically succeeded to the throne on 13th October 2016 but he asked for time to mourn. Everyone wore black for a year and the funeral of the late king was held last October amidst an massive outpouring of grief.
Now the country is ready to put all that behind it and move forwards as the new king is being formally crowned. The process follows ancient traditions and is quite interesting.
There are hundreds of small ceremonies and events all over the country which led up to the main coronation but the two most important are:
1. Purification. Water was gathered from all of the 77 provinces in Thailand by officials and specially blessed by monks in local temples before being brought to the temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace for mixing together and more blessings. The king was bathed with the water symbolizing all the land which he presides over. This picture shows the ewers where the water was stored.
2. Anointing. For this ceremony the king sat on an 8 sided throne made of fig wood which represents all the points on the compass.
This ceremony began on Saturday at 10:09 am because 9 is an auspicious number in Thailand.
He then processed to his golden throne which was under 9 canopies (umbrellas) representing the 9 realms, which as king he has ascended to becoming a living deity. He he is given 5 Royal objects:
- The great crown of victory (although this is a recent addition from 1782 that was copied from us Europeans!)
- Fan & fly whisk
- Sword of Victory
Thailand is a Buddhist country so at the time of the actual coronation ceremony monks in 41,000 temples will simultaneously chant prayers.
After all that the king officially took up residence in the Grand Palace (not his actual home) in what is fondly called the ‘housewarming party’. This is a private ceremony led by the women in the Royal family who took in trays of grains to represent abundance, a golden key for ownership and rather bizarrely , a cat! Rumour has it that the cat is to chase away evil spirits. We had cats for many years and never once suffered from evil spirits so it must be true.
The whole country has been encouraged to wear yellow both during the coronation weekend and after as this is associated with royalty as well as being the colour for Monday, the day of the week on which Maha was born. So doubly auspicious. Pretty much everyone does and businesses and shops everywhere are bedecked in swathes of yellow and white material and yellow flowers.
At school on Friday we held our own ceremony in recognition of the event. Everyone looked splendid as we gathered for words, music & flag waving.
The junior choir sang a song in Thai composed by the late king which loosely translates as ‘the impossible dream’ I managed to capture part of the rehearsal here with the solo being sung by a remarkable 10 year old who has the most amazing voice.
There was an air of festivity all day which was expressed rather eloquently by a little girl in Year 2 who skipped into the library with her class and greeted me saying, ‘Happy yellow day Mrs Toner!’
On Sunday a Royal barge procession sailed down the Chao Phraya River with 56 barges and 2200 rowers all resplendent in red.
In a surprise move a couple of days before the coronation the king married his partner of 16 years meaning that she is now recognized as Queen Suthida.
She is his fourth wife and was formally a flight attendant with Thai airways before being promoted to be head of his bodyguards. Interestingly no one can now call a baby by a similar name as hers and defamation of her can result in 3-15 years in jail. Be warned!
Then on Monday we all had the day off. Yay!