Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Major Boats in the Royal Barge Procession

A spectacular procession of royal barges will be on show in Bangkok once again on 9 November 2012, as part of the Royal Kathin Ceremony.

Representing His Majesty the King, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over the ceremony at Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, in Bangkok. He will travel to the temple in a royal barge procession. The procession is a rare spectacle on the Chao Phraya River, and it is arranged on special occasions only.

Thai kings have undertaken this ceremonial water-borne procession since the Sukhothai period in the 13th century. When the king traveled by boat, a magnificent royal barge procession would be formed, accompanied by various war vessels. Thailand’s capital cities throughout history have always been located along river banks, so it is not surprising that boats have played a vital role in the country’s trade and communications in times of peace and war.

The royal barge procession later developed into one of the royal court traditions to demonstrate the might of the king. During the reign of King Narai the Great of the Ayutthaya period, in the 17th century, the King sometimes traveled in the royal barge procession to receive foreign envoys and dignitaries.

The rhythmic barge-rowing songs were composed for the first time in the reign of King Borommakot, also in the Ayutthaya period. The songs, which describe the royal barge procession in detail, have been used to this day. The “boat songs” performed in this ceremony are composed of three parts: first, the hymn in praise of His Majesty the King; second, the description of the barges in the procession; and third, verses praising the city.

More than 2,000 oarsmen will row 52 royal barges, to be arranged into five groupings. At the center of the flotilla will be four major royal barges: the Subanahongsa, the Narai Song Suban King Rama IX, the Anantanagaraj, and the Anekajatibhujonga.

The current Subanahongsa, or Golden Swan, Royal Barge was built in the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to replace the original one, which had been in use since the reign of King Rama I.

The Narai Song Suban King Rama IX was built on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s accession to the throne in 1996, replacing the original barge of the same name, which had been damaged beyond repair. Only the figurehead on the prow was in good condition. The barge was meant as a royal vehicle in the royal barge procession, as mentioned in historical accounts. His Majesty the King graciously named the newly built barge the Narai Song Suban King Rama IX Royal Barge.

The current Anantanagaraj, or multi-headed Naga, was built in the reign of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) to transport the monks’ robes, while the current Anekajatibhujonga, or innumerable Naga figures, was built in the reign of King Chulalongkorn.

The royal barge procession exhibits the glory and great power of the monarch, in accordance with the traditional beliefs and court traditions handed down through generations.

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