Sunday, 15 September 2019

 

 

By Busaba

 

As a major event to celebrate the coronation of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the Thai government has been planning a Royal Barge Procession to be held on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok on October 24 this year. This will provide a rare opportunity for Bangkokians and visitors from the provinces and foreign countries to view this splendid waterborne pageantry. 

Being one of the most elaborate ceremonies, the royal barge procession is normally organized only for the Royal Kathin Ceremony and a few special occasions. During the long reign of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, spanning over 70 years, the procession only took place 17 times. 

Royal Barge Procession in Thai History

This procession has a history almost as long as Thailand herself. In former times, as Thailand has an extensive network of waterways, boats were used as the most convenient and important means of transport, even more so than oxen and elephants being used overland. As far back as the Sukhothai era in the late 13th century, barges were used for transporting kings to and from state and religious ceremonies, and also for carrying soldiers in time of war. 

The largest and most magnificent recorded royal barge procession took place in Ayutthaya, the river-bound former capital, during the reign of King Narai (1656-1688). According to an account written by Father Tachard, who accompanied the first French diplomatic party to Thailand, the pageant consisted of as many as 147 richly decorated long and narrow vessels in a 5-row orderly formation, presenting a truly splendid sight. 

Unfortunately, these luxurious boats of Ayutthaya were destroyed with the city in the Thai-Burmese war in 1767. After King Rama I (1782 – 1809) established Bangkok as the new capital, he endeavoured to restore the glory of Ayutthaya. A total of 67 barges were built as part of this effort, including the first Royal Barge, the Suphannahong. More were constructed by the subsequent kings of the Chakri dynasty until King Rama VI (1910 – 1925). The barges were most frequently used by King Rama V (1868 – 1910), who annually travelled to temples by water to present robes to Buddhist monks. Following the rapid development of land transportation, the use of barges for religious purposes were sharply reduced, partly also because of the large expenses involved. 

In modern history, the magnificent royal barge processions took place several times as follows – In 1932, when King Rama VII (1925 - 1935) celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Chakri dynasty; in 1982 during Bangkok’s Bicentennial celebrations; in 1987 to celebrate the 60th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the event of the Visit Thailand Year; in 2003 for the APEC meeting in Thailand; in 2006 for King Bhumibol’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations; and in 2007 for King Bhumibol’s 80th birthday. 

The last time the Royal Barge Procession was organized was on 9 November, 2012, for the Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun. HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the Royal Barge Procession and Royal Kathin Ceremony on behalf of His Majesty King Bhumibol. The barge procession consisted of a flotilla of 52 traditional style barges arranged in 5 columns, stretching about 1,200 metres in length. It was made up of four major royal barges - Suphannahong, Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX, Anantanakkharat and Anekkachatphuchong; 8 barges with animal figureheads and 36 smaller vessels. A total 2,311 sailors from various units within the Royal Thai Navy served as oarsmen. 

The Four Principal Royal Barges 

Suphannahong

The royal barge Suphannahong (Golden Swan) was built in 1911 during the reign of King Rama VI with a bow resembling a mythical swan, adorned with gold lacquer and glass jewels. This barge was built to replace the old one which was built in the reign of King Rama I (1782 – 1809). It is 46.15 m. long, 3.17 m. wide, and weighs 15 tons. The Suphannahong is carved from a single trunk of teakwood, making it the largest dugout boat in the world. There is a golden pavilion on board to house the king and his immediate royal family. The World Ship Trust, in 1992, named the royal barge Suphannahong a Maritime World Heritage.

Narai Song Suban 

Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX (God Narayana on his carrier, Garuda) is the only barge built during the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It was launched on May 6, 1996 to coincide with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of HM King Bhumibol’s accession to the throne. Made of Malabar ironwood, the barge has the size of 44.3 m. long and 3.2 m. wide and weighs 20 tons.

Anantanakkharat 

The original royal barge Anantanakkharat (Ananta, the king of serpents) was built during the reign of King Rama III (1824 – 1851). The current Anantanakkharat was built during the reign of King Rama VI, and launched on April 14, 1914. The bow is carved into the seven-headed Nakkharat, the mystical snake-like creature. It is 44.85 m. long, 2.58 m. wide, and weighs 15.2 tons.

Anekkachatphuchong 

The royal barge Anekkachatphuchong (variety of serpents) is the oldest of the four royal barges, built in the late-19th century during the reign of King Rama V. The main feature of the barge is numerous small ornamental Naga figures carved into the bow. It is 45.67 m. long, 2.91 m. wide, and weighs 7.7 tons

Royal Barge Procession to Celebrate the Coronation of King Rama X 

The Royal Barge Procession, the final procedure of the Coronation Ceremony of King Rama X, is scheduled to be held on October 24, 2019. The procession will begin at the Wasukri royal pier around 16.00 hr., when His Majesty the King travels along the Chao Phraya River to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) on the occasion of presenting robes to Buddhist monks in Royal Kathin Ceremony**. About 2,200 oarsmen will be prepared to row 52 barges to be arranged into five columns, from the Wasukri pier to Wat Arun, with a total distance of 4.2 kilometers. During the procession, the oarsmen will pace their strokes to the rhythm of beating drums, with accompanying music. 

By the way, don’t worry if you do not have a chance to view this spectacle with your own eyes. It will be televised by the Television Pool of Thailand and on the Thai TV Global Network for viewers in 170 countries worldwide.

National Museum of Royal Barges

If you would like to see these magnificent royal barges up close, we recommend you to visit the National Museum of Royal Barges. The museum is located on the northern bank of Bangkok Noi Canal near Arun Amarin Bridge in Bangkok. The place provides a good chance to find out how exquisite the carvings of the royal barges are. The museum was formerly a dry dock for barges and warships under the care of the Royal Household and the Royal Thai Navy. The dock and barges sustained severe bombing damage during World War II, but in 1949 they were restored by the Fine Arts Department. Later, the dock was turned into the National Museum of Royal Barges in 1972. 

There are 8 important royal barges on display in this museum including the four principal ones. The museum is open every day, from 09.00 – 17.00 hrs.


*Kathin ceremony is the occasion when Buddhists make offerings of new robes to the monks at the temples. It is held after the end of three-month Rains Retreat for Buddhist monks from July to September.
**Kathin ceremony is the occasion when Buddhists make offerings of new robes to the monks at the temples. It is held after the end of three-month Rains Retreat for Buddhist monks from July to September.

 

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