The Primary Royal Ceremonies
Preliminary ceremonies to the Primary Royal Coronation Ceremony are composed of the chanting of prayers by monks, the arrangement of sacred water within the circle of holy thread, and the lighting of auspicious candles.
In the Royal Coronation Ceremony of His Majesty King Buddha Yod Fa Chulalok (Rama I), the Preliminary Ceremony started on the eve of the previous day when His Majesty lit the candle to pay homage to the Threefold Refuge as monks chanted prayers. On the next morning, His Majesty offered morning food alms to monks, the first of three days of offerings.
The custom has been practiced to the present. Although the Brahman ceremonies may have been practiced since the early period of Rattanakosin, there is little evidence to confirm it.
In the reign of King Rama V, there was a mention of the ceremony of raising the royal seven-tiered umbrella onto the Atha Disa and the Bhadrapitha Royal Thrones inside the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall.
Also, ablation offerings to deities were generally conducted at the Brahman shrines in Bangkok. Furthermore, there was an additional ceremony of offering a sacred ceremonial object to His Majesty the King, such as, the conch shell used for pouring water of blessing, the bael leaf to be worn behind his ear, the bundle of auspicious of leaves called Samit, composed of three kinds of leaves: mango, Bai thong and Indian plum. These leaves are believed to prevent harmful things from approaching the King. His Majesty ritually brushed himself with Samit, on the head and hair, to symbolize purification.
When finished, he gave them back to the Chief Brahmin, who then ceremonially burned each of the leaves in a Brahman ceremony of purification by fire. After that, the King went to his residential bed to listen to the chanting of Paritra prayers that continued for three days.
The preliminary ceremonies from King Rama V continued to be practiced in the reigns of King Rama VI and King Rama VII.
In the reign of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra (Rama IX), there were some practical changes in the ceremony. It limited the religious ceremony in the Preliminary session to only one evening of the previous day of the Royal Coronation Ceremony, held on Thursday, May 4, 1950.
The process included the chanting of prayers by monks seated on a pedestal. For the Brahman ceremony, three dais are placed in descending order. Each is enshrined with wooden icons of deities for use in the royal Augur’s prayers. The ceremony is completed on that day and the pedestals are removed on the next day.
An offering is given to pay homage to the great royal tiered umbrella of the five Halls: the Amarindra Vinijaya Throne Hall, the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall, the Chakri Maha Prasad Throne Hall, the Ananta Samagom Throne Hall and the Dusit Maha Prasad Throne Hall. Offerings were given to another 13 monuments and important places in Bangkok also.*
On Thursday, May 4, 1950, at 10:00 am, the scribe moved the ceremonial tray of the Royal Golden Plaque, the Royal Horoscope and the Royal Seal of State from the ubosot of Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram. These were placed on a royal palanquin that was waiting on the pavilion platform behind the temple. Then the royal palanquin moved slowly in a procession to the ceremonial stage at Baisal Daksin Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace.
The Royal Coronation Ceremony is composed of:
- the Ablution or Purification Ceremony or “Song Phra Muratha Bhisek,”
- the Anointment Ceremony or the Offering of the “Abhisek” Water from the eight representatives of the eight cardinal directions of the compass, at the Atha Disa Udumbara Raja Asana Throne, and
- the Presentation of the Royal Throne and the Royal Regalia in the Crowning and Investiture Ceremonies, at the Bhadrapitha Throne inside the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall.
The Royal Purification Ceremony or “Song Phra Muratha Bhisek”
“Muratha Bhisek” refers to the action of pouring holy water over the head of the king, called Ablution. This holy water is called the “Muratha Bhisek Water.” The whole terminology of “Song Phra Muratha Bhisek” means to offer the sovereignty to a person.
According to Brahmanism, before the beginning of any other ritual procedures of the coronation ceremony, the person must be purified through the Ablution. The water used for ablution in the Purification Ceremony will flow out from under a canopied shower head.
The sacred water is a mixture of many sacred waters. These waters come from the five main rivers in India and also from Thailand. In Thailand, they were collected from the five important rivers, called the “Bencha Suttha Khongkha,” and from the four Sacred Ponds. They were combined with purified water taken from various sacred places within the Royal Kingdom. Also added was the prepared holy water from the Buddhist Chanting Ceremony of the Phra Paritra Suttas session from the day before.
For the Purification or the “Song Muratha Bhisek” Ceremony in the Royal Coronation Ceremony of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra (Rama IX), His Majesty sat in the Atha Disa Udumbara Raja Asana Throne at the pavilion constructed for the Purification Ceremony. Then the presiding official turned on the shower sending water of purification over His Majesty for the Ablution.
After that, the Supreme Patriarch came forth to bestow benediction by sprinkling water onto His Majesty the King’s back. He then presented the Nophakhun Yantra into the hands of His Majesty. This was followed by Phra Chao Borommawongse Ther Phra Ong Chao Rangsit Prayurasakdi Krom Khun Jainad Narendra, offering His Majesty holy water from “Phra Tao Bencha Khap,” or the water vessel, into His Majesty’s hands.
Then, the royal Augur presented the holy water from the nine deities to His Majesty, who upon receiving them, poured them onto his left and right shoulders.
After that, the Chief Brahmin, Phra Ratcha Khru Vamadeb Muni (Sawat Rangsibrahmanakul), presented His Majesty with holy water from the great conch shell, the deity-blessed holy water from the Phra Tao Bencha Khap or water vessel, and the bronze water container.
Later, His Majesty was presented with the bael leaf, which he put behind his ear and the Kathin leaf, which he held in his hand. Then, Phraya Anurak Ratcha Mondhien (Kat Wacharothai) presented His Majesty with the sacred conch or chank shell (Turbinella pyrum.)
During the ceremonial procedure, while monks chanted prayers of benediction, officials played music from conch shells with music from a bugle, bronze drums and a Thai musical ensemble.
The guards of honor stood in salutation and the brass band played the royal anthem of Thailand. The artillerymen shot cannons for an auspicious victory to honor His Majesty the King.
The Royal Anointment Ceremony or “Abhisek”
After His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra (Rama IX) performed the Purification ceremony, he changed into the Regal Vestments. He left the Ablution ceremonial pavilion to go to the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall.
There, he sat on the Atha Disa Throne, with the seven-tiered umbrella or Saweta Chatra placed above it. A representative of the Parliament presented His Majesty with the Anointment Water.
The chief Brahmin presented him with eight vessels of the Brahmin holy water from each of the eight cardinal directions of the compass. As he was presented with each vessel, the King turned to its corresponding direction, and ended sitting in the direction facing east once again.
The ceremony proceeded with Chao Phraya Si Dhamadhibes (Chit Na Songkhla), the Chairman of the Senate, presenting the honorarium address to His Majesty in the Bihari language, and then, he also presented the Water of Anointment to him.
Formerly, the King was presented with the Water for Anointment from the Royal Pandit and the Chief Brahmin. However, for the Anointment Ceremony of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra (Rama IX), His Majesty was the first King to receive the Anointment Water from members of Congress who were representing the eight cardinal directions of the compass. This was to signify that he was the first King in the democratic system.
After that, the Chief Brahmin, Phra Ratcha Khru Vamadeb Muni, gave his address of benediction to His Majesty in the Bihari and Thai languages. Then he presented His Majesty with the Royal Nine-tiered Umbrella of State, “Nophapadon Maha Saweta Chatra.” During this procedure, Brahmins were blowing conch shells, officials shook small drums used in Brahmin rites, gongs were struck, bugles blown, and Thai musical ensembles were playing throughout the ceremonial area.
After His Majesty the King received the Royal Nine-tiered Umbrella of State from the Chief Brahmin and gave officials, he left the Atha Disa Throne for the Bhadrapitha Throne in a royal procession, led ceremonially by the Buddha image, Phra Chai Nava Loha, and the Lord Ganesh Image, followed by the officials bringing the “Nophapadol Maha Saweta Chatra” (Royal Nine-tiered Umbrella of State.)
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra (Rama IX) donned the official Regal Costume for the Royal Coronation Ceremony and left the Sulalai Biman Chapel to go to the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall. This ceremony took place on May 5, 1950.
The Crowning and Investiture Ceremony
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra proceeded to another throne, called the Bhadrapitha Throne, which is on the opposite side of the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall. This throne is under the Royal Nine-tiered Umbrella, or the “Nophapadol Maha Saweta Chatra”. There, the chief Brahmin, Phra Ratcha Khru Vamadeb Muni, chanted the prayer to pay homage to the Kailasa Heaven.
He then presented the King with the Royal Golden Plaque or “Phra Suphannabat,” upon which is inscribed the Royal Official Title of His Majesty the King. He also presented the Royal Regalia, the Ancient and Auspicious Orders, the Royal Utensils, and the Weapons of Sovereignty.
After this moment, His Majesty the King crowned himself with the Great Crown of Victory. It is the most important procedure in the Royal Coronation Ceremony. However, what is considered the most important part of the ceremony may vary from one reign to another, depending on differing conditions.
In the ancient times, the most important part of the whole ceremony was considered to be the Anointment Ceremony. It denoted accession to power throughout the eight cardinal directions of the compass and by extension, to reign over all regions of the land.
At present, the Crowning is accepted as the highest ceremony, according to the example set in the reign of His Majesty King Mongkut (Rama IV). Throughout the process of the Crowning, all monks are chanting prayers of benediction, the official ensemble are blowing conch shells, beating drums, gongs and other instruments and every temple bell in the area is ringing loudly.
After the Crowning and Investiture Ceremony at the Bhadrapitha Throne, the Brahmins offered blessings to His Majesty the King, and the newly crowned King presented the First Royal Command in the Thai language.
In 1873, at the time of the Second Royal Coronation Ceremony of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), His Majesty gave an instruction that the First Royal Command be spoken in the Bihari language too. From then on, it was a tradition that the First Royal Command be issued in both the Thai and Bihari languages, and continued during the reigns of King Rama V, King Rama VI and King Rama VII.
In the Royal Coronation Ceremony of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Borommanathbobitra (Rama IX) the practice was adjusted. After the Brahmins recited the prayer of benediction to His Majesty the King, the Chief Brahmin, Phra Ratcha Khru Vamadeb Muni, recited his prayer of benediction in the Bihari language, after which he addressed His Majesty in Thai.
His Majesty responded by issuing his First Royal Command in Thai vowing to provide righteous protection to the people of Thailand. The Chief Brahmin accepted the First Royal Command in the Bihari language, followed by the Thai language. Next, His Majesty the King performed the gesture of pouring water as an offering to the Goddess of the Earth to ratify his responsibility of ruling righteously over the Royal Kingdom.
The Final Royal Ceremonies
The final procedures of the Royal Coronation Ceremony are composed of these ceremonies: the Granting of an Audience, the Installation of the Queen, the Formal Declaration of Faith, demonstrating his willingness to become the Royal Patron of Buddhism, and by Paying Homage to the Royal Relics of previous Kings and Queens.
In addition, there is the Assumption of the Royal Residence Ceremony, and the Procession of Circumambulation around the city, Phra Nakhon, which symbolically represents the entire realm of the Kingdom.
The details of the final session of the Royal Coronation Ceremony have been adjusted to be appropriate for circumstances in each reign. The previous procedure of Granting an Audience was to allow the royal families and high officials, both military and civilian, to pay homage to the new King.
After that, the King would proceed to the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall to have another audience with the royal ladies of the court, whereupon he would have been presented with twelve maidens, but this detail was revoked by His Majesty King Mongkut (Rama IV).
Therefore, there remained only the procedure to grant an audience to civilian and military high officials and royal courtiers to pay homage to His Majesty. King Rama VI added a ceremony, the Declaration of the Royal Patronage of Buddhism into the Royal Coronation Ceremony. Its addition continued in the reigns of King Rama VII and King Rama IX. Under these kings, the ceremony of the Installation of the Queen was included into the complete Royal Coronation Ceremony too.
The Assumption of the Royal Residence is another important part of the Royal Coronation Ceremony. Its explanation was given by Somdetch Phra Chao Borommawongse Ther Krom Phraya Damrong Rajanubhab (Prince Damrong). The full Royal Coronation Ceremony is divided into two main sections: first, the Coronation Ceremony, for the glorification of the royal official title, and secondly, the Assumption of the Royal Residence Ceremony, for the King to reside in the palace. These two ceremonies do not need to be conducted together, as it was reported in some chronicles they were sometimes conducted on two separate occasions.
The royal accessories taken for the Assumption of the Royal Residence at Chakrapat Biman Royal Residence are the Royal Auspicious Items and the Royal Utensils.
The Royal Auspicious Items are the “cat” or Wila, the mortar stone, auspicious seeds, green gourd, golden key and a gold blossom of the betel palm. More objects were later added such as the whisk, which is made of the tail of a male white elephant and white rooster. It is carried into the ceremony by the person who bears the sacred royal staff, and is one item of the royal regalia.
Traditionally, only persons belonging to the royal family could be responsible for the bearing of the Royal Auspicious Items. In the old days, the bearers of these auspicious articles for the Assumption of the Royal Residence Ceremony are only the women of royal families. In the Rattanakosin period, only women from royal families who held the rank of Mom Chao participated.
After the Ceremony of the Assumption of the Royal Residence, the next ritual to be held was for monks to preach to the new King at the Amarindra Vinijaya Throne Hall.
This ceremony is not the ordinary religious service of listening to a recitation of a discourse by monks. Instead, the Supreme Patriarch and a group of “Phra Racha Khana” monks are invited to preach the sermon while they are seated on a special pedestal with the Royal Nine-tiered Umbrella overhead, and not on an ordinary pulpit.
The content of the sermon has varied from one reign to another, and first took place in the reign of King Rama V. The ceremony where the King listens to a discourse of monks is the finale of the procedures for the Royal Coronation Ceremony that take place inside the Grand Palace.
The final ceremony is outside the Grand Palace in the form of a Royal Procession to encircle the city, both by land and by water, affording people the opportunity to attend and pay homage to their new King.
During the reigns of King Rama I to King Rama III, the Royal Procession only took place by land, but in the reign of King Rama IV, the Royal Procession was conducted both by royal palanquin and by royal barge. In the reign of King Rama V, the Royal Procession was conducted only by land.
The Royal Procession was conducted again both by land and by water in the reign of King Rama VI and King Rama VII. However, the royal procession did not take place in the reign of King Rama IX. The Royal Procession on the royal palanquin or royal barge marks the conclusion of the Royal Coronation Ceremony as it was traditionally practiced in the Rattanakosin period.
The Royal Coronation Ceremony is an immensely important event in countries where the monarchy remains as the core institution, and this is especially true in the Royal Kingdom of Thailand.
In Thailand, the institution of the monarchy holds all the hearts and souls of the people together. The Royal Coronation Ceremony is the formality that reveals the glory of the ascending King to the throne, assures that he holds love for all his people and accords recognition from international countries.
Most importantly, it is the ceremony that shows the stability and unity of the people as the nation.
All materials for this article are from ‘The Royal Coronation Ceremony’ published by Ministry of Culture.