More than 85,000 people packed the streets of Brunei's capital yesterday to witness the pomp and pageantry as Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah marked 50 years on the throne.
A carnival mood permeated the air, with people waving mini-flags and shouting "Daulat Tuanku" or "Long Live His Majesty" as the 71-year-old Sultan passed through the streets in a gilded chariot pulled by 50 members of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces clad in traditional black and gold woven cloth.
Ahead was a military band. Musicians playing traditional drums and singers belting out Malay folk tunes added to the festive mood.
Behind the carriage, royal guards displayed a collection of regalia and artefacts, from swords and daggers to a huge two-pronged spear called the changkah.
The royal procession along the main streets of the capital was the highlight of the almost month-long celebrations for the Sultan's Golden Jubilee which kicked off on Tuesday.
Many people had begun gathering before dawn, braving the heavy rain to secure good spots along the route. Among those lining the streets were teacher Mohamad Zaidil Hayat Abdullah, 33, his wife and two children.
"He has been our ruler for 50 years and I'm thrilled to be here and be a part of history. He is a fair and wise ruler and very supportive of his people," he told The Straits Times.
Along the route, the neat and orderly lines of loyal subjects - men, women and children - fell into complete disarray as soon as the decorated carriage came into view.
Many started running to get closer to their ruler, shouting "Sultan here, Sultan here" while raising their GoPros, cameras and mobile phones above their heads to capture the historic moment.
Others promptly put down their umbrellas as a sign of respect to the ruler who ascended the throne on Oct 5, 1967, after his father, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, abdicated.
Dressed in gold brocade, the beaming Sultan Bolkiah responded to his subjects, constantly waving at them. In his belt, the Keris Si Naga, or dragon dagger, glittered in the afternoon sun.
Sultan's milestones and relations with Singapore
•July 15, 1946: Born in Bandar Seri Begawan.
•Aug 14, 1961: At 15, installed as Crown Prince.
•Jan 4, 1966-67: Joins the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Britain, and trains as an officer.
•Oct 4, 1967: Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, his father, abdicates.
•Oct 5, 1967: Ascends the throne at the age of 21.
•Aug 1, 1968: Crowned as Brunei's 29th Sultan in a coronation ceremony which includes a grand royal procession around the capital.
•Jan 1, 1984: Brunei gains independence from Britain.
•1984: Brunei and Singapore establish formal diplomatic relations.
•Feb 12-14, 1990: Sultan Bolkiah makes his first state visit to Singapore. Calls on President and Mrs Wee Kim Wee and meets Prime Minister and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.
•Oct 5, 1992: Celebrates his Silver Jubilee, which is attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was then deputy prime minister.
•Aug 10, 1998: Eldest son Al-Muhtadee Billah is installed as Crown Prince.
•Feb 27-March 1, 2003: Makes his second state visit to Singapore.
•April 21-23, 2014: Makes his third state visit to Singapore.
•August 2016: Singapore and Brunei celebrate the 40th anniversary of bilateral defence ties.
•July 5-6, 2017: Makes his fourth state visit to Singapore. Both nations celebrate 50 years of the Currency Interchangeability Agreement during the visit.
The Sultan was accompanied by his wife, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha, and six of his 12 children, including Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah.
Teacher Mohamad Huzaimi, 35, noted that the ruler rode on the chariot alone during his Silver Jubilee 25 years ago.
"I think he wants to drive the message home that togetherness and the family are important," he said.
After the procession, in a speech before invited guests, including several regional heads of state as well as government and other foreign dignitaries and Malaysian sultans, Sultan Bolkiah emphasised the importance of strong bonds between a king and his people and spoke of "reciprocal responsibility".
"The king's duty is to be fair to the people, and it is the duty of the people to be loyal to the king. The king is responsible to know the ups and downs of his people, while the people must be sympathetic to the king," he said to those gathered in the ornate throne hall of Istana Nurul Iman.
He also said that the Golden Jubilee was the "most historic day" for himself as well as Bruneians, adding: "My history is also the history of the people and the nation. As a sultan, I must not break the ties with the people and the nation."
The Sultan began the day in the morning at the palace, inspecting a parade involving more than 300 royal guards. He also received a 21-gun salute.
Sultan Bolkiah is the 29th ruler in a monarchy that spans 654 years. The second-longest-reigning monarch in the world after Britain's Queen Elizabeth, he has led Brunei to independence and transformed it into one of Southeast Asia's most developed countries.
Housewife Hani Hisam, 51, echoed the general sentiment in the kingdom yesterday.
"He's Brunei's best king," she said.