Royal barge procession caps Thai King's coronation

Left: King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and his son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, his youngest child from his third marriage. Far left: The royal barge, Suphannahong, carrying the King and Queen of Thailand. The banks of the Chao Phraya River i
The banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok were a sea of yellow yesterday as thousands of Thai well-wishers cheered during the royal barge procession, a tradition dating back centuries. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Left: King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and his son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, his youngest child from his third marriage. Far left: The royal barge, Suphannahong, carrying the King and Queen of Thailand. The banks of the Chao Phraya River i
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and his son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, his youngest child from his third marriage. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Left: King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Queen Suthida and his son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, his youngest child from his third marriage. Far left: The royal barge, Suphannahong, carrying the King and Queen of Thailand. The banks of the Chao Phraya River i
The royal barge, Suphannahong, carrying the King and Queen of Thailand. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Chanting, "Long Live Their Majesties", and waving Thailand's national flag and royal flags, over 50,000 people lined a 3.4km stretch of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok yesterday for the first royal barge procession under the reign of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

A tradition dating back centuries, the elaborate 45-minute procession was the final event marking the coronation of the 67-year-old King, who was crowned in May.

The river banks were a sea of yellow - the colour of both King Vajiralongkorn and his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej - as the crowds strained for a better view amid the thousands of umbrellas wielded against the afternoon sun.

The riverine parade involved 52 traditional golden barges powered by 2,200 oarsmen in colourful uniforms. They had practised their rowing moves for over a year.

The barges, some dating back two centuries, bore the forms of mythical creatures and deities, such as the Hindu god Vishnu, as Thai kings are believed to be Vishnu's reincarnations.

The pace was set by the lead barge. On board, the "chanterman" recited poems in praise of the King, his volume steering the oarsmen's tempo. The rowers on other barges echoed his chants in unison, their sonorous voices reverberating over the waters of Thailand's main river.

Sitting in the Suphannahong, the most important vessel with a bow shaped like a swan's head, was King Vajiralongkorn in full regalia. By his side was Queen Suthida, 41, while the King's youngest child from his third marriage, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, 14, sat at his feet.

Originally scheduled for late October, the procession was postponed to this month due to the river's strong currents.

This was the first such ceremony in seven years, in a city where canals are so ubiquitous it was once called the Venice of the East.

 
 
 

There were 17 such processions during King Bhumibol's seven-decade reign. He died in 2016.

Like the land procession for the coronation in May, when the king was carried on a palanquin around Bangkok's old town, Thais flocked to the restricted areas early yesterday to reserve the best spots.

Mrs Kaewsarika Wongpho, 54, had travelled 200km from the central province of Chainat the day before with her two grandsons, who took a day off from school. "I feel quite overwhelmed already, getting to see their majesties in person," she said, with tears in her eyes.

Retired civil servant Wongsatit Wattanaseree said: "It's like watching sports. Seeing it on TV at home isn't the same as being there yourself for the ambience."

He was one of the early birds who managed to grab a seat on the waterfront area of Siriraj Hospital.

Since ascending the throne, King Vajiralongkorn has made several moves to consolidate power. He took control of two key army units in October, and last year was granted full ownership of assets belonging to the Crown Property Bureau worth billions of dollars.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2019, with the headline 'Royal barge procession caps Thai King's coronation'. Print Edition | Subscribe