On May 4, 2019, Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn received his official coronation as Thailand’s constitutional monarch. For most Thais, this coronation is the first in their lifetimes. His kingship was inherited after the 70-year reign of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away in 2016 and was cremated in October 2017. In accordance with the king’s wish to observe a two-year mourning period, the royal office delayed his coronation until 2019.
As the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty, founded in 1782, the present king is also known by his dynastic title, Rama X. Although Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly officially acknowledged his accession to the throne in November 2017, the coronation will formally complete the process, nearly 70 years after the last royal coronation in Thailand, that of his father King Bhumibol in May 1950.
Thailand’s coronation rites are a blend of Hindu and Buddhist traditions dating back several centuries to the Ayuthaya era (1350 – 1767). The heart of the coronation rituals revolves around water, and includes both a purification bathing ceremony and an anointing with sacred water, carried out by white-garbed Brahmin priests. This is followed by the actual crowning of the king, and then the investiture of the royal regalia, the royal utensils, and the royal weapons of sovereignty.
When Ayuthaya was sacked in 1767 by Burmese troops of the Konbaung Dynasty, most records pertaining to royal ceremonies were destroyed, so many of the rituals we will observe were re-constructed beginning with the reign of the Chakri dynasty’s first king, Rama I, who established the Rattanakosin Kingdom with Bangkok as the capital in 1782. At this time, a committee of officials and monks created a new manual of royal ceremonies for the court. Meanwhile, they ordered the creation of a new set of the royal regalia and utensils. Since 1785, coronation ceremonies have remained more or less the same.
Preparatory rituals for the coronation began a month earlier, with the collecting of sacred waters around the country. Water for the purification bath was collected between 11:52am and 12:38pm on Saturday–a time deemed auspicious by Thai court astrologers–by senior government officials from five key rivers around the country and from four ancient ponds in Suphan Buri. The rivers–referred to as Bencha Suttha Khongkha and representing five rivers in India, the origin of these traditions–are the Bang Pakong, Pasak, Chao Phraya, Ratchaburi and Phetchaburi. The four ponds are Sa Ket, Sa Kaeo, Sa Khongkha and Sa Yamuna. For the subsequent anointing, the water was taken from 107 sources in 76 provinces across Thailand. Brahmin priests further sanctified the waters during a ritual at Bangkok’s Wat Suthat, after which the waters were moved to Wat Phra Kaew, the holiest royal temple in Thailand.
The official crowning will take place on May 4 at the Bhadrapitha Throne in the Grand Palace, officially marking the beginning of the 66-year-old King’s reign. On May 5, the king’s official name and a signature will be inaugurated, and an updated ranking of royal family members are officially registered. Following this, a royal parade will proceed from the Grand Palace to Wat Bovorniwet, Wat Ratchabophit and Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho). At each temple, the newly crowned king will pay respect to the primary Buddha statues and the ashes of former kings and queens. Around 400,000 people will gather along the streets near the Grand Palace and royal temples during the ceremonies.
On May 6, the final day, King Rama X will grant an audience to the public and to foreign diplomats at the Grand Palace, completing his first public action as a full accessed monarch.
Afterwards, the second biggest royal event of the year will take place in late October, when a royal barge procession will carry His Majesty to Wat Arun for the royal Krathin ceremony, which marks the end of the Buddhist Lent and involves the presenting of robes to monks. Tens of thousands of Thais will line the banks of the Chao Phraya River to observe the royal barges.