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Introduction.




The ceremony of coronation in Siam dates, in so far as authentic records place us, only from the foundation of the present dynasty, nearly a century and a half ago. In can however be almost safely assumed that it was known and practised during the period at least of Ayudhya. Stray references indeed from certain literature mention celebrations of the Coronation of some of the last kings of Ayudha.[1] If we examined the forms and prescriptions of the ceremony we should find it to be an altogether Hindu ritual with interstices of Buddhist and local modifications. Now, the source of our Indian civilisation has been proved to be traceable from three directions— (1) Peninsula Hinduism, with vague data as to date, which may probably be reckoned downwards from the time the Kingdom of Sri Vijaya between the 8th and 12th centuries of the Christian Era, possibly modified by fresh streams of Indian immigrations from time to time to an inestimable[2] extent, which from its mediaeval centre of Nagor Sri Dharmaraj has furnished us our Sivaite Brahmins (พราหมณ์พิธี) and their ceremonies, among which the very one of anointment is said to have been known and practised in the time of Sukhodaya[3], this latter having had direct intercourse with that centre; (2) Khmer Hinduism, probably influencing the Siamese pioneers of freedom in the Sukhodaya period from the middle of the 13th to the middle of the 14th centuries of the Christian Era, possibly revivified at different times such as after the victory of Siamese arms at Angkor Thom in A.D. 1431, and it was from this source that we later got our Vishnite Brahmins (พราหมณ์พฤฒิบาศ); and (3) Mon Buddhism originating from the Hindu civilisation of the Maurya dynasty of Magadha (3rd century B.C.), but modified a great deal by time before it reached Siam in the 16th century A.D. during the Burmese protectorate of Ayudhya after their victory in the Great Burmese War. It follows then that the ritual of anointment, which is the basis of a coronation, must have come to use through one or other of the above channels. For the ceremony of coronation however—that is the ceremony proper when the king sits on the Bhadrapith Throne—we should have to rule out the third source, since originating, as it did, from the time of the Maurya dynasty, it could not have resulted in such forms of Mantras as are used by our Brahmin priests for the obvious reason that they had not developed so far in Indian belief at all till much later. Now we know from history that after the fall of Ayudhya in A.D. 1767 Brahmins and their Court etiquette were lost sight of. It has been presumed, on the argument of absence of evidence, that Phya Tak was never crowned; nor was Rama I upon his assumption of the affairs of state. The latter however a short time after managed to gather together whatever remnants of ceremonial etiquette as were still existing, together with some Brahmins-Siamese descendants of Indian Brahmins—from Nagor Sri Dharmaraj and Cambodia; and with the aid of the former especially of these, managed to revive and perform a ritual of coronation which has been our precedent ever since. And so, although it is undoubtedly a fact that both Sukhodaya and Aydhya had their Brahmins and their ceremonies, yet our ceremony of coronation as existing can only claim an origin dating from the first reign, which in turn may be reckoned as having as its basis a late form of Peninsula Hinduism. The Buddhist and local modifications, however, could have been added on at any period, especially under Rama IV.


Nature.


The nature of the ceremony resolves itself into two categories: (1) the anointment and coronation (บรมราชาภิเษก)—Hindu with Buddhist modifications; and (2) the assumption of the Royal Residence (เถลิงพระราชมนเทียร) purely Buddhist of the local type. The two categories are not performed separately but are interwoven to form a conglomerate whole.

In the last two reigns, however, a need arose of holding two coronations. His late Majesty, as Crown Prince studying in Europe, had travelled and attended numerous functions at many European Courts, and consequently wished to reciprocate hospitality to his former hosts. At the same time according to Siamese theory, when a king dies, his heir through assuming the full reins of Government, does so merely as a regent and is not a king until duly anointed. Hence a king was bound to hold his coronation, even during the period of mourning for his predecessor. A compromise was then arrived at through the late King’s initiative by going through the formal and necessary ceremonies as soon after his accession as possible, to be in conformity with established usage. And then after the period of mourning he again held a festival of coronation in full splendour before an assemblage of royalty, which was according to some accounts, “never before witnessed in Asia.” It was made a regular occasion of rejoicing with banquets, balls and galas. This was the raison d’être of the two coronations.

Now, however, the world is not yet recovered from the effects of the Great War, and His Majesty has accordingly ordered a return to old custom, in order to curtail undue expenditure, to be in keeping with the times, with the addition of few necessary modifications.


Scene.


In view of the intimate connection between the ceremonies that are to take place and the various sections of the older Residences, where the coronation will be held, it is thought that some explanation as to their respective standing should be given of these sections.

The group of buildings, where coronations are held, is collectively designated as the Maha Mondira (พระมหามนเทียร), which might perhaps be rendered as the “Chief Residence”. It was built by Rama I, and actually resided in by the first three kings of the present dynasty. It is made up of 3 principal sections, the southern most is named Chakrabarti Biman, which is the residence proper, containing the state bedchamber; to the north of this is the Baisal Hall, a kind of inner or private hall of audience; and still to the north of Baisal is the Hall of Amarindra, the outer or public hall of audience.


Paraphernalia.


Some explanation should also be given of the various paraphernalia of State which will take prominent parts in the ceremony. In order to avoid confusion the various articles for domestic use as employed in the Assumption of the Residence are here separated and will be dealt with afterwards.

First of all, come of course the crowns. In this ceremony the headgear prescribed for royal use varies in accordance with the solemnity of each occasion. Not counting of course the occasions on which the King is in military or naval uniforms, he will have to use no less than three different crowns, beside 3 royal Siamese hats for coming to and from the scene of ceremony. The three crowns are (i) the Great Crown of Victory (พระมหาพิชัยมงกุฎ) with which will be also worn at the grand audience and again when the King is borne in procession to the Chapel Royal of the Emerald Buddha, and the thence later to the Hall of Dusit; (ii) the Kathin Crown (พระชฎามหากฐิน) presumably worn in olden times on gala occasions of Kathin-presentation, which on this occasion will be worn at the Queen’s investiture when the King receives ladies of the Royal Family and Household and other ladies of rank in audience; this crown dates from the time of Rama I; and (iii) the personal Kathin-Crown (พระชฎามหากฐินน้อย), made severally for every individual sovereign and worn on occasions of his state progresses through the City and on the River, as well as on certain later occasions during the reign such as gala presentations of the Kathin robes.

Next to the crowns, comes perhaps the so called Great White Umbrella of State (พระมหาเศวตฉัตร), made of plain white cloth trimmed with gold, consisting of 9 tiers, as mark of full sovereignty.

The Sword of Victory (พระแสงขรรค์ชัยศรี), with a heavy gold scabbard profusely enamelled, supposed to be an emblem of sovereignty of the ancient Khmer Empire, which would date from no less than about the 10th Century A.D. is another royal emblem of the foremost rank, as is also the Fan (พัดวาลวีชนี), and the Slippers—these with the Great Crown constituting the traditional quintette of classical regalia.[4] The other regalia borne after the king on full ceremonial occasions are the Sceptre (ธารพระกร), the whisk of the Yak’s tail (พระแส้จามรี), and the whisk of the White Elephant’s tail. Among articles of personal use are the “Brahmin Girdle” of strings, a traditional attribute of Siva[5], and the personal sword (พระแสงฝักทองเกลี้ยง) which is borne after His Majesty on almost every occasion, even prior to Coronation Day by the Steward of the Household.

The “eight weapons of sovereignty” (พระแสงอัษฎาวุธ) which bring up the rear of the royal party deserve some mention on account of their historical interest. The discus and trident are of course the respective attributes of Vishnu and Siva. Many of the other weapons are reputed to date from some event or other, especially in connection with King Naresvara (A.D. 1590-1605). It was he who is said to have fired the “Gun of the Satong” across the river Satong (now in Burma) at a Burmese pursuing column, killing their leader with the first shot.

The articles of domestic use as prescribed by local custom for a house-warming are: the cat (signifying Domesticity), the grinding stone (Firmness), the gherkin (Cool, therefore Happiness), and grains, peas and sesamum (Prosperity and Fertility).

  1. cf. Prince Damrong’s History of Rama II p.p. 16-17. — [Original note].
  2. Originally “unestimable.” — [Note by Wikisource].
  3. cf. The Year’s Ceremonies by H.M. Rama V (พระราชพิธี ๑๒ เดือน) p. 77. — [Original note].
  4. cf Maha Vanisa, XI. — [Original note].
  5. cf Prince Damrong’s History of Rama II p. 28 Ed. B.E. 2459. — [Original note].