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THE CEREMONIES OF CORONATION.
ON the morning of the 3d of April, 1851, the Chowfa Mongkut, after being formally apprised of his election by the Senabawdee to the supreme throne, was borne in state to a residence adjoining the Phrasat, to await the auspicious day of coronation, — the 15th of the following month, as fixed by the court astrologers; and when it came it was hailed by all classes of the people with immoderate demonstrations of joy; for to their priest king, more sacred than a conqueror, they were drawn by bonds of superstition as well as of pride and affection.
The ceremony of coronation is very peculiar.
In the centre of the inner Hall of Audience of the royal palace, on a high platform richly gilded and adorned, is placed a circular golden basin, called, in the court language, Mangala Baghavat-thong, "the Golden Circlet of Power." Within this basin is deposited the ancient P'hra-batt, or golden stool, the whole being surmounted by a quadrangular canopy, under a tapering, nine-storied umbrella in the form of a pagoda, from ten to twelve feet high and profusely gilt. Directly over the centre of the canopy is deposited a vase containing consecrated waters, which have been prayed over nine times, and poured through nine different circular vessels in their passage to the sacred receptacle. These waters must be drawn from the very sources of the chief rivers of Siam; and reservoirs for their preservation are provided in the precincts of the temples at Bangkok.
In the mouth of this vessel is a tube representing the pericarp of a lotos after its petals have fallen off; and this, called Sukla Utapala Atmano, "the White Lotos of Life," symbolizes the beauty of pure conduct.
The king elect, arrayed in a simple white robe, takes his seat on the golden stool. A Brahmin priest then presents to him some water in a small cup of gold, lotos-shaped. This water has previously been filtered through nine different forms of matter, commencing with earth, then ashes, wheaten flour, rice flour, powdered lotos and jessamine, dust of iron, gold, and charcoal, and finally flame; each a symbol, not merely of the indestructibility of the element, but also of its presence in all animate or inanimate matter. Into this water the king elect dips his right hand, and passes it over his head. Immediately the choir join in an inspiring chant, the signal for the inverting, by means of a pulley, of the vessel over the canopy; and the consecrated waters descend through another lotos flower, in a lively shower, on the head of the king. This shower represents celestial blessings.
A Buddhist priest then advances and pours a goblet of water over the royal person. He is imitated, first by the Brahmin priests, next by the princes and princesses royal, The vessels used for this purpose are of the thank or conch .shell, richly ornamented. Then come the nobles of highest rank, bearing cups of gold, silver, earthenware, pinchbeck, samil, and tankwah (metallic compositions peculiar to Siam). The materials of which the vessels for this royal bath are composed must be of not less than seven kinds. Last of all, the prime minister of the realm advances with a cup of iron; and the sacred bath is finished.
Now the king descends into the golden basin, a Man-gala Baghavat-thong, where he is anointed with nine varieties of perfumed oil, and dipped in fine dust brought from the bed of the Ganges. He is then arrayed in regal robes.
On the throne, which is in the south end of the hall, and octagonal, having eight seats corresponding to eight points of the compass, the king first seats himself facing the north, and so on, moving eastward, facing each point in its order. On the top step of each seat crouch two priests, Buddhist and Brahmin, who present to him another bowl of water, which he drinks and sprinkles on his face, each time repeating, by responses with the priests, the following prayer: —
Priests. Be thou learned in the laws of nature and of the universe.
King. Inspire me, O Thou who wert a Law unto thyself
P. Be thou endowed with all wisdom, and all acts of industry!
K Inspire me with all knowledge, O Thou the Enlightened!
P. Let Mercy and Truth be thy right and left arms of life!
K. Inspire me, O Thou who hast proved all Truth and all Mercy
P. Let the Sun, Moon, and Stars bless thee!
K. All praise to Thee, through whom all forms are conquered!
P. Let the earth, air, and waters bless thee
K. Through the merit of Thee, O thou conqueror of Death! 1
These prayers ended, the priests conduct the king to another throne, facing the east, and still more magnificent. Here the insignia of his sovereignty are presented to him, — first the sword, then the sceptre; two massive chains are suspended from his neck; and lastly the crown is set upon his head, when instantly he is saluted by roar of cannon without and music within.
Then he is presented with the golden slippers, the fan, and the umbrella of royalty, rings set with huge diamonds for each of his forefingers, and the various Siamese weapons of war: these he merely accepts, and returns to his attendants.
The ceremony concludes with an address from the priests, exhorting him to be pure in his sovereign and sacred office; and a reply from himself, wherein he solemnly vows to be a just, upright, and faithful ruler of his people. Last of all, a golden tray is handed to him, from which, as he descends from the throne, he scatters gold and silver flowers among the audience.
The following day is devoted to a more public enthronement. His Majesty, attired more sumptuously than before, is presented to all his court, and to a more general audience. After the customary salutations by prostration and salutes of cannon and music, the premier and other principal ministers read short addresses, in delivering over to the king the control of their respective departments. His Majesty replies briefly; there is a general salute from all forts, war vessels, and merchant shipping; and the remainder of the day is devoted to feasting and various enjoyment.
Immediately after the crowning of Maha Mongkut, his Majesty repaired to the palace of the Second King, where the ceremony of subordinate coronation differed from that just described only in the circumstance that the consecrated waters were poured over the person of the Second King, and the insignia presented to him, by the supreme sovereign.
Five days later a public procession made the circuit of the palace and city walls in a peculiar circumambulatory march of mystic significance, with feasting, dramatic entertainments, and fireworks. The concourse assembled to take part in those brilliant demonstrations has never since been equalled in any public display in Siam.
1 For these translations I am indebted to his Majesty, Maha Mongkut; as well as for the interpretation of the several symbols used in this and other solemn rites of the Buddhists.