Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rivers and royal barges: A rich cultural heritage of Thailand

Rivers and royal barges: A rich cultural heritage of Thailand

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The history of the royal barge processions go back to the Ayutthaya period (1351-1776) when a large fleet of barges assembled on the rivers and rowed around the capital of Ayutthaya. Fine Art Department of Culture Ministry/the nation

Rivers and royal barges: A rich cultural heritage of Thailand

From the times of the Kingdom of Siam to modern-day Thailand, rivers have been at the heart of transportation for the people of the country.

Besides serving as a mode of transport, there are also many religious ceremonies associated with rivers. They have played a significant role in Thai culture, economy and politics. They have even had royal relevance, with many Thai kings travelling in processions on the river, surrounded by military and police barges.

At the beginning of the lent season next month, Buddhists have a tradition of making merit, called the Kathin ceremony. It is a religious occasion when the devout donate new robes to monks.

In the past, communities mostly settled down by the river. The royal barges procession was held for the Royal Kathin Ceremony as well, as a reflection of not only the religious significance but also a depiction of His Majesty the King’s glory.

The first Royal Kathin Ceremony during the reign of King Rama X of the Chakri dynasty will take place on October 24.

The event will showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Kingdom of Siam. His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun will travel down the Chao Phraya River in a royal barge procession to present robes to monks as part of the Royal Kathin Ceremony, which will mark a grand finale of his coronation that took place in May.

The history of these processions go back to the Ayutthaya period (1351-1776) when a large fleet of barges assembled on the rivers and rowed around the capital of Ayutthaya. Royal barge processions were held for various occasions, such as royal ceremonies, religious events, ceremonies to welcome foreign ambassadors, royal coronations and the Royal Kathin Ceremony.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Royal barge processions were held for various occasions, such as royal ceremonies, religious events, ceremonies to welcome foreign ambassadors, royal coronations and the Royal Kathin Ceremony. the nation

Royal barge processions were organised for the Royal Kathin Ceremony when the kings travelled to a royal temple for Tod Kathin (making robes and other offerings to the monks). During this period, processions were composed of 33 types of barges; the king sat on a throne placed in the centre of the royal barge surrounded by items of royal regalia such as the state umbrella, fan, flag and four swords. To guard the king and his regalia, two general officers sat in front of the throne, watching for any kind of threat and always prepared to defend the monarch.

A Jesuit priest, who arrived when King Louis XIV of France sent a new ambassador to Siam, has described in detail the procession of more than 150 barges sailing down the Chao Phraya River to welcome them.

The event was held occasionally until absolute monarchy ended in 1932. During World War II, most of the royal barges kept near Thonburi train station were bombed and destroyed. The river processions stopped until the celebration of the 25th century of the Buddhist Era in 1957. In 1959, the Great King Rama IX revived the royal barge procession along with the Royal Kathin Ceremony in order to preserve Thai cultural heritage.

There are two formations in the royal barge procession. The major formation, known as the major battle formation (Petch Phuang major battle formation) is reprised from the King Narai period. This formation is used for important ceremonies such as the Royal Kathin Ceremony or important state circumstances. The major formation has five columns of barges with the royal one in the centre flanked by two rows of battle barges. The minor formation consists of three columns – the royal barge in the middle, and a single row on each side.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Royal barge processions were held for various occasions, such as royal ceremonies, religious events, ceremonies to welcome foreign ambassadors, royal coronations and the Royal Kathin Ceremony. the nation

The royal barge Suphannahong (the Golden Swan or the Phoenix) was built in 1911 during the King Rama VI period. The barge resembles a mythical swan, or Hong. This 46m-long barge crafted from a single trunk is painted with golden lacquer and decorated glass, with a crystal ball dangling from the swan’s mouth. There is a golden pavilion on the barge to accommodate the king and the royal family. In 1992, the World Ship Trust honoured the royal Suphannahong barge as a world heritage.

The original royal barge, Anantanakkharat (Ananta, the King of Serpents), was built during the reign of King Rama III and was used as the primary Royal Barge of King Rama IV, while the current one was built during the Rama VI era. A distinguishing feature of this barge is the carved seven-headed Nakkharat, the mythical snake-like creature, on the bow in gold paint and glass with a green hull. Unlike the other royal barges that are equipped with pavilions, Anantanakkharat has a pagoda-like structure to carry holy objects.

The Royal Barge, Anekkachatphuchong (A Variety of Serpents), is the oldest of the four barges, built in the late 19th century during the reign of King Rama V. The hull is painted pink without any mythical figures on the bow but it is decorated with numerous ornamental small Naga figures.

The royal barge Narai Song Suban Ratchakan Thi Kao or The Royal Barge Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX (God Narayana on his vehicle, Garuda) is the only barge built during the reign of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, commissioned by the Royal Thai Navy and the Thai Department of Fine Arts in order to celebrate the fifth anniversary of King Rama IX’s accession to the throne.

This barge has a striking red hull with the image of god Vishnu, commonly known in Thailand as Narayana, on a Garuda figure carved on the bow. The Nation (Thailand)

MOST VIEWED

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to