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The Royal Barge Procession ? Splendor on the Chao Phraya River

The Royal Barge Procession in Bangkok, conducted on very rare occasions, is a spectacular royal armada on the Chao Phraya River. This procession is normally conducted on the following occasions:

  • When the King ascends the throne.
  • When the King goes down the Chao Phraya to present robes to the monks during the Royal Krathin Ceremony after the Buddhist Lent in October.
  • When the King goes to Saraburi to pay homage to the Buddha's footprint.
  • When Bangkok receives important Buddha images from other cities.
  • When receiving foreign diplomatic dignitaries to Bangkok.

Some of the memorable Royal Barge Processions during the reign of King Rama IX, the present King, were:

  • On 14 May 1957, to commemorate the 25th century of the Buddhist era.
  • On 06 Apr 1982, to commemorate 200 years of the Bangkok era on the Bangkok Bicentennial.
  • On 05 Dec 1999, to celebrate the 72nd birthday of King Rama IX.

The most recent Royal Barge Procession was on 20 Oct 2003 for the closing ceremony of the APEC Conference in Bangkok, in honor of the visiting heads of state.

This procession was special as this was the first time it took place at night, amid special light and sound effects for the stretch of the river fronting the VIP's. The guests were seated in the Royal Thai Navy Institute across the Chao Phraya River from the Grand Palace.

At 2000 hours, 50 barges consisting of the Suphannahongse, the Narai Song Suban King Rama IX and escort barges were launched from the Wasukri Pier upriver.

This flotilla of royal barges, when fully deployed in a sailing formation of five columns abreast and 90 m wide, stretched 1.5 km along the Chao Phraya.

Concurrently at the Royal Thai Navy Institute, a 10-minute sight and sound presentation in six languages was made on the history and tradition of the royal barges.

The presentation was timed to end as the Royal Barge Procession sailed into view, on waters apparently lit with gold, as a curtain of mist fell over the river, creating an ethereal air.

Two thousand men of the Royal Thai Navy in ancient ceremonial uniforms rowed steadfastly by in perfect unison, honed through months of intense practice. Their chants of the ancient boat song, that dates back to the days of King Narai of Ayutthaya, drifted across the river.

Just then, the night erupted as fireworks burst, filling the sky with the brilliant national colors of the participating nations. The lights cascaded down illuminating the Royal Barge Procession as it streamed past the Grand Palace, a splendid finish to a grand event.

The royal barges can be viewed at the Royal Barge Museum, Bangkok.

This article by Eric Lim first appeared in Tour Bangkok Legacies, a historical travel site on people, places and events that shaped the landscape of Bangkok. Lim, a free-lance writer, lives in Bangkok, Thailand.

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