Royal Barge Procession
Thailand's Royal Barge Procession (Thai: กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค; RTGS: Krabuan Phayuhayattra Chonlamak) is a ceremony of both religious and royal significance which has been taking place for nearly 700 years. The exquisitely crafted Royal Barges are a blend of craftsmanship and traditional Thai art. The Royal Barge Procession takes place rarely, typically coinciding with only the most significant cultural and religious events. During the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, spanning over 60 years, the Procession has only occurred 16 times.
The Royal Barge Procession, in the present, consists of 52 barges: 51 historical Barges, and the Royal Barge, the Narai Song Suban, which King Rama IX built in 1994. It is the only Barge built during King Bhumibol's reign. These barges are manned by 2,082 oarsmen. The Procession proceeds down the Chao Phraya River, from the Wasukri Royal Landing Place in Khet Dusit, Bangkok, passes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace, Wat Po (Thai: วัดโพธิ์), and finally arrives at Wat Arun (Thai: วัดอรุณ, Temple of the Dawn).
- 1 History
- 2 Modern Processions
- 3 Organization
- 4 The Barges
- 5 Preservation
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 External links
Thailand's Royal Barge Procession most likely began during the Ayutthaya period in the 14th century. Western visitors witnessed and wrote about the "immense procession with 200 boats" upon their arrival in Thailand in the 18th century. During the processions, the oarsmen were kept in rhythm by the beating of drums, with accompanying music. This traditional boat song was written by Prince Dhamma Dibes of the late Ayutthaya period.
Most of the vessels in the procession were also warships, and when war erupted the barges and boats would be used as instruments of battle.
In 1767, Burma invaded Thailand, and, for the second and last time were able to capture the capital, Ayuttaya. Amid the destruction, hundreds of the barges were burned and destroyed. General Taksin rallied the Thais and established the new capital at Thonburi. During his short 15 year reign, Taksin ordered the reconstruction of the barge fleet, and used a fleet of 115 barges to carry a revered figure of Buddha to his new capital.
Chao Phaya Chakri succeeded King Taksin, and moved the capital to the eastern side of the river to what is now known as Bangkok. Chao Phaya Chakri, founder of the Chakri Dynasty, ruled as King Buddha Yodfah (Rama I) and began the Royal Kathin Ceremony Procession. The Kathin Ceremony is a presentation of Kathin robes and earns merit by honouring and supporting the Buddhist Monks.
Soon after his accession to the throne in 1782, King Rama I ordered construction of the Royal Barge Si Suphannahong. The Si Suphannahong was the principle Royal Barge for more than a century. In 1911 King Rama VI launched its successor, also named Suphannahong.
The Prince of Nakhon Sawan, during the reign of Rama V, regulated the formations, which became the standard "Major" and "Minor" formations used today.
Processions took place occasionally until the absolute monarchy ended in 1932. They were not resumed until the celebration of the 25th century of the Buddhist Era in 1957. In 1959, Bhumibol Adulyadej revived the Royal Barge Procession as a method to present the Royal Kathin (Robes for monks) in dedicated ceremonies.
In the reign of the present king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, 16 royal barge processions have been conducted:
- The 25th Century Celebrations of the Buddhist Era - 14 May 1957
- Royal Barge Procession in the Bangkok Bicentennial Celebrations, 5 April 1982
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 20 October 1982
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 16 October 1987 (King's 60th Birthday)
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 7 November 1996 (King's 50th anniversary on the throne)
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 4 November 1999 (King's 6th cycle, 72 years old)
- Royal Barge Procession for APEC Meeting 20 October 2003 (video)
- King's 60th – Diamond Jubilee of the king's accession to the throne. 12 June 2006 (52 barges) (video)
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 5 November 2007 (King's 80th Birthday) (video)
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 22 October 2011 (King's 7th cycle, 84 years old) Postponed due to massive flooding, and was rescheduled and run on 9 November 2012.
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 9 November 2012, rescheduled from 22 October 2011.
Additional sailings (Royal Kathin)
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun 15 November 1959
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 2 November 1961
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 22 October 1962
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 15 November 1964
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 19 October 1965
- Royal Barge Procession for Royal Kathin Ceremony at Wat Arun, 27 October 1967
- Barge Procession to transport the Buddha Image, 12 April 1982
The Royal Barge Procession is conducted in one of two formations, the Major and the Minor. The Major formation, also known as the Major Battle Formation (Petch Phuang Major Battle Formation) dates from the time of King Narai. This formation is used for the more significant events, such as The Royal Kathin Ceremony, the movement of the sacred image of Buddha, or important occasions of state. The Petch Phuang Formation is arranged into five columns, with the Royal Barges in the center, and two rows of war barges on each side. In the Minor formation, there are three columns, the Royal Barges in the middle, and a single row on each side.
Major Barge Procession
Arranged in five rows.
- 1 pair of lead barges carrying high-ranking officials with the position of permanent undersecretary.
- 1 pair of ancient Thai battle boats with cannons at the bow, carrying army conniellers.
- 2 pairs of plain outer barges
- 4 pairs of inner barges with decorated mastheads in the shape of the garuda, monkeys, and ogres.
- 1 outer drum boat, 1 inner drum boat, with six musicians playing the Java pipes and Indian drums.
- 1 inner, 1 outer boat for the Royal Police.
- The Ekachai Barge with covered throne for monks' robes, the Buddha image or flower arrangements complete with regalia.
- The Ekachai Hern Hao Barge and the Ekachai Lao Thong Barge, carrying musicians to lead the Royal Barge.
- The Royal Barge with covered throne and regalia
- Pavilion Barge for the king's change of robes
- Second Royal barge
- 1 pair of Police barges
- 2 pairs of Army barges
- 1 pair of plain rear barges
- SEE LINE-UP
Minor Barge Procession
- 1 pair lead barges
- 1 pair attack barges
- 7 pairs plain barges
- 4 pairs animal masthead barges
- 1 left drum boat, 1 right drum boat
- 2 police boats—left and right
- The Ekachai Barge with a covered throne for the monks' robes, a Buddha figure or a flower arrangement complete with regalia
- The Ekachai Hern Hao Barge with musicians and the Ekachai Lao Thong Barge
- The Royal Barge with appropriate regalia
- The Second Royal barge
- 1 pair police Barges
The Royal Barges
The Royal Barge Suphannahong ("the Golden Swan" or the "Phoenix") was built in 1911 during the reign of Rama VI with a bow resembling a mythical swan, or hong, adorned with gold lacquer and glass jewels, with a crystalline ball and tassle dangling from her mouth. This 46-meter craft was carved from a single trunk of teakwood, and was launched 13 November 1911. There is a golden pavilion on board to house the king and his immediate royal family.
The World Ship Trust, in 1992, named the Royal Barge Suphannahong a Maritime World Heritage.
The original Royal Barge Anantanakkharat ("Ananta, the King of Serpents") was built during the reign of Rama III (King Nangklao). It was used as the primary Royal Barge of Rama IV (King Mongkut). The current Anantanakkharat was built during the Reign of Rama VI (King Vajiravudh), and launched on 14 April 1914. The bow is carved into the 7-headed Nakkharat, the mystical snake-like creature, in gold lacquer and glass jewels.
The Royal Barge Anekkachatphuchong ("the Variety of Serpents") is the oldest of the four Royal Barges, being the actual barge built in the late 19th century during the reign of Rama V (King Chulalongkorn). While no mythical figure is readily visible on the bow, numerous small ornamental Naga figures are carved into the bow.
The Royal Barge Narai Song Suban Ratchakan Thi Kao or The Royal Barge Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX ("God Narayana on his carrier, Garuda") is the only barge built during the reign of Bhumibol Adulyadej, who laid the keel in 1994. It was built under commission by the Royal Thai Navy and the Thai Department of Fine Arts and was launched 6 May 1996 to coincide with the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Bhumibol Adulyadej's accession to the throne.
The names of the four Royal Barges are composed in a consistent rhyme: "Suphannahong", "Narai Song Suban", "Anantanakkharat" and "Anekkachatphuchong".
The Other Barges
The bow of barge Asura Paksi. 
The bow of barge Krut (Garuda) Tret Traichak.
The bow of barge Sukrip (Sugriva) Khrong Mueang.
Escort barges consist of a few different classes of barges. Most of these boats' bows are decorated with either a painting or a figurehead of a mythical creature. Other types have less elaborate design. The barges with figureheads have their rowers dressed in decorated purple uniforms with pink trousers and red ancient-style helmets with a tall crown and wide brim, while the oarsmen on the Ekachai class are dressed in white uniforms with pink trousers and small red headgear resembling havelocks.
Ekachai Class Barges are the two barges with a gold painting of a horned creature that is half-nāga half-dragon, Ekachai Hern How and Ekachai Lao Thong. They might be used to tow Suphannahongse in case of a strong current or if the royal barge needed assistance. Unlike other escort barges, Ekachai class barges are not equipped with cannon. The two barges can be distinguished by their slightly differing eyes.
Krut Class Barges are the two barges with garuda figureheads with nagas caught on their wings and feet. The garuda on Krut Hern Het (Flying Garuda) is red while the one on Krut Tret Traichak (Garuda travelling through the three worlds) is pink.
Krabi Class Barges consist of four barges with Vanara figureheads, Pali Rang Thawip (Vali rules the land), Sukrip Khrong Mueang (Sugriva rules the city), Krabi Ran Ron Rap, and Krabi Prap Mueang Man. The bow of Pali Rang Thawip depicts Vali, the elder brother of Sugriva on Sukrip Khrong Mueang, rulers of the Kishkindha Kingdom. Both have crowns on their heads with the body color green and red respectively. Krabi Ran Ron Rap and Krabi Prap Mueang Man feature uncrowned warriors of Vanara Nilaphat (black body) and Hanuman (white body), respectively.
Asura Class Barges consists of two barges with half-bird, half-ogre figureheads. The bow on Asura Vayuphak has an indigo body in a purple coat, while Asura Paksi has a green body in a purple (front) and green (back) coat.
Suea Class Barges are the barges with the painting of a tiger, Suea Thayan Chon and Suea Kamron Sin. The names of the barges are clearly written on the bow in red lettering.
Thong barges are the twin barges in the extreme front of the procession, and lead the procession. They are shaped much like a smaller, much less elaborate version of Anekkachatpuchong and are painted with their names in white on their bow freeboard area; the tips of their bow and stern are painted in gold. The men on these boats are dressed in a similar manner to those on the royal barges
Lesser escort barges
The largest number of barges in the fleet is the Lesser Escorts and Attendants such as Ruea Dang, Ruea Saeng, Police barges and Drum barges. They have no figurehead and no cannon. They are painted mostly black, and their type, number and name (if they have one) is painted on their bows in white. They can be differentiated as follows:
- Police Barges have rowers dressed in black and have a relatively flat bow and stern, with the stern raised slightly higher than the bow.
- Saeng barges also have rather flat bow and stern, but the rowers are dressed in white and black headgear; there are also slightly more rowers on these boats. The boats number from 1-7
- Dang barges have a more pronounced bow and stern, with their shapes similar to those found on the Anekkachatpuchong and the Thong barges, but are smaller and significantly less elaborate. These boats number from 1 to 22. Their oarsmen are dressed in black uniforms with a red trim on the uniform items.
- The Tangmo (Watermelon) and the E. Leeung barges is in front of the royal barges. They are shaped like the Police and Saeng barges, but is smaller and sits lower in the water than the aforementioned vessels. The oarsmen here are dressed like the ones on the Saengs.
The present fleet of barges was restored during the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as some had suffered damage in bombing raids on Bangkok during World War II. The dock that stored them, located in the Bangkok Noi district, became the National Museum of Royal Barge. Only eight important barges, including all four Royal Barges, are displayed in the museum due to limits of space. Displayed with the boats are a number of smaller historical artifacts related to the barge processions, such as old procession layout plans and some partial remains of the older decommissioned and/or damaged boats, including the bow and figurehead of the old Narai Song Suban. The remainder are kept at Wasukri Pier, next to the National Library of Thailand. All are stored out of the water to prevent deterioration. They return to Chao Phaya River only for a Royal Barge Procession.
Notes and references
- "Royal Barges" (Thai Language); Government Public Relations Department, Office of the Prime Minister; ISBN 974-7858-92-4
- Technical Description of Royal Ceremonial Barges, Royal Thai Navy (accessed November 12, 2007).
- History, National Museum of Royal Barges, accessed 31-05-08.
- The only Major Sailing one to have taken place at night, with the river illuminated by submerged lights (video)
- Government Public Relations (26 October 2012). "The Crown Prince to Travel by Royal Barge to Wat Arun for the Royal Kathin Ceremony". Inside Thailand. Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, Office of the Prime Minister. Archived from the original on 2012-11-11. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will represent His Majesty the King in traveling by royal barge to Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, for the Royal Kathin Ceremony.
- Richard Barrow (11 November 2012). "Royal Barge Procession: 9 November 2012". Thailand Festivals and Events 2012. Festivals of Thailand. Archived from the original on 2012-11-11. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
The procession, which is also to celebrate the 85th birthday anniversary of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej the King on 5 December 2012, will take place between 3 pm and 5pm on 9 November 2012.
- http://www.worldshiptrust.org/awards.html Award Number 8, June 4th, 1992
- Exhibition, National Museum of Royal Barge, accessed 31-05-08.
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