To the boom of cannons, pipes and chants, King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned Saturday in a ceremony governed by centuries-old rituals, vowing a righteous reign and calling for “national security” and “happiness” in a remarkable display of royal power.
Starting at the auspicious time of 10:09am, the public was granted a rare window into the cloistered halls of Thai royalty as the three-day coronation began.
King Vajiralongkorn is the 10th monarch of the Chakri dynasty, which has reigned over the kingdom since 1782.
He ascended the throne over two years ago following the death of his beloved father.
Saturday’s sombre ceremony opened with the white-gowned king receiving sacred water and dabbing it gently across his face at a shrine inside the Grand Palace complex.
Consecration of water deemed sacred is a centuries-old coronation rite. The water has been collected from every province in the kingdom and consecrated at a Bangkok last month in preparation for the ceremony.
His Majesty uttered his first proclamation for his subjects: “I shall continue, preserve, and build upon the royal legacy and shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever.”
A cannon salute marked the moment as pipes played and Buddhist monks chanted.
Several grey-haired Hindu Brahmins were also in attendance at a ceremony that symbolises Rama X’s transformation from human to divine figure.
He later took his seat under the umbrella of state and was handed the Great Crown of Victory, a 7.3-kilogram (16-pound) tiered gold headpiece topped by a diamond from India.
Draped in bejeweled royal regalia summoning images of another era, in contrast with consumer-mad Bangkok outside palace walls, Vajiralongkorn vowed to reign “with righteousness” for the benefit of Thais.
In a later audience with royal family members and some of the most powerful people in the country, including junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha, he implored all to work for “the people’s benefit with prosperity, national security, peacefulness and happiness of people as our highest goal.”
Later in the afternoon, King Vajiralongkorn was carried in a royal palanquin by royal bearers from the Grand Palace to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where he proclaimed himself the royal patron of Buddhism.
A sea of citizens doing yellow, that had lined up along the 7-kilometer route around the Grand Palace, greeted the new king as he walked by. “Long Live the King,” they chanted repeatedly
Earlier his fourth wife, Suthida — married in a surprise ceremony days before the coronation — was invested as Queen, kneeling in respect in front of her husband who sat on a throne.
But not much is known about his long-time consort-turned-queen, who faces a new and protocol-filled life in the wealthy and venerated Thai monarchy. Broad biographical details such as her work as a flight attendant and her education at an upper-crust institution have emerged in Thai media. But the palace has so far declined requests for more information.
Suthida does not have the same royal lineage as Vajiralongkorn’s mother Queen Sirikit, who is the great-granddaughter of the Chakri dynasty’s fifth king.
She has “really come from the people,” said Sophie Boisseau du Rocher, Thailand specialist at the French Institute of International Relations.
For most Thais, it is the first time they have witnessed a coronation — the last was in 1950 for the king’s beloved father Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Hundreds of state officials in immaculate white uniforms lined the streets around the Grand Palace, outnumbering the modest number of civilians braving the hot sun for the royal convoy.
“I’m really happy and proud,” said Pornthip Pongsai, who travelled hours from a province to catch a glimpse.
Bangkok city official Anusara Chuensuang expressed wonder at the having a chance to see “such a special ceremony”, adding that the king is “our heart.”
The US$31 million coronation continues Sunday with the king appearing in a hours-long procession along a seven kilometre route twisting through the old city.
Bhumibol was seen as a figure of unity in the politically chaotic kingdom until his death in October 2016.
His son Vajiralongkorn, 66, is less well-known to the Thai public, spending time overseas and rarely addressing his subjects.
Fiercely private, he has inherited one of the world’s richest monarchies and a kingdom submerged by political crisis.
What’s Happening Today
Starting at about 4:30pm, His Majesty will leave the Grand Palace in a palanquin to travel around the old quarter in a royal parade. The procession will leave the palace via Na Phra Lan Road to Ratchadamnoen Nai Road on its way to Wat Bowonniwet. The procession then continues along Phra Sumen Road to Ratchadamnoen Avenue before stopping again at Wat Ratchabophit. After that, it moves on to Charoen Krung Road to make a final stop at Wat Phra Chetuphon, aka Wat Pho, before returning to the Grand Palace.
The government has encouraged people to line up along the 7-kilometer route the royal motorcade will take in a loop beginning and ending at the Grand Palace.
Free food, water and medical services will be made available at locations along the route.
How to Watch
Most people will watch the coronation from air-conditioned comfort, whether they are in still-sweltering Bangkok or abroad.
The best way to follow in English is to tune into public broadcaster Thai PBS, which has already queued up a playlist for all of its English-language live video coverage.
Inside Thailand, pretty much every station will broadcast the ceremonies live today. The official feed will also be live-streamed by many media outlets on YouTube and Facebook.
Check out our full viewer’s guide here.
Additional reporting Coconuts Bangkok