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A place of royal vessels

  • Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
  • Published: August 7, 2014 at 8:15 am

Country's royal barge museum expects to attract more visitors in 2015

The Suphannahong Royal Barge.

This popular verse of an ancient Thai poem on the royal barge procession crosses our mind when we step into the National Museum of Royal Barges in Thon Buri and see a royal barge with the figurehead of a mythical swan. The Suphannahong Royal Barge is one of the eight stunning royal barges on display along with objects used in the procession.

Eight of all the Kingdom's 52 royal barges, all wooden dug-outs, are housed here. Six others are housed at Wasukri Pier and the rest — Rua Dang, Rua Sang, Rua Sua Thayanchon and Rua Sua Kamron Sin, some of which date back to the Thon Buri period — are housed at the Royal Thai Navy's royal barges division, opposite the museum.

The prow of the original Narai Song Suban Royal Barge dates back to the Fourth Reign.

The eight royal barges displayed at the museum are: Suphannahong Royal Barge, Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX Royal Barge, Anekkachatphuchong Royal Barge, Anantanakaraj Royal Barge, Asura-Vayuphak Barge, Ekkachai Hern Hao Barge, Krut Hern Het Barge and Krabi Prab Muang Mara Barge.

The most important one is the Suphannahong Royal Barge, which is the highest-ranked royal barge and the King is usually aboard this one. The reconstruction of this barge began during the reign of King Rama V and was completed in 1911, in the reign of King Rama VI in place of Sri Suphannahong Royal Barge, which was built in the First Reign.

The prow was carved as the zoomorphic figurehead of a mythical swan, gold-gilded and decorated with mirrored glass. The body is black on the outside and red on the inside. It is 3.17m wide, 46.15m long and 0.94m deep and must be manned by 50 oarsmen and two steersmen. It was granted the World Ship Trust Maritime Heritage Award in 1992.

The Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX Royal Barge was constructed for the celebration of HM the King's Golden Jubilee in 1996. The prow is a carved wooden and gold lacquer figure of the four-handed god Vishnu riding the Garuda.

The Anekkachatphuchong Royal Barge was the first royal barge built in the reign of King Rama V. It is called Rua Phra Thinang Sri, or a second-level royal barge. Its wooden prow is carved, gold-gilded and decorated with mirrored glass in the image of thousands of Naga and has the seven-headed Naga on top.

The Naga motifs on the Anekkachatphuchong Royal Barge.

The Anantanakaraj Royal Barge was rebuilt in 1914 in the reign of King Rama VI for use in place of the deteriorated original one, which was constructed in the reign of King Rama IV. It is called Rua Phra Thinang King when the king is on aboard and called Rua Phra Thinang Rong when it is for enshrining an important Buddha statue. The prow is carved, gold-gilded and adorned with mirrored glass in the image of the seven-headed Naga. The other barges were constructed in the reign of King Rama I and either restored or rebuilt in the reign of His Majesty the King after being damaged by the World War II bombing.

Among the other masterpieces are the head of the original Narai Song Suban Royal Barge, which was built in the Fourth Reign and damaged during the World War II bombing, as well as the prows or tails of some other damaged barges. Also shown in the museum are the model of the royal barge procession, traditional uniforms for oarsmen, musical instruments, embroidered clothes and flags, weapons and paddles.

Located by the Bangkok Noi Canal, this museum, or the former Royal Barge Procession Dockyard, was established in the reign of King Taksin the Great (1767-1782). In 1974, all the royal barges were registered by the Fine Arts Department as national heritages and the National Museum of Royal Barges was officially established.

Anek Sihamat, director-general the Fine Arts Department, said the National Museum of Royal Barges involves the long-running royal barge procession ceremony, which dates to the Ayutthaya era and was seen by foreigners in the reign of King Narai (1656-1688).

The Fine Arts Department in collaboration with the Royal Thai Navy, the Crown Property Bureau and the Department of Tourism will come up with a plan to improve the museum in 2015.

"The master plan will be about improving the museum and its surrounding areas, creating local people's understanding and co-operation in the development, seeking to expand and use the museum as an information and learning centre about the royal barges and the waterside way of life," he added.

According to the department, the museum is hoped to have better space usage, exhibitions, storage rooms and be ready to become a world-class cultural attraction. It is expected to attract at least 100,000 Thai and foreign visitors each year after the renovation. At present, it is visited by about 5,000 people a day during the high season and by fewer than 100 people per day from April to September due to its hard-to-access location by chartered or tour boats.

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