The tradition began to change during the reign of King Rama IV when the then Kingdom of Siam was exposed to Western monarchic culture which highlights the crowning as the pinnacle of the coronation.
Still, the consecration of water for the ablution or Song Phra Muratha Bhisek and anointment remains central to the centuries-old ritual.
The ablution or purification bath of the King is the first coronation rite. The term Muratha Bhisek refers to an act of pouring holy water over the head of the King while the rite itself means to offer sovereignty to a person.
According to the coronation programme, the purification bath is scheduled to take place on the morning of May 4 at the Chakrapat Biman Royal Residence within the Grand Palace.
After the King arrives at the ceremony, he will be invited to change into a white robe. The King will then be seated in a pavilion-like structure specially built for the ceremony. At an auspicious time, a shower of ritual water will be released from the canopy above.
The purification water traditionally comes from sacred sources both in Thailand and India. In Thailand, the water was collected from five rivers and four ponds. The five rivers are Bang Pakong River in Nakhon Nayok, Pasak River in Saraburi, Chao Phraya River in Angthong, Ratchaburi River in Samut Songkhram and Phetchaburi River in Phetchaburi province.
The four sacred ponds are all located in Suphan Buri.
According to MR Suriyavudh Suksvasti, a renowned art historian serving as chief of the committee in charge of information on the royal coronation ceremony, the custom of sourcing ritual water from local sources dated back to the later Ayutthaya period.
“Monarchs from the Ban Phlu Luang dynasty (the last one of the Ayutthaya Kingdom) incorporated water taken from four sacred ponds in Suphan Buri into the coronation ceremony because the kings originally hailed from the area,” Prof MR Suriyavudh said.
The ponds – Sa Ket, Sa Kaeo, Sa Khongkha and Sa Yamuna – are still regarded by locals as sacred water sources.
In the reign of King Rama V, water from India’s five sacred rivers was actually mixed with that collected from sacred rivers and ponds around Thailand.
King Rama X, however, expressed his wish to economise on the ceremony so the water used for the coronation will be taken only from local sources.
The collection of the purification water will start on April 6. A week after that, on April 18, the water will be consecrated in a ceremony at Wat Suthat Thepphawararam in Bangkok. The choice of the temple is symbolic as it was built by King Rama I, the founder of the Chakri Dynasty.
Following the purification bath ceremony, the King will change into his regal vestments, a highly decorated traditional costume consisting of a golden embroidered long coat, elaborate silk shirt and lower garment. He will then proceed to the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall, where the Royal Anointment Ceremony will take place.
The King will be seated on the octagonal Atha Disa Throne, representing eight cardinal directions of the compass. The throne will have the seven-tiered white umbrella symbolic of the king prior to being consecrated above it.
Formerly, the King was presented with the Anointment Water by the Royal Pandit or Chief Brahmin. However, for the coronation of King Rama IX in 1950, a member of the parliament (Khuang Aphaiwong) was assigned to present the Anointment Water to the late King, who reigned under constitutional monarchy.
As the anointment ceremony proceeds, the King will be presented with eight vessels of the holy water. He will turn clockwise to each corresponding direction as he receives each vessel until he returns to the east again.
For the May 4 coronation, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the King’s younger sister; Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, President of the Supreme Court Cheep Jullamon, four Brahmins and scholars are designated to present the anointment water to the King.
Once the King is anointed, he will be presented with the nine-tiered white umbrella, the symbol of a consecrated king.
(Sources & photos: The Royal Coronation Ceremony, Ministry of Culture)