One of the grandest spectacles in the Kingdom of Thailand, the Royal Barge Procession on the Chao Phraya – the ‘River of Kings’ – is an ancient tradition that was revived by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1959.* This breathtaking water-borne procession is reserved for nationally auspicious occasions and has been held only sixteen times during His Majesty’s reign.
HM King Bhumibol is the ninth ruler of the Royal House of Chakri, a dynasty founded in 1782. He is the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, and has since 1989 been the world’s longest reigning incumbent monarch.
To commemorate the auspicious occasion of HM King Bhumibol’s 84th birthday on 5 December 2011, Rear Admiral Apiwat Sriwattana, in his capacity as Chairman of the Preparation Committee for the Royal Barge Procession, has announced that the Royal Thai Navy will be organizing a Royal Kathin Royal Barge Procession on 22 October 2011 to mark the visit of HM King Bhumibol and members of the royal family to a royal temple to present offerings of saffron kathin robes, food and other necessities, to the monks.
Officially known as the Praratcha Phithi Phra Yuha Yatra Cholamak (Royal Waterway Procession), the water-borne procession involves barges carrying the deeply revered Buddha image (Phra Buddha Sihing) and the royal family to present robes to the monks at Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) to mark Awk Phansa, the end of the three-month Buddhist rains’ retreat in October. During the rainy season, Buddhist monks traditionally return to their temples for what is often called Buddhist lent.
This annual pilgrimage, which usually takes place during the full moon in October and November, is known as Tawt Kathin Luang or the Royal Kathin Ceremony. The religious ceremony is performed in accordance with ancient sacred rituals.
The water-borne royal kathin procession on 22 October will consist of a flotilla of 52 traditional-style barges arranged in five columns, based on a battle formation from ancient times. This is made up of four major royal barges — Suphannahongse, Narai Song Suban H.M. King Rama IX, Anantanagaraj and Anekchatbhuchongse, ten with animal figureheads and 38 smaller vessels. The five-column flotilla stretches 1,280 metres in length and 110 across. A total of 2,200 sailors from various units within the Royal Thai Navy will serve as oarsmen.
His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over the Royal Barge Procession and Royal Kathin ceremony at Wat Arun on behalf of His Majesty the King. The Crown Prince will board the royal barge Suphannahongse at Vasukri Pier at 3.30 pm.
Royal barge processions take approximately 55 minutes to make the 4.5 kilometre journey down the Chao Phraya River to Wat Arun, covering the section from Thonburi Bridge to Phra Phutta Yodfa Bridge. The official ceremony is expected to end at approximately 5.30 pm.
The royal barges of Thailand are the last of their kind in the world. The last time that a royal barge procession was organized was on 12 June 2006 for the diamond jubilee celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of HM King Bhumibol’s accession to the throne.
The Royal Barges in the Rattanakosin Period: A Precious Heritage
Throughout his long reign, HM King Bhumibol has devoted special attention to the preservation of the arts and culture of Thailand. On viewing the ruins of Ayutthaya, His Majesty once remarked: "Ancient ruins always do honour to a nation. Even an old brick from an ancient ruin is worthy of our preservation, for if we do not have Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Bangkok, then Thailand itself does not mean anything."
The barges were badly damaged by allied bombing during World War II. Upon his return to Thailand in December 1951, HM King Bhumibol went to inspect the damage and condition of the barges in their dry dock on Bangkok Noi canal on the west bank of the Chao Phraya. The king was gravely concerned about the extensive deterioration of these historic vessels and commissioned their renovation. The ancient tradition of royal barge processions for nationally auspicious occasions was later revived.
The waterways of Siam have served as highways for Thai people for centuries, and Thai life literally revolved around them. The origins of the royal barge procession date from the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng (reign 1275-1316 AD) in the Sukhothai era (circa 1238-1438). Descriptions of royal kathin ceremonies on both land and water have been described as far back as the Ayutthaya era (circa 1351-1767). By the mid-Ayutthaya years, the processions were conducted during the day. By the reign of Rama I (reign 1782-1809) in Bangkok, the rite had been combined with others for waterborne Buddha images.
Royal Kathin Barge Procession – 22 October 2011
Royal Thai Navy Rehearsal Schedule
A total of eight rehearsals will be conducted between 26 August through to 7 October. Two full dress rehearsals are currently scheduled for 13 and 18 October, prior to the actual Royal Kathin Barge Procession on 22 October.
Royal Barges published by the Foreign News Division, Government Public Relations Department, Office of the Prime Minister