Thailand’s newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn made a spectacular public appearance in front of his countrymen on Sunday, carried atop a golden palanquin by soldiers in ancient fighting uniforms in a procession through Bangkok’s historic quarter.
Hundreds of other soldiers marched in front, behind and alongside the palanquin in scorching heat as the procession set off from Bangkok’s Grand Palace just after 5pm with a marching band setting the pace. Also taking part in the slow parade were the prime minister and other senior officials in the military government as well as the king’s wife, Queen Suthida, and one of his daughters, Princess Bajrakitiyabha.
Slightly more than five hours after starting the day-into-night, 7.15-kilometre (4.3-mile) journey, the king reached the last of three prominent Buddhist temples the Temple of the Reclining Buddha where he stopped to pay homage to Buddha images. At the two temples he visited earlier, he also paid homage to the relics of his royal ancestors.
After concluding his visit to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, also known as Wat Pho, the “Royal Procession on Land” travelled 1.5 km (1 mile) back to the Grand Palace, and the king’s palanquin passed through a gate at 11:40pm, approximately six-and-a-half hours after the journey began.
Vajiralongkorn on Saturday took part in an elaborate set of Buddhist and Hindu rituals that established his status as a full-fledged monarch with complete regal powers.
Also known as King Rama X, the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty, Vajiralongkorn had been serving as king since the October 2016 death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was on the throne for seven decades.
Though Thailand has had a constitutional monarchy since 1932, when a revolution ended absolute rule by kings, the country’s monarchs are regarded as almost divine and have been seen as a unifying presence in a country that has seen regular bouts of political instability as it rotates between elected governments and military rule.
Since taking the throne, Vajiralongkorn has tightened control over royal institutions and acted to increase his influence in his country’s administration. Like kings before him, he is protected by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, which makes criticism of him and other top royals punishable by up to 15 years in prison and has dampened open debate about the monarchy’s role in society.
Onlookers who crowded the sidewalks along Sunday’s parade route were almost all wearing yellow shirts, a colour closely associated with the monarchy. The 66-year-old king wore heavy, gold-embroidered vestments and a soft, wide-brimmed hat with a feather on top.
Some of those watching the parade clasped their hands in reverence; others took photos with their cellphones. Many waved small Thai flags or yellow royal flags. It was impossible to estimate the crowd size along the long, winding route. The crowds seemed to thicken after the sun went down and the weather cooled slightly.
When Vajiralongkorn passed by, there were shouts of “Long Live the King.” The palanquin was carried by five teams of 16 soldiers each, switching places at several points along their march.
The 109-member marching band played tunes composed by the king’s father, who was an enthusiastic musician, and a single musician played haunting sounds on a conch shell.
“I love and respect the monarchy,” said Sujitra Bokularb, a 43-year-old businesswoman who left home at 4am to get a place on the parade route. “We have been shown the importance of this institution since we were young and how much the previous king had done for us. I think the new king will continue his legacy.” Vajiralongkorn was shielded by an ochre umbrella, and other royal symbols were hoisted high around him. After slightly more than an hour of marching, the king reached Wat Bovoranives, the first of the three temples visited.
Earlier on Sunday, the king began his second day of coronation activities by granting new titles to members of the royal family in front of an audience of dignitaries including top government officials and senior Buddhist monks.
He launched the Sunday morning event in a hall at the Grand Palace by paying respects in front of portraits of his late father and his mother, who has been hospitalised for an extended period. His 86-year-old mother, known as Queen Sirikit, was granted a new official title of Queen Mother.
Vajiralongkorn’s son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, was one of the family members granted a fresh title and royal decorations for the new reign. He turned 14 on April 29 and is the heir presumptive.
While Saturday’s ceremonies were solemn and heavily tinged with age-old rites, including the prominent presence of Brahmin priests, Sunday morning’s event was slightly more relaxed, though also steeped with traditional royal and Buddhist gestures.
Live television coverage showed some glimpses of informality: Queen Suthida exchanging a brief aside with Vajiralongkorn; two of his daughters in a warm hug after the second one returned from receiving her new title.
Monday will see the king greet the public from the balcony of the Grand Palace in the late afternoon and then hold a reception for the diplomatic corps. There will be a river procession around the end of October.