Thailand

The Barge Ceremony

The King’s Royal Barge Procession was last month. Held on an auspicious date in December as oracled by advisors and holy people who divine the heavens and the fields. On the Chao Praya River, this is a celebration, depending on who you talk to, to mark the end of the rainy season or to finalize or reinforce the coronation. 

In summary, the King boards a barge. It is rowed down stream. A procession is held and the king makes an offering of new robes to the monks in an effort to gain merit.

As water is such a vital part of life here, it is fitting that the King has a barge befitting his status. Ornately carved of the finest woods and painted in gold leaf. And not only his barge, but there are barges for other royals. And barges to carry the offering and guard boats and escorts, some 50 in all. 

The crews practice hours on end for a year, rowing in unison not only amongst their individual boats, but in sync with every other boat on the river. The oars. Their torsos. The strokes. It is all impeccably timed with the chanting of a monk and some horns. 

It is all done with remarkable intensity that spans a couple kilometers along the water. Each individual in the area is screened and vetted. All river traffic is stopped. Bridges are blocked. Hotel balconies are cleared. A phalanx of motor boats idles slowly and every piece of garbage is removed. It is the cleanest the river has been in years. 

Security volunteers are posted every 10 meters along the river. They instruct and monitor observers. They hand out flags. They instruct when it is permitted to stand (never) and when to wave flags in adoration. They admonish when they see someone wearing sunglasses. They correct those who try and take selfies. It is remarkably controlled.

From start to finish the procession is about 3 hours long. It is a regal extravaganza. For some Thais I spoke with, they’ve seen this just once in their life time.  Whether that is by choice or by rarity depends. Given that it’s hard to get there to see, they may be forgiven for only venturing down once.  

Here’s some video I shot.  Because one wasn’t allowed to stand it was hard to get an unobstructed view.  

The link here is the entire 3 hour ceremony with english commentary. It is stunning if you can make it entirely through.  

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