A Royal Barge (1865), BOSCH Telecom Inside Guide to Bangkok (1995), purchased & donated by Rong Dong, digitally mastered by user:kosigrimThailand's Royal Barge Procession (Thai: กระบวนพยุหยาตราชลมารค; RTGS: Krabuan Phayuhayattra Chonlamak) is a ceremony of both religious and royal significance which has been taking place for nearly 700 years. The exquisitely crafted Royal Barges are a blend of craftsmanship and traditional Thai art. The Royal Barge Procession takes place rarely, typically coinciding with only the most significant cultural and religious events. During the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej spanning over 60 years the Procession has only occurred 16 times.
The Royal Barge Procession, in the present, consists of 52 barges (51 historical Barges, and the Royal Barge the Narai Song Suban King Rama IX, built in 1994 and the only Barge built during King Bhumibol's reign) and is manned by 2,082 oarsmen. The Procession proceeds down the Chao Phraya River, from the Wasukri Royal Landing Place in Khet Dusit, Bangkok, passes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the The Grand Palace, Wat Po (Thai: วัดโพธิ์), and finally arrives at Wat Arun (Thai: วัดอรุณ, Temple of the Dawn).
Thailand's Royal Barge Procession most likely began during the Ayutthaya period, in the 14th century. Western visitors witnessed and wrote about the "immense procession with 200 boats" upon their arrival in Thailand in the 18th century. During the processions, the oarsmen were kept in rhythm by the beating of drums, with accompanying music. This traditional boat song was written by Prince Dhamma Dibes of the late Ayutthaya period.
In 1767, Burma invaded Thailand, and amid the destruction hundreds of the barges were burned and destroyed. General Taksin rallied the Thais, and established the new capital at Thonburi. During his short 15 year reign, Taksin ordered the reconstruction of the barge fleet, and used a fleet of 115 barges to carry the holy image of Buddha to the new capital.
General Chakri succeeded General Taksin on the latter's death, and moved the capital to present-day Bangkok, across the Chao Phraya river from Thonburi. General Chakri, the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, named King Buddha Yodfah, or Rama I, began the Royal Kathin Ceremony procession. The Kathin Ceremony is the presentation of robes Kathin Robes and making of merit in tribute to and support of the Buddhist Monks.
Soon after his accession to the throne in 1782, King Rama I ordered the construction of the Royal Barge Suphannahongse (also spelled Subanahongsa). The Royal Barge Suphannahongse was the principle Royal Barge for over 100 years. Rama VI, in 1911, launched its successor, also named Suphannahongse.
Prince Nakhon Sawan, during the reign of Rama V, regulated the formations, which became established as the standard "Major" and "Minor" formations still used today.
The Processions took place occasionally, until 1932, upon the dissolution of the absolute monarchy, and were not resumed until 1957, in celebration of the 25th century of the Buddhist Era. In 1959, H.M. King Bhumipol Adulyadej revived the Royal Barge Procession for the Royal Kathin.