The coronation ceremony for King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X of Thailand, began Saturday in an elaborate show of pageantry, laced with Hindu and Buddhist ritual, two years after ascending the throne following his father’s death.
Starting at the auspicious time of 10:09 am (0309 GMT), the public was granted a rare window into the cloistered halls of Thai power as the key rituals of the three-day coronation began.
King Vajiralongkorn is the tenth monarch of the Chakri dynasty, which has reigned since 1782.
Saturday’s sombre ceremony began with the white-gowned king — the folds of his robe leaving one shoulder bared — receiving sacred water from across Thailand and dabbing it gently across his face at a shrine inside the Grand Palace complex.
A cannon salute marked the moment as pipes played and Buddhist monks chanted.
Several grey-haired Hindu Brahmins were also in attendance at the syncretic ceremony, which symbolises Rama X’s transformation from a human to divine figure.
He will later take his seat under the umbrella of state where he will be handed the Great Crown of Victory, a tiered gold 7.3-kilogram (16-pound) headpiece topped by a diamond from India.
For most Thais, it will be the first time they have witnessed a coronation — the last was in 1950 for the king’s beloved father Bhumibol Adulyadej.
“I’m excited to have a chance to be a part of this… I’m here to capture people’s emotions,” said Jakarin Kerdchok, 16, a volunteer student taking photos near the palace.
Hundreds of state officials in immaculate white uniforms lined the streets around the Grand Palace.
But there were only pockets of civilians braving the hot sun for the royal convoy.
Bhumibol was seen as a figure of unity in the politically chaotic kingdom until his death in October 2016.
His son Vajiralongkorn, 66, is less well-known to the Thai public, preferring to spend much of his time overseas and rarely addressing his subjects.
Fiercely private and four times married, he has inherited one of the world’s richest monarchies and a kingdom submerged by political crisis.
– Mystery man –
Thailand has been run by an arch-royalist junta since 2014.
Rama X is widely seen as an adroit player of Thailand’s treacherous politics, intervening several times — including in the March 24 election — during his short reign.
Those elections are yet to yield a new government, with the kingdom split between pro and anti-junta blocs, the latter crying foul over the vote count so far.
Full results are due to be announced next week with the ruling junta tipped to return as civilian government.
“The coronation distracts from the popular indignation regarding election irregularities,” said Thai politics expert Paul Chambers of Naresuan University.
The Thai monarchy takes primacy in the country’s power pyramid, but it is buttressed by the army.
Junta leaders past and present were prominent in Saturday’s ceremonies.
Earlier, the king arrived at the Grand Palace in a cream Rolls-Royce, his hand raised in a wave but his face characteristically inscrutable.
He was accompanied by his smiling new wife — Queen Suthida — a former flight attendant turned royal bodyguard.
Their marriage was unexpectedly announced on Wednesday.
On Friday, the king warmly greeted family members in an intimate gathering broadcast on Thai television, including his 14-year-old son from his third marriage — Prince Dipangkorn — and his elder sister Ubolratana.
She stunned Thailand in February when her name was forwarded as a candidate for premier by an anti-junta party — a move swiftly shot down by her brother in a rare royal command.
Harsh lese-majeste laws mean unguarded discussion about the monarchy inside Thailand is virtually impossible.
Thailand’s normally hyperactive social media has been subdued in the days leading up to the coronation.
Born on July 28, 1952, the British-schooled Vajiralongkorn is known for his love of cycling and piloting jets, but he spends much of his time overseas — mainly in Germany — and remains something of a mystery to many Thais.
Source: Seychelles News Agency