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Thai King coronation: Slippers, an umbrella and the sacred royal regalia

Published 4th May 2019
A billboard shows Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn's regalia to be used during his  three-day coronation ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand April 30, 2019. Picture taken April 30, 2019.
Credit: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters
Thai King coronation: Slippers, an umbrella and the sacred royal regalia
Written by Oscar Holland, CNN
Contributors Kocha Olarn, CNN
A 7-kilogram crown, a pair of pointed slippers and an ornate nine-tiered umbrella -- these are just some of the extravagant artifacts set to feature in rituals marking the coronation of Thailand's new king on Saturday.
The elaborate items, which form part of the "royal regalia," will play a crucial ceremonial role as King Maha Vajiralongkorn formally ascends the throne more than two years after his father's death. 
Although the country's monarchy can be traced back to the 13th century, many of its current coronation rites were established during the reign of Rama I, who founded the Chakra dynasty -- the present era -- in 1782. Also dating back to this period are a collection of sacred objects that will be presented to the new king.
King Prajadhipok, or Rama VII, pictured on the throne with various items of royal regalia at his 1926 coronation.
King Prajadhipok, or Rama VII, pictured on the throne with various items of royal regalia at his 1926 coronation. Credit: Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images
After the new king is "purified" with holy water, gathered from Bangkok and each of Thailand's 76 provinces, he will be presented with the royal items in the main throne room of the Grand Palace, an opulent complex on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
"This royal ceremony has been passed along for several hundred years, and mostly we have stuck to its original form," said royal historian, Mom Rajawongse Suriyavudh Sukhasvasti, over the phone.
"Records from the Sukhothai era (1238-1428) mention presenting the royal regalia (to the new king), just like in the present day."

The crown and umbrella

Of the sacred items, one is a particularly common symbol among the world's monarchies: a gold crown encrusted with diamonds and precious stones.
Officially known as the Crown of Victory, the 7.3-kilogram (16-pound) headpiece -- more than seven times heavier than Queen Elizabeth II's Imperial State Crown -- has a multi-tiered, conical shape similar to those used by other royal families in southeast Asia.
The Thai crown, officially known as the Crown of Victory.
The Thai crown, officially known as the Crown of Victory. Credit: National Archives of Thailand
The item dates back to the 18th century, although one of King Vajiralongkorn's ancestors, Rama IV, who ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868, subsequently attached a huge Indian diamond to its 26-inch-tall tip. He also oversaw the addition of two ornate flaps that hang over the monarch's ears, according to Suriyavudh, who is himself the great-grandson of Rama IV.
In previous generations, the crown would never be worn, and was instead placed next to the king during the coronation. But contact with Europe's royal houses has seen the item's role -- and symbolic importance -- gradually evolve.
Since King Rama IV's coronation in 1851, the crown has been worn by monarchs during the ceremony (although they never do so again). On Saturday, the Crown of Victory will be handed to King Vajiralongkorn by the chief Brahmin, a leading religious figure overseeing the coronation rites -- though he will be expected to place the crown upon his own head.
Related video: More than 500 sculptures to honor the late King Bhumibol
Unlike in some European monarchies, however, the physical crowning does not mark the definitive moment of the ritual.
In fact, the coronation is only considered complete when the new king is presented with the royal nine-tiered umbrella. Considered the "most important" of the sacred objects by the country's Ministry of Culture, the soaring, layered umbrella will hang permanently above the king's throne thereafter.
Only King Vajiralongkorn will be permitted to sit beneath it, as its nine-tiered structure is reserved for crowned monarchs (royals of lower ranking may sit beneath umbrellas with fewer tiers). Each year, on the anniversary of his coronation, the new king will be expected to make offerings to the sacred item.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej pictured beneath the royal nine-tiered umbrella following his coronation in 1950.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej pictured beneath the royal nine-tiered umbrella following his coronation in 1950. Credit: Wikipedia
There are, in reality, seven of the royal nine-tiered umbrellas. Most of them are kept above the various thrones of the Grand Palace, where the other sacred items are also permanently housed. The umbrellas represent the protection the king will offer the Thai people, serving as "a symbol that the king has power and prestige all over the country," Suriyavudh said.

Offering sacred items

Similar symbolism underpins the other items featured in the ceremony. Suriyavudh points to a golden fan, shaped like a tamarind pod, and the royal scepter, which was originally a wooden staff before being remade in gold in the 19th century.
The royal fly-whisk and fan, two items of Thailand's royal regalia
The royal fly-whisk and fan, two items of Thailand's royal regalia Credit: National Archives of Thailand
"The royal fan is a symbol that he will ease the suffering of the people," he explained. "The scepter is a symbol that he can be reliable for all walks of life."
Other items of the royal regalia, which will be handed to the king after he accepts the nine-tiered umbrella, include the Sword of Victory, which features a 25-inch blade and a bejeweled sheath and hilt, and the royal slippers. Made from enameled gold and inlaid with diamonds, the pointed slippers will be placed directly onto the king's feet by the chief Brahmin.
The current items of regalia -- most of which were created under the orders of Rama I -- may be no more than 250 years old, but it's believed that similar items were used in coronations in the historic kingdoms of Siam dating back almost seven centuries. Indeed, Rama IV commissioned a luxurious fly whisk (a tool used for swatting flies), believing that it offered a more accurate interpretation of historic records than the existing royal fan.
The royal slippers, which will be placed on the king's feet during the ceremony.
The royal slippers, which will be placed on the king's feet during the ceremony. Credit: National Archives of Thailand
While much has changed in Thailand since the last coronation in 1950, when the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended the throne, the centuries-old regalia will continue to forge a link between the new king and the monarchs of dynasties past.
Top image: A billboard shows the Sword of Victory, an item of Thailand's royal regalia.
CNN's Mohammed Elshamy contributed to this report.