December 5, 2012 marks the 85th birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. To celebrate the auspicious occasion, the government has assigned the Royal Thai Navy to orchestrate a royal barge procession on the Chao Phraya River for a traditional royal Buddhist ceremony called ‘kathin’ after the end of the Buddhist Lent at historic riverside Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.
The first rehearsal of the flotilla was held recently.
Fifty-two royal barges gracefully glided from the Wasukri royal landing on a breezy morning. Escorted by five columns of vessels, the procession was led by four exquisitely-crafted royal barges—Suphannahong, Narai Songsuban HM Rama IX, Anantanakkharaj and Anekkachatpuchong.
The procession also includes eight animal masthead barges, 22 lesser escort barges, or Rua Dang, and 18 other vessels.
The river-borne convoy proceeds from the Wasukri landing, passing the Temple of Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace, and arrives at Wat Arun.
The boat song to be chanted in the procession this year is newly composed by Captain Thongyoi Saengsinchai, a retired naval officer with a gift of poetry and the telling of sagas. He has composed songs for royal barge processions since 1996.
“The newly composed boat song composed by Captain Thongyoi is timely and appropriate for this year’s ceremony. The oarsmen’s costumes are provided as a courtesy by the Royal Household Bureau,” Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Thai Navy Vice Admiral Pojana Puekpong said.
The first rehearsal was recently conducted after each unit has separately rehearsed during the past seven months.
A total of 2,220 naval oarsmen from 29 Royal Thai Navy units in Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Prakarn and the Sattahip naval base in Chonburi participate in the procession. The rehearsal was rather smooth and finished in 45 minutes as planned — despite showers and a fast-flowing tide in the river.
Seven dress rehearsals will be held between November 2 and 6.