Bangkok, May 4: King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X of Thailand, was crowned Saturday in a dazzling show of pageantry, laced with Hindu and Buddhist ritual, vowing to reign “with righteousness” on behalf of the Thai people.
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.
He ascended the throne over two years ago following the death of his beloved father, but waited until after a long mourning period before setting his coronation date.
Saturday’s sombre ceremony opened 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 later took his seat under the umbrella of state and was handed the Great Crown of Victory, a tiered gold 7.3-kilogram (16-pound) headpiece topped by a diamond from India.
Uttering his first, brief royal command he vowed to reign “with righteousness” for the benefit of the Thai people.
His fourth wife, Suthida — married in a surprise ceremony days before the coronation — was invested as Queen, kneeling in respect in front of her husband who sat on a throne.
For most Thais, it is the first time they have witnessed the pomp and grandeur of 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 only a modest number of civilians braved the hot sun for the royal convoy.
“I’m really happy and proud because as citizens, we have the best king and queen in Thailand or even the world,” said Pornthip Pongsai, a resident of Ang Thong province who travelled hours to catch a glimpse.
The king held a grand audience with members of the royal family, the privy council and senior officials later in the afternoon at the Grand Palace.
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, spending 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.
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 the 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.
The military regime drove a wide-ranging image campaign in the months and weeks leading up to the coronation, as Vajiralongkorn’s visage appeared on money, stamps and in front of government offices and banks closer to the ceremony.
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.
On Friday, the king warmly greeted family members, a rare glimpse of royal family intimacy 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 abroad — mainly in Germany — and remains something of a mystery to many Thais. (AFP)