The people of Thailand are witnessing this weekend the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a centuries-old royal tradition that last happened seven decades ago.
The coronation represents a renewal of the monarchy’s power after the October 2016 death of King Vajiralongkorn’s revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The 66-year-old has served as king since then. But to be fully and formally invested with regal power and to ensure his legitimacy, he will be consecrated in an elaborate series of ancient rites that culminate in three days of elaborate pageantry.
The main ceremony takes place on Saturday, when King Vajiralongkorn will put on a crown, more than 200 years old, 26in-high, weighing 7.3kg and ornamented with diamonds set in gold enamel.
Other events include a parade and an appearance by the monarch on a balcony of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
“This ceremony is significant to Thailand because the monarchy… is a very important institution of our country and is the soul of our nation,” said Naowarat Buakluan, a 41-year-old civil servant.
“If you ask why the ceremony is being held this year when his majesty has already ascended the throne, it’s because this is the right moment. Previously we Thais were mourning the loss of our beloved late king.”
King Vajiralongkorn inherits a nation in political turmoil, with the powerful army entrenched in government for five years after staging a coup in 2014.
An election held in March has been widely seen as rigged through convoluted election laws to favour the military and its preferred candidate, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup and has headed the government since then.
King Vajiralongkorn has tightened control over royal institutions and what amounts to political privileges.
He surprised the country’s ruling junta when “to ensure his royal powers”, he requested changes to a new constitution that had already been approved in a referendum. They acquiesced.
The powers he acquired centralise royal authority in his hands and make explicit his right to intervene in government affairs, especially in times of political crisis.
Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent intellectual and social critic, said he does not expect King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation to differ much in style from his father’s — although Thailand did not have television broadcasts in 1950, and this weekend’s events will have blanket coverage across all channels.
Saturday’s rituals include the royal purification ceremony at the Grand Palace, where holy water is showered over the king’s head.
He then ascends the throne and sits beneath the nine-tiered umbrella, used only by the king, to receive the royal golden plaque, royal regalia and weapons of sovereignty, and his crown, among other symbols of the monarchy, from the chief Brahmin — a dignitary whose role reflects the influence of Hinduism on Thai’s monarchy.
The king later receives members of the royal family, the Privy Council and Cabinet, among other senior officials, who will pay their respects in the Throne Hall.
Afterwards, he will visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to announce he is the royal defender of Buddhism. The day’s events end with a ceremony of the Assumption of the Royal Residence, a symbolic palace housewarming.
On Sunday, there will be a 4.3-mile royal procession involving 343 men, some of them carrying the king through old Bangkok in an ornately decorated palanquin, allowing Thais to pay homage to their new king.
Monday will see the king greet the public from the balcony of the Grand Palace in the late afternoon and then hold a reception for the diplomatic corps.