BANGKOK – 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 a.m., 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 10th monarch of the Chakri dynasty, which has reigned since 1782.
He ascended to the throne over two years ago following his the death of his beloved father but waited until after a long mourning period before setting his coronation date.
Saturday’s somber 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 gray-haired Hindu Brahmins were also in attendance at the syncretic ceremony, which symbolizes 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, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
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.
Thailand has been run by an archroyalist 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 have 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 in the coming 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 is buttressed by the army.
Junta leaders past and present were prominent in Saturday’s ceremonies.
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 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 were 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.