Thursday 2 May 2019

The Thai Coronation and Thiruvempavai

Thailand is in a festive mood now. King Maha Vajiralongkorn will be officially crowned as the monarch on March 4th. His coronation name is going to be Rama X.  It must be noted that the present line of Thailand kings are from the Chakri Dynasty, founded by Rama I. The dynasty is ruling the country since 18th Century CE. 

Since historical times, Thailand had close relations with India and the country has cultural and religious links with Bharath. Hence it is no wonder that the coronation ceremony of Thai Kings is quite similar to the coronation ceremony of ancient Indian kings. Despite the fact that the monarchs are Buddhists, most of the coronation ceremony follows Vedic rituals.  The Homas proceeding the coronation date, the Abhisheka similar to the Rajyabhisheka ritual similar to that of Vedic times, reciting of Vedic Mantra are some of the examples of this. In the midst of all these, one notable feature is reciting of Thiruvempavai, part of the Thiruvasagam verses sung by Manickavachagar, during the crowning of the new king. What was the link between Thiruvempavai and Thailand ? Why it is being recited during the ceremony ?

One can easily infer that Thiruvempavai went to Thailand during the Chola era. During their South East Expeditions, Takoba in Thailand named as ‘Thalai Thakkolam’ in Rajendra’s Meikeerthi, was a strategic port from which the Chola army launched lightning attacks on the Sailendra Kingdom. Tamil merchants had many trading bases in Thailand. So it is easy to surmise that the Tamil Siva Brahmins could have also gone with them to perform Poojas in the temples constructed by the merchants and local kings. They have taken the Thiruvempavai along with them. 

The evidence for this can be inferred from the book ‘Tamrab Tao Shri Chulalak’ written by the queen Nang Noppamas of Sukhothai kingdom during 1348 CE. It is mentioned that during the first month of the year, ‘Triyempavai’  festival was celebrated in the family temple of the king. She also writes that ‘a swing’ festival took place during that time and people prayed Shiva and Narayana during that time. In 1461 CE, Royal notes of King Param Trilokanath of Ayutthaya city declares that the Triyempavai festival as the Royal festival  and elaborates the rituals by which the Brahmins enter the Palace with Flowers, Paddy etc during that festival. Like this, Thiruvembavai slowly got ‘customised’ with festivals like ‘Swing festival’ and became part of the Royal life. The current belief is that during the first month of the Thai year, post the new moon period, Shiva comes to earth for ten days and then Narayana (Narai) comes and stays here for five more days. Triyempavai is celebrated during this period. 

Like the tamil version, the Thai Triyempavai has 20 verses of which the first 11 are called as ‘Pothmurai yaai’ and the next 9 are called as ‘Pothmurai klang’.  The first 11 are sung before Shiva and the next 9 before Narayana. However, unlike the tamil way, in which the Thiruvempaavai is sung in a ‘Pan’ - raaga, the Thai triyempaavai is ‘recited’ as a Mantra. For example, the first verse ‘Aadhiyum Andhamum illaa arumperum Chodhiyai yaampaada Keteyum vaalthadangan’  is recited as ‘aadhiyumandhamumilla varunperunyo thipaiyampaa kadket dayumvaadkadan’. 

So what happens during the coronation ceremony. The King is bathed and after the initial rituals, the coronation is performed on a throne of gilded figwood known as ‘Bhadrapitha Throne’. The king will be seated in the throne. A Siva Brahamana then recite the first verse of the Triyempavai and then hand over the crown to the King. The King puts the crown on his head and the rest of the rituals follow. This is one of the continuation of the Tamil influence in Thailand and especially with the Kings of Thailand. 

When King Vajiralongkorn gets crowned in couple of days, we will witness again reciting of our beloved Manickavachakar’s Thiruvempavai in a far away land, a tradition which continues from 13th Century, a moment to be proud of our ancient kings who spread our great religion in far away lands.  

Reference :

1) Siamese State Ceremonies by Quaritch Wales H G
2) Dravidian influence in Thai culture by M E Manickavasagom PIllai


  1. Similarly there are many Brahminical ceremonies performed during the cornation. There is an official astrologer in the palace who decides the important ceremonial dates.