Since the Sukhothai era, Thai Kings have been known to go on processions by various means. Travelling by boat is called the "Royal Barge Procession" During the time when Ayutthaya was the capital, the city was an island,surrouded by several rivers, canals and waterways. Therefore, people living on the river banks primarily used boats to travel, Travelling by boat also played an important role during wartime and many warships were built in the era. During peacetime,these warships were usually employed in war training in which men usually attend when they were free from farming during the rainy season. In addition, the kings usually went on "Royal Kathin Offering" (the presentation of robes to monks), a common practice for Buddhists,during the season.
Their majesties usually went on the Royal Barge Procession on such occasions, to which parades were added for the people to celebrate. The reign of King Narayana, most of which time the country was free from wars, was considered the golden age for arts and cultures. Then, more then 150 vessels joined the Grand Royal Barge Procession. Oarsmen would dress in elegant outfits and move their oars synchronously in rhyme with the chanting. The processions were so spectacular that foreigners who stayed in Thailand during that time, particularly the French, recorded in their memoirs that the Royal Barge Processions were "incomparable in its grandeur."
The Narayana Songsuban barge belongs to the King Class(2) under the category which features animal figureheads. Evidences of animal-figureheaded barges dated from the King Maha Chakrapat reign in the Ayutthaya era. The figureheads of these arges were carved into a variety of animals, both real and legendary, so that connons could be placed unobtrusively below them. Most of the animal shapes carved into figureheads were ususally taken from the ministerial crests, such as lions,elephants, nagas, etc.
Initially, the Narayana Songsuban was named "Mongolsuban" (Blessed Garuda) King Rama III of the Rattanakosin era ordered her construction, imitating the Ayutthaya design. According to dynastic archives, the purpose of her construction was to be "an honour of the kingdom". Designed to complement 65 oarsmen, the barge is 35.5 metres long, 212.5 centimetres wide and 65 centimetres deep. The exterior of the bottom of the barge was painted red. Under the original design, the figurehead was made of a piece of wood carved into a garuda or a garuda catching a naga. A hole was made under the garuda at the figurehead to accommodate a cannon. Later, King rama IV added to the design Narayana standing on the back of the existing garuda to enhance splendour and to be more in line with the Brahman belief, which maintains that the garuda is the royal vehicle of the Narayana Upon completion, King Rama IV changed the name to "Narayana Songsuban (Narayana riding the Garuda) ".
According to the evidences of the Royal Barge Procession in the Rattanakosin era, the Mongolsuban or Narayana Songsuban barge participated in a couple of major Grand Royal Barge Processions during the reign of King Rama IV. The first time was during King Rama IV's entourage around the capital when he was first crowned on May 21,1851. The other time was when Prince Vachiroonnahit was nominated crown prince on January 19, 1886 Since the rign of King Rama V, the Narayaba Songsuban barge has presumably been worn out as no evidences have been found that the barge had taken part in the Royal Barge Processions again. Only her figurehead was left, which, according to the archives, the Naval Ministry had kept until 1953. Since then,the figurehead has been kept by the Fine Arts Department at the National Museum
The figurehead of the Narayana Songsuban barge is one of the most elaborate mastepieces of the early Rattanakosin era, especially in the reign of King Rama III, when the fine arts of carving and gilding were brought to perfection. Additionally, the symbolic significance of the barge is associated with the Thai monarch as it reflects and emphasises the long-held faith that Kings are the incarnations of gods. According to the Bramahn belief, a couple of Gods, Siva and Narayana, are highly influential to human intellect and kings were believed to be the incarnations of these two gods.
Therefore, the initiative of the Royal Thai Navy to construct and present His Majesty with a barge with figurehead of Narayana riding the garuda on the occasion of his 50th accession to the throne is by all means most befitting. It honours and highlights the merits of His Majesty in keeping with the long-held custom of Thais. Thus,the Royal Thai Navy submitted a letter asking for the royal permission to build a new royal barge in celebration of the 50th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne on June 9,1996.
Upon granting the royal permission, His Majesty named the new barge
"Narayana Songsuban Royal Barge of King Rama IX" Classified as the
second-class royal barge with covered throne and regalia, the barge holds a rank
equivalent to those of Ananta Nakha Raj and Anakachart
Bhuchong royal barges.
The construction is expected to be completed on May 5, 1996. Furthermore, the Royal Thai Navy will restore all of the 53 ceremonial barges to functional service for the Grand Royal Barge Procession. The new barge will be constructed entirely anew and will be the first royal barge ever built in this reign to become part of the national heritage of the Rattanakosin's craftsmanship. Her figurehead is to be carved by Thai craftsmen based on the original design. On September 5, 1994, His Majesty presided over the keellaying ceremony of the Narayana Songsuban Royal Barge Rama IX at Thonburi Naval Dockyard, Naval Dockyard Department.
The construction of the new royal barge is based on the methods of shipbuilding during the Ratanakosin era, coupled with the new technology. The figurehead features Narayana riding a garuda. The size will be slightly larger than the original barge, of 3.20 meters in width, 44.30 metres in length and 1.10 metres in depth. It weighs approximately 20 tons. The number of oarsmen to man the barge is cut from 65, required by the original design, to 50, marking the 50th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne
Not funded by the nation's central budget, the entire budget of 11,941,730 baht will be mobilised by the Royal Thai Navy. To allow the public to express their loyalty to His Majesty and to raise funds for the project, the Royal Thai Navy will issue commemorative coins for the occasion. The front of the coin will pose the image of His Majesty King Rama IX while the image of the Narayana Songsuban barge will be on the back.
Back to Home Page