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Inside Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 1978 Ordination: Historic Milestones and Royal Traditions

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On a remarkable day, Nov 6, 1978, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn traded his striking scarlet military uniform for the simple yet profound saffron robe of a Buddhist monk. This enchanting ceremony, steeped in centuries-old traditions, took place at the Royal Temple of the Emerald Buddha. At that moment, he was henceforth known as “Vajiralonggarano Bhikku,” dedicating the next 15 days at Wat Bovornnives—where his father had also taken monkhood.

The grand rites were observed by Their Majesties the King and Queen, the Royal Family, privy councillors, the prime minister along with his cabinet, Policy Council members, national assemblymen, military commanders, and countless other Thais tuning in through their television sets. Among the esteemed audience was the visiting Chinese Vice Premier, Teng Hsiao-ping, who respectfully performed a “wai” toward the newly ordained monk.

Dressed in a classic black “Mao” suit, Mr. Teng received an illustrious round of applause from the crowd. As he approached the chapel, supreme commander Serm na Nakhon, then-prime minister Kriangsak Chomanan, and deputy interior minister Prem Tinasulanonda greeted him warmly.

The 26-year-old Crown Prince’s ceremonial transformation began with his father, mother, and paternal grandmother cutting his hair, with a skilled barber taking on the subsequent task of shaving his head. Though many Thais experienced this transformation through television, thousands were present at the temple, including village scouts from all corners of the nation.

Royal Splendour

The royal procession arrived at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha around 2.15 PM, following a ceremony at the Paisal Taksin Throne Hall in the Grand Palace. His Royal Highness, donned in a military uniform with a distinctive scarlet jacket, moved gracefully amid the radiant surroundings. The royal ladies—including Her Majesty the Queen in deep crimson royal silk, princesses, and other esteemed family members—each added to the ceremony’s grandiosity with their brilliantly colored attire.

His Majesty the King, in a white uniform adorned with a sash and sword, kindled candles in reverence to Kings Rama I and II, who founded the Chakri Dynasty, and to the sacred statue of the Emerald Buddha. A Royal Page brought forth the monk’s robes, and the Crown Prince, along with Their Majesties, retreated to a specially prepared room to complete the head-shaving ritual. As tradition decreed, the King, being the monk-to-be’s father, cut the first ceremonial lock of hair, followed by the Queen, placing the hair on a golden tray.

Dressed in resplendent white and gold robes—an elevation from the simpler white robes usually worn by initiates—the Crown Prince emerged into the brilliant candlelight, accompanied by the resonant tones of deep gongs and sacred monk chants.

This historic event, unique in Thailand, was televised for the first time, allowing millions to witness what was described as a “once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.” The expert barber, Nai Choon Yaen-eka, executed the hair-shaving ceremony with precision, following which His Royal Highness took a ritual bath for purification. King Bhumibol Adulyadej then anointed his son’s forehead with the traditional three white dots of paste.

Simultaneously, in a meticulously carpeted area outside the Crown Prince’s special room within the temple, then-prime minister Kriangsak Chomanan, accompanied by his distinguished guest, Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping, and an adept interpreter, arrived. The interpreter fluently explained the proceedings to Teng, ensuring the vice premier was well-informed.

A Glimpse of Greatness

Outside, a large and expectant crowd gathered patiently, yearning to catch a glimpse of the adored Royal Family post-ceremony. Boy scouts were on standby, ready to assist if necessary. Everyone took their respective places, and the Royal Family entered the chapel through the rear door to sit facing 30 senior monks, headed by His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch, with the King and Queen on majestically adorned chairs.

Government dignitaries, clad in white uniforms, and their guests from China, attired in dark blue, were seated to the right of the Royal Family. The Crown Prince, with his head now shaved and wearing pale gold and white robes, knelt before the King, Queen, and Princess Mother, presenting them with traditional offerings.

To the backdrop of music from conch-trumpets and shells, the Crown Prince then performed the same ritual for the statue of the Emerald Buddha, followed by lighting candles in veneration of the Triple Gem and performing the five-point prostration. After saluting the King, the Crown Prince officially received his set of robes from his father and sought permission from the Supreme Patriarch to become a monk.

The ordination, conducted entirely in the ancient Pali language, required the Crown Prince to recite approximately 40 lines flawlessly. His Holiness spoke to him extensively about the significance of his monkhood before draping the monk’s upper robe over his neck.

As the trumpets and conch-shells resounded once more, the Crown Prince, accompanied by His Majesty the King, retreated to don the saffron robes for the first time. With the entire assembly on their feet, the transition was honored with the delicate tones of a piphat, a traditional Thai classical ensemble.

Returning barefoot and attired in a striped robe and sarong indicative of a novice, the Crown Prince knelt and touched his head to his father’s feet in filial obedience. Accompanied by his attendant, he made fresh offerings to the Supreme Patriarch and earnestly requested to be given the precepts.

With the Supreme Patriarch speaking from behind an ornate pear-shaped fan, the pageantry and distinguished spectators made this a scene of unparalleled grandeur, forever etched in the annals of Thailand’s history.

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