This coming March Danaca Design will be hosting a show featuring tiaras and crowns in many forms called Crowning Glory: Ruling Our Own Destinies, Directing Our Own Paths. While the artists will be exploring the diverse cultural, artistic, historic, and social narratives of these accessories April decided to look into the history of these royal accessories to use as a post on the Danaca Design blog. It turned out to be a fascinating subject so instead of making one post she turned it into a four part series leading up to our show opening and reception on Friday, March 2, 6-8:30pm. This week part 2 is focused on some of the current and historical royal regalia in Asia
Traditionally, crowns are worn as a symbolic form of headwear by a monarch or deity to denote power, legitimacy, victory, triumph, honor, and glory. While today it is common to wear crowns for things like costume parties and brides will wear a tiara, but when you hear the word crown it usually conjures up visions of kings and queens and fairy tales about knights fighting dragons; in other words the king and queens of Europe and their fashions.
But I’m not talking about them today. Today I’m going to talk about some of the crowns and headdresses of Asia. In the strictest sense coronations are when crowns are given to the king or queen when they as send the throne. These sorts of coronations are historically rare because only a few monarchies, particularly in Western Asia, ever adopted the concept that the placement of the crown symbolizes the monarch’s investment to the throne. However the head may still be symbolically adorned in other ways such as the Sarpech or aigrette turban ornament of India’s Maharajas.
Kings in Bhutan wear a special headdress known as the “Raven Crown”, symbolic of the king’s authority as well as the raven-faced protector deity of Bhutan, Legoen Jarog Dongchen. The current king is Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the most recent recipient being coronated in November 2008, a year which marked 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan.
The coronation ceremony of the Thai monarchs includes a consecration by anointment and a crowning. The Great Crown of Victory was made of gold in the reign of King Rama I in 1782, and it is enameled in red and green. King Rama IV added a large cut diamond from India to the crown called the Great Diamond Phra. The crown is distinctive, a multi-tiered conical diadem with a tapering spire on top.
Malaysia has an interesting form of enthronement where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which literally translates to “He who is made Supreme Lord”, is an elected monarch. The office was established in 1957 and every five years is elected by and from the nine rulers of the Malay states. The royal regalia has an official headdress but not a crown…which is also an interesting story. According to legend the first Sultan of Perak set sail to Perak carrying on his ship many of the royal regalia including the Royal Crown of Malacca. During his travels his ship entered shallow waters and was stuck. The only way they could get the ship moving again was by lightening their load. One by one they threw items into the sea but still the ship refused to budge. Finally the only item left was the Royal Crown of Malacca which was thrown into the sea. Immediately the ship set sail again and the Sultan seeing this as a miracle swore than he, his descendants would never wear a crown as Sultans or never be crowned during their installation. This practice came to be followed by Malay Sultans of other states and the Maylay head-dress known as the Tengkolok came to be the replacement for a crown.
That ends part 2 of this series. For part 3 we’ll look at various regalia for kings in Africa.