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THE QUEEN CONSORT.
WHEN a king of Siam would take unto himself a wife, he chooses a maiden from a family of the highest rank, and of royal pedigree, and, inviting her into the guarded circle of his women, entertains her there in that peculiar state of probation which is his prerogative and her opportunity. Should she prove so fortunate as to engage his preference, it may be his pleasure to exalt her to the throne; in which event he appoints a day for the formal consummation of his gracious purpose, when the principal officers, male and female, of the court, with the priests, Brahmin as well as Buddhist, and the royal astrologers, attend to play their several parts in the important drama.
The princess, robed in pure white, is seated on a throne elevated on a high platform. Over this throne is spread a canopy of white muslin, decorated with white and fragrant flowers, and through this canopy are gently showered the typical waters of consecration, in which have been previously infused certain leaves and shrubs emblematic of purity, usefulness, and sweetness. While the princess is thus delicately sprinkled with compliments, the priests enumerate, with nice discrimination, the various graces of mind and person which henceforth she must study to acquire; and pray that she may prove a blessing to her lord, and herself be richly blessed. Then she is hailed queen, with a burst of exultant music.
Now the sisters of the king conduct her by a screened passage to a chamber regally appointed, where she is divested of her dripping apparel, and arrayed in robes becoming her queenly state, — robes of silk, heavy with gold, and sparkling with diamonds and rubies. Then the king is ushered into her presence by the ladies of the court; and at the moment of his entrance she rises to throw herself at his feet, according to the universal custom. But he prevents her; and taking her right hand, and embracing her, seats her beside him, on his right. There she receives the formal congratulations of the court, with which the ceremonies of the day terminate. The evening is devoted to feasting and merriment.
A Siamese king may have two queens at the same time; in which case the more favored lady is styled the "right hand," and the other the "left hand," of the throne. His late Majesty, Maha Mongkut, had two queens, but not "in conjunction." The first was of the right hand; the second, though chosen in the lifetime of the first, was not elevated to the throne until after the death of her predecessor.
When the bride is a foreign princess, the ceremonies are more public, being conducted in the Hall of Audience, instead of the Ladies' Temple, or private chapel.
The royal nuptial couch is consecrated with peculiar forms. The mystic thread of unspun cotton is wound around the bed seventy-seven times, and the ends held in the hands of priests, who, bowing over the sacred symbol, invoke blessings on the bridal pair. Then the nearest relatives of the bride are admitted, accompanied by a couple who, to use the obstetrical figure of the indispensable Mrs. Gamp, have their parental quiver "full of sich." These salute the bed, sprinkle it with the consecrated Waters, festoon the crimson curtains with flowery garlands, and prepare the silken sheets, the pillows and cushions; which done, they lead in the bride, who has not presided at the entertainments, but waited with her ladies in a screened apartment.
On entering the awful chamber, she first falls on her knees, and thrice salutes the royal couch with folded hands, and then invokes protection for herself, that she may be preserved from every deadly sin. Finally, she is disrobed, and left praying on the floor before the bed, while the king is conducted to her by his courtiers, who immediately retire.
The same ceremony is observed in nearly all Siamese families of respectability, with, of course, certain omissions and variations adapted to the rank of the parties.
After three days the bride visits her parents, bearing presents to them from the various members of her husband's family. Then she visits the parents of her husband, who greet her with costly gifts. In her next excursion of this kind her husband (unless a king) accompanies her, and valuable presents are mutually bestowed. A large sum of money, with jewels and other finery, is deposited with the father and mother of the bride. This is denominated Zoon, and at the birth of her first child it is restored to the young mother by the grandparents.
The king visits his youthful queen just one month after the birth of a prince or princess. She presents the babe to him, and he, in turn, places a costly ring on the third finger of her left hand. In like manner, most of the relatives, of both families, bring to the babe gifts of money, jewels, gold and silver ornaments, etc., which is termed Tam Kwaan. Even so early the infant's hair is shaved oft; except the top-knot, which is permitted to grow until the child has arrived at the age of puberty.