National Geographic : 1957 Jul
Coronation in Katmandu the ear, chattered among themselves, their expressive hands fluttering like hummingbirds (page 143). Passing a long brick wall, I gave a twirl to each clacking prayer wheel, as a small boy might run a stick along a picket fence. Then, overtaking a brace of victorias drawn by spanking bays, I came to the lofty facade of the Palace of Hanuman, named for the monkey god of the Hindus. A knot of armed guards demanded my credentials. Fortunately, I wore on my breast a silver medal bearing the crown of Nepal and carried a royal permit embossed in gold. These talismans saw me through the barriers and into a narrow corridor sheathed in shimmering brass. I emerged from this burnished passageway and hurried into the coronation courtyard. White-clad workmen were arranging chairs in three ranks against the west wall. From another wall sprouted a series of carved fly ing buttresses, and at the junction of two others rose a tall, many-roofed temple. Above us a slender, roundish tower pricked the sky. Massive Throne Dominates Pavilion Looking curiously out-of-place, yet the center of a swarm of anxious shuffling priests, stood a thatched pavilion. Here the King would formally receive his crown. Already Cinerama technicians were on their hands and knees installing cables and lights with which to illuminate the scene. The royal astrologers had divined that the auspicious moment for the coronation would be at precisely 10:43 a.m. Since my watch indicated I still had two hours, I decided to explore a little. The coronation pavilion, raised upon stone slabs, seemed oddly fragile. Green, red, and yellow brocade upholstered its low walls, and slender tree trunks wrapped in crimson and gold supported its grassy roof. The immense throne within it looked like a giant's chair in a child's playhouse. The throne, as big as a four-poster bed, was uncomfortably backed in metal embossed with writhing snakes. Over it loomed the golden hood of a nine-headed cobra, symbol izing Vishnu the Preserver. On the floor lay the skins of lions, tigers, and leopards. A steady influx of dignitaries seeped through the brass-lined corridor and into the coronation arena. I picked out easily the yellow-robed delegates of Tibet's Dalai and Panchen Lamas. The Vice President of India, turbaned and sashed, blinked behind profes sorial iron-rimmed glasses. The Crown Prince of Sikkim arrived in lavender robes. Jigme Dorji, brother-in-law to the King of Bhutan, wore a sword and long felt boots with upturned spiked toes; he had marched for six days over mountain passes from his fortress realm.* Visitors Crowd Coronation Scene Princes, maharajas, and ambassadors flocked forward. A sober proletarian note was struck by the envoy from behind the Bamboo Curtain: six-foot Ulanfu, a Deputy Premier of the People's Republic of China, severe in a black work cap. Just behind him, in vivid contrast, stalked Britain's Lord Chamberlain, the russet-faced, white-mus tachioed Earl of Scarbrough, in flowing silken cloak and a rainbow of medals. More conservatively dressed were the United States representatives: Mrs. Robert Low Bacon, Dr. Charles W. Mayo, the noted physician, and Lowell Thomas. And with all of these, I was sure, stood invisible ranks of Hindu gods and goddesses, who had also been formally invited to attend. The seconds ticked away, and tension mounted in the jam-packed courtyard. Then from the street outside we heard a crescendo of cheers and cries of "Maharaj! Maharaj!" The boom of a 31-gun salute rocked the city. Soldiers snapped to attention. In strode the brothers of the King-and then, with a blare of brassy music and a roll of drums, the King himself. Monarch Anointed with Butter He was clad in simple white homespun and dark sunglasses, an ivory-handled dagger in his belt. His slim consort, Queen Rat narajyalakshmi, glided along beside him in a scarlet sari, her lovely hair floating free. Down the red carpet they walked and through an ornate door in the north wall. Here, in separate chambers, the King and Queen would be bathed and anointed. Brah man priests applied fifteen kinds of mud to the King's body as a part of his physical purification. For strength and fleetness there was mud from elephant and horse stables; * See "Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon," by Burt Kerr Todd, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1952.