[King Thibaw's state barge moored on the Irawaddy at Mandalay.]
Photographer: Klier, Philip Adolphe (c.1845-1911)
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of King Thibaw’s state barge moored on the Irrawaddy River at Mandalay, probably taken by Philip Adolphe Klier in the 1890s . State barges were magnificent gilded vessels used by kings, courtiers and high officials in spectacular ceremonial processions and water festivals, such as the one at Ava described by V.C. Scott O’Connor in 1907: “Another of the great spectacles of Ava was the Water Festival held upon the river at the turn of the year, when its waters began to fall. To this the King and Queen came in the royal barge, a magnificent object with a spire thirty feet high, and overlaid with gold. The princes and courtiers similarly came in golden boats, and upon the river for three days the war-boats of the King, and the boats of nobles and courtiers, raced each other, to the lively songs of the rowers. The very oars of the royal boats were gilded, and as the boats circled the spray flew from their blades, and the sun blazed upon their magnificence. On the evening of the third day the festival ended to the sound of cannon, as the royal barge moved in procession through the assembled boats.” The barge is double-hulled with twin figureheads in the form of nats, territorial spirits from the Burmese pantheon. The covered area of the boat is built in the form of a tiered roof with a spire known as a pyat-that denoting sacred royal or religious space. Thibaw was the last king of Burma and ruled from 1878 until 1885, when Mandalay was annexed by the British Empire and the Burmese monarchy was exiled to India. Mandalay was Burma’s last great royal capital and the royal barge was moored on the west side of the moat surrounding the city.