Posted by sepoy on January 20, 2005 · 7 mins read

Many friends have forwarded emails asking not to spend a dime today or turn my back or stand upside my head. Lot of hoopla over the $40 million tag, lot about the corporation money flowing into the ceremonies, lot on the lameness of the celebrities. Here on campus, there are elaborate counter-Inauguration talks and happening. At first, I admit to being befuddled. What matters? He got elected. THAT was the crucial part. This is just a ritual. Why is everyone so worked up about this? Why are the Repubs spending so much money? Why the lunatic left send me mass emails? Come on, people, it's just Inauguration Day!

Then I got to thinking about why people would be worked up over this. The Inauguration Day is an essential ritual of this, or any, republic. The pomp and circumstance is designed to construct the very mythology of consensus among the people. The ritual is structured by populism so that we, the people, can identify with the political regime. It gives the necessary means to unify the electorate after a contentious election. It grants the president-elect the symbolic power to rule. Its forebearer, the coronation, similarly granted the divine power to rule.

Since I am currently re-reading Kantorowicz's King's Two Bodies, I sought the description of the ceremonies of the day and thought it would be amusing for all of you to compare them to some other reginal coronations.

The ancient to medieval Hindu kingship rituals were collectively referred to as raja-karma [royal rituals]. The ceremony had to be held on the proper day and time with respect to the kings heavenly charts and the stars etc. Before the actual day of the ceremony, an elaborate ritual of purification and pacification of evil spirits etc. was performed at the site.

The king, who must have fasted and abstained from sexual intercourse the night before shows up in brand new clothes at the break of dawn and looks for omens in the morning sky. After that the ceremony starts [note that throughout the ceremonies, there is constant recitation of various mantras]:

  • The king goes to a small hutch and sits on an ordinary bench. The priests purifies fifteen parts of the king's body with clay from the appropriate parts of the earth's surface [for example, head with clay from top of mountain, heart with clay from the royal palace, stomach with clay from where two rivers meet, loins with clay from a courtesan's doorway]
  • After this the king is bathed from a golden jar to which five products of the cow have been added.
  • Next, he is bathed in clear water.
  • The king is then seated on a throne made from a fig tree and gilded with copper and gold. Four Brahmanas take up positions at the four corners. Over the king's head, one pours butter out of a golden pot, one pours sweetened milk out of a silver pot, one pours thickened milk out of a copper pot and the last ones baptizes the king's feet with water from a clay pot.
  • The king is then dressed in dry clothes and sat on his throne. He touches the royal bow and arrow, circumabulates the fire, and bows to his elders. He then gets on the royal horse and leaves to walls of the palace to visit his city and temples.
  • The king takes on the Royal crown at his return1.

Within the medieval European context, the coronation is also the site where heavenly power transfers into the earthly vessel and the king becomes an instrument of god's will. For example, here is the Tudor ceremony:

  • The king enters Westminster Abbey and is recognized by the people.
  • The king is led to the high altar where he makes an offering of a pall and a pound of gold.
  • A sermon is preached by a bishop.
  • The archbishop administers the oath.
  • The king lies prostrate before the altar while prayers are said over him.
  • The king is anointed.
  • The archbishop blesses the ornaments and insignia one by one, and the king is invested with them in turn. They consist of the long tunic, buskins, sandals, spurs, girdle, sword, armils, mantle, crown, ring, gloves, sceptre, and rod.
  • The king is led to his throne and homage is paid.
  • The mass is celebrated.
  • The king is taken to St. Edwards divested of his robes and ornaments and revested with others2

Among the Nigerian Umundri, the coronation ceremony transforms the man into a king with divine powers. He is chosen from among the royal families by the ancestral spirits (a dry wall of his compound falls for no discernable reason). He has to be an orphan. The ceremony opens with the ritual of death. This account was observed in the early 20th century.

  • The king is lowered into a grave. A plank is thrown across and dirt over him. He remains buried for some hours
  • He is taken out at sunset and washed in the river. His body, including the hair of his head, is whitened with clay and water. His wife undergoes similar treatment.
  • He discards all clothes and may only wear white or blue from now on.
  • Next, the king, his wife and an entourage begin the clockwise circumabulation of his land.
  • In various towns, he sits on a throne and eats white clay.
  • He ends the journey in his new capital where the new palace is built. He never leaves the capital.3.

1. Inden, Ronald. Ritual, Authority and Cyclic Time in Hindu Kingship.
2. Bayne, C.G. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
3. Jeffreys, M.D.W. The Divine Umundri King