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Entitlement Ceremony of King Shamsuddin III

 

King Shamsuddin's Entitlement Ceremony was the last flicker of the candle before the thousand-year- old flame  of royalty was finally extinguished in the Maldives.    Though the monarchy would linger on for another 60 years, the level of splendor   and    pageantry seen on this occasion would never be duplicated again.

Traditionally Maldivian Kings were conferred royal titles at special 'koli' (see below) ceremonies, some time after their ascent to the throne. The titles are in old Dhivehi that is not fully intelligible to Modern Maldivians.  King Mohammed Shamsuddin's entitlement ceremony occurred in the third year of his reign.

Historical records of the ceremony give insights not only into a bygone culture, but also into the palace intrigues that ultimately led to the decline of the monarchy and the rise of democracy.  The central figure in the unfolding drama was Prime Minister Ibrahim Dhoshimeyna Kilegefan.   

King Shamsuddin

King Mohammed Shamsuddin III: He was the last king of Maldives to enjoy any level of executive power.  His 33-year reign spanned the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional rule.

On 29 March 1904 Dhoshimeyna Kilegefan discussed with  the nobles and informed King  Shamsuddin of their intention to hold his entitlement ceremony .  Six days later he   summoned the public to the Gulhakulhey field and  announced this to the public, who gave their unanimous support, which the Prime Minister conveyed to His Majesty the King.  Kilegefan returned once again to convey to the public His Majesty's gratitude for their support.  Before dismissing them he also informed them that the British Government in Colombo approved of the proposed ceremony.  

Now, this last piece of information was interesting.  This incident occurred  long before the Maldives had developed telecom links with the outside world.  The only means of communication with Colombo was the sailing "odi", which normally took several weeks for the round trip.  So, how did Kilegefan get the approval so fast?  Obviously he had already discussed the issue with the British long before he discussed it either with His Majesty the King or the nobles.

 Kilegefanu

Prime Minister Ibrahim Dhoshimeyna Kilegefan: He stage managed not just this ceremony, but the entire country and its transition to democracy.  

What followed was an intense period of preparation for the big event.  Agents set sail with  long lists of decorative items, some to the atolls, others  abroad.   Citizens of Male started repairing old buildings and whitewashing them. Mausoleums and monuments in Male got a face lift and had new flags  hoisted. Word also spread to other islands, which also joined the national mood.   

Finally, Kilegefan announced  4 August 1904 as the big day and set 25 July  as the deadline for  the final preparations, which included raising large flags in strategic locations in Male.  The town crier's route got special attention.  Teams of workers widened the roads in the route  to 11 cubits (about 25 ft). They fixed  flag posts  at 4.5 ft intervals and hoisted red flags .  Between the flag posts stretched sheets of colorful cloth.

On the eve of the big day,  in the late afternoon  of 3rd August,  King Shamsuddin visited the holy places in Male in procession and offered special prayers before returning to the palace.  

Finally the big day arrived. In the morning,  Sir John Kimbernet, representative of the Governor of Ceylon, disembarked from his warship in ceremony, and sat with the Maldivian nobles in the special tent prepared in Gulhakulhey field.  At 10 O' clock the King emerged with his nobles.  

The ceremony began and proceeded according to long established traditions. An important part of tradition was obtaining the consent of the people.  For this purpose the chiefs of selected islands  had been summoned to a  special tent at the venue.  They were asked whether they were happy with the decision  to make Shamsuddin king.  They replied  they were happy on the condition that he looked after the poor and  dispensed justice. 

The king then  sat on his throne.  Above his head the  royal canopy  unfurled.  The nobles then paid their homage to  the king, first Kilegefan then others in the order of precedence.  

In the background, a bugle call heralded the newly inaugurated king and canons boomed a  7 gun salute.  Finally it was the turn of the koli kaleyge (town crier) to announce the happy event to the people.  This was the usual way important announcements were made to the public, particularly those relating to the conferring of titles.   Over time the word 'koli' it self had become almost synonymous with titles

Town Crier

Babagey Dhon Manik:  One of the last town criers of Maldives.  He was also the author of an important book on Maldivian culture, which served as a reference for this article. This photo was taken during  a later koli ceremony in the 1970s.   

The koli kaleyge  dressed up in his decorative uniform and  went out in procession along the specified route.   He stopped at important locations to announce the koli. First, he struck a brass gong with his hammer to get attention, then went on to  recite a long passage in old Dhivehi, which essentially detailed  His Majesty's titles and privileges.

Three days of celebrations followed the big event.  Nobles offered  lunches and dinners in the form of traditional 'keyms' .  Gifts exchanged hands in profusion. The celebrations also spread to all islands in the country.  Little did the regaling crowds  realize that this would be the last such celebration ever in the Maldives.