Colourful lights and ‘Daulat Tuanku’ salutations are placed around Johor Baru in conjunction with Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar’s coronation. Pic by Aizuddin Saad

HIS Highness Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar takes a personal interest in ensuring that his coronation ceremony will be exclusive and a success.

He wants the historic event to be cherished and remembered by his people as an appreciation of the initiatives of Abu Bakar, the Father of Modern Johor. He decreed the rituals and traditions as practised during the coronation of Johor sultans to be emulated, if not, improved. He makes personal inspections and is meticulous on details of the renovations at Istana Besar and Istana Bukit Serene, and the refurbishment of the Throne Room, spending hours at the venues.

Plans for the dais of the thrones, specifications for the extension of the throne room and other chambers, and the layouts of guest seats were presented for his approval. Special chairs for the Rulers were purpose built. He tested each chair for comfort, adjusting their height, design, colour and upholstery. He designed a purpose-built circular dining table for 38 guests so that they will have an unobtrusive view and can speak to each other during dinner. The design and material of the drapes and curtains, and of the plush carpets, were specially chosen, adding an air of magnificence and exclusivity.

He commissioned an exclusively-designed dinner service consisting of fine bone china in turquoise with a stylised design of pepper and gambier encrusted in gold. Each piece of the sterling silver cutlery acquired from Italy is etched with the royal cipher “S.I.” for Sultan Ibrahim. So, too, are the crystal drinking glasses and goblets. Silver plates imported from London used as under liners are engraved “Ibrahim II” in Jawi. The personalised fine linen from Vienna, Austria, is silver thread embroidered, also in the pepper and gambier motif.

Her Highness Raja Zarith Sofiah added feminine touches to the event. She was personally involved in the design of her coronation attire, and attire of the ladies-in-waiting, the penjawat peterana (maids of honour), page-boys and page-girls. She chose 14 young girls as penjawat peterana for the royal bathing ceremony. The girls, dressed in off-white baju kurung Telok Belanga with beige songket sarung and matching off-white tudung, were daughters of ranking officers of the Johor Civil Service. A yellow silk kain tetampan was worn on the right shoulder.

The coronation regalia, a group of valuable and symbolic pieces are kept secure at the vaults of the Bank Negara branch in Johor Baru. The regalia consists of the magnificent state crown commissioned by Abu Bakar in 1885 after being recognised as Sultan of Johor by the British. The oriental crown, by Crown Jewellers J. W. Benson of London, is based on England’s King Edward’s crown, but the emblems of Christianity were replaced with crescents and five-pointed stars depicting Islam. The crown is encrusted with diamonds and precious stones. It is surmounted with the words Allah and Muhammad in the Jawi script. The diadem, first made together with the crown, was redesigned in 1922 to include diamonds encrusted on platinum.

Abu Bakar had buttons, epaulettes and gorgets for his coronation uniform in gold and silver. A silver aigrette with diamond pendants, various designs and shape of rings surmounted with precious stones were made at his request. The United States ambassador wrote in 1886 that the string of diamonds and precious stones worn by Abu Bakar at his coronation was valued at US$10 million (RM35 million). Abu Bakar commissioned a pair of bracelets, a diamond tiara, diamond studded ear rings, and rings, including a marquis cut yellow diamond ring and necklaces, for his consort.

Taking a page from European royal formal attire, Abu Bakar had a robe made for his coronation. The sword used during his coronation was a present from Queen Victoria in 1866. The crown jewels and regalia have been used for the coronation of Sultan Ibrahim in 1895 and Sultan Ismail in 1960. They will be used for the coronation of HRH Sultan Ibrahim.

The coronation is an amalgamation of Malay tradition and rituals, Islamic practices and Western culture. The celebrations will be conducted in connected phases, the prayers an Islamic practice, the bathing ritual a Malay tradition, the oath, the coronation, the levee and homage, which are Western adaptations. The royal procession in the city following the coronation and the royal tour of districts that follow complete the hectic programme. A day prior to the coronation, and in keeping with royal family traditions, His Highness will pay his respects and offer prayers to his ancestors interred in the Royal Mausoleum at Mahmoodiah and at Telok Belanga in Singapore.

The Istiadat Meletak Kerja (initiation of duties ceremony), a revival of an old tradition, was held on March 16 to mark the commencement of the celebrations. The tradition saw the State ceremonial flag that was designed by Abu Bakar in 1871 hoisted at Bukit Timbalan, the hill on which the State Secretariat, the seat of government, is located.

The last time the flag was raised there was to mark the beginning of the wedding celebrations of Sultan Ibrahim’s third and youngest son, Tunku Temenggong Ahmad, in 1922. For His Highness Sultan Ibrahim’s coronation, the ceremonial flag will be raised at the Johor Monument at the Royal Botanical Gardens of the Istana Besar. The simple ceremony will start with a proclamation by the Dato’ Penghulu Istiadat (Grand Master of Ceremonies), followed by a short prayer by the mufti. A 7-gun salute will accompany the raising of the flag hoisted by men of the Johor Military Forces. The flag will be flown until the official conclusion of the celebrations, when it will be lowered accompanied with a 3-gun salute.

During the coronation of Sultan Ismail, the menteri besar presented the Sword of State to His Royal Highness. The handsome bejewelled sword was a gift from the Johor government in 1935 to mark the 40th year of Sultan Sir Ibrahim’s reign. With royal assent, a change has been made for HRH Sultan Ibrahim’s coronation. The Johor government will present a sword to Sultan Ibrahim at a separate ceremony a week before the coronation. Made of the finest sword steel by a London firm, the sword has a ivory hilt with exquisite gold floral design incorporating replicas of the crown and the sultan’s monogram.

The scabbard has a matching ornate floral design embodying the crescent and nine-pointed star, replicas of the Johor coat-of-arms, Family Order and the Order of the Crown, and the Order of Sultan Ibrahim all set in diamonds and precious stones.

A bathing ritual (istiadat siram tabal) believed to cleanse the body and soul, and to ward off misfortunes, is held the next afternoon. There was a belief the ritual is adopted from the Hindu rites of cleansing of body and spirit.

However, a fatwa issued by the Johor mufti on Nov 27, 2013, confirmed the ritual was not associated with any culture. The edict clarified that Islam encourages bathing for personal hygiene and to cleanse oneself before the performance of daily chores. An obligatory bathing is performed after intimacy to cleanse oneself, failing which prayers will not be valid.

The edict advised that as the bathing ritual is part of a Malay tradition and did not in any way influence or affect Islamic beliefs, the ceremony may be held. The ritual will be held at a nine-tier octagonal pavilion (panca persada) at Bukit Bintang within the Royal Botanical Gardens. Nine is the highest cardinal number, symbolic of leadership. The pavilion is topped by a replica of the crown.

Abu Bakar was crowned alone as Maharani Fatimah did not wish to be crowned. The bathing ceremony was held for him alone. However, he bestowed the title Sultanah on Fatimah and had it engraved on all her personal effects and dinner service. Sultanah Khatijah, the other consort of Abu Bakar, was crowned alone at Istana Zahrah, witnessed only by lady guests.

A bathing ceremony was held for Sultan Sir Ibrahim and his consort, Tunku Ampuan Maimunah, a day prior to their coronation on Nov 2, 1895. Sultan Ibrahim’s later consort, Sultanah Rugayah, was crowned alone during the twin wedding ceremony of Tunku Mahkota Tunku (later Sultan) Ismail and Tunku Aris Bendahara Abu Bakar on Aug 30, 1920.

Sultan Abu Bakar stayed in Telok Belanga and moved to Johor Baru in 1878 and resided at Istana Zahrah located within the Istana Besar gardens. Sultan Ibrahim resided at Istana Persemayaman located next to the Istana Besar. As such, the bathing ceremony for Abu Bakar and Ibrahim, respectively, was held in the grounds of the nearby Istana Besar. The bathing ceremony for Sultan Ismail and his consort, Sultanah Aminah, was witnessed by family members and was held at Istana Bukit Serene a day prior to their coronation. Istana Bukit Serene, the official residential palace of the sultan of Johor, was built in 1935.

Sultan Ibrahim will don the traditional baju Melayu Telok Belanga for the bathing ritual. Her Highness Raja Zarith has chosen a beige taffeta baju kurung. Male Malay guests are required to put on the black baju Melayu Telok Belanga with black songket in the style of berdagang luar.