The Royalty Titles of Asia
The diverse blend of countries and regions within Asia gives rise to an eclectic mix of cultural history, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their kings and queens and royal families. The names and titles of monarchs and sovereigns within the Asian continent are a fascinating insight into the status, rank and privilege of the leaders and rulers of these ancient cultures. Here are some of the most intriguing, enduring or enchanting examples of the variety of royalty titles that emerged and evolved over the centuries in the countries that make up modern Asia.
Dharma EmperorA Dharma Emperor, also known as a Cloistered Emperor, was a Japanese Emperor who gave up his political power or imperial role to become a monk and live cloistered away in a monastic community. On occasion, a Dharma Emperor may continue in an advisory role, or even rule or govern remotely, continuing to maintain a degree of power from their cloistered way of life. The first Dharma Emperor was the 8th century Emperor Shōmu, who abdicated his reign after a quarter of a century of imperial rule, passing the duty and privilege on to his daughter who then became Empress Kōken. Emperor Shōmu then entered a Buddhist monastery and devoted his life to the Buddhist religion and monastic service, eventually becoming a Buddhist priest. The Emperor’s wife, Komyo, also surrendered her imperial life and power to become a Buddhist nun, and thus became the first to assume the role of a Dharma Empress.
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
TaewangIn Goguryeo, one of the ancient Kingdoms of Korea, Taewang was the title for the imperial ruler, a position equivalent to the rank of Emperor. The title originated from Taejo Wang Geon, who was the first ruler and founder of the Goryeo dynasty in the 10th century. The literal translation of Taewang is greatest king. A variation of this title was Seongwang, which translated as a more sacred version of the title meaning Holy King. The practice of calling their emperor Taewang, as opposed to the common Chinese title for imperial rulers, was thought to indicate an affirmation of independence by the ancient Korean people.
SultanThe term Sultan was popular in many Asian countries throughout the centuries of their evolution. The position of a Sultan denotes sovereignty and rulership, with an implication of autonomy, though not necessarily absolute authority and power. The origin of the word Sultan is Arabic and historically its use indicated strength and supreme governance, though it also had religious connotations, being a traditionally Muslim position and title. The female equivalent of a Sultan is variably known as a Sultana or Sultanah, though in some countries and cultures, such as Turkey, for example, a female monarch may still be called a Sultan. In rank, the status of Sultan is comparable to a king, as was evidenced in 1957 when the Sultan of Morocco changed his title to that of King.
Yang di-Pertuan AgongToday’s Malaysian monarch bears the illustrious title of Yang di-Pertuan Agong or sometimes spelt, Yang di-Pertuan Agung. There is some debate over the literal translation and meaning of this title, but it is generally thought to represent the phrase ‘He who is made Lord’ in the Malay language.
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia CommonsThe rank of this title is the supreme head of the state of Malaysia, similar in status to a king. Yang di-Pertuan Agong is addressed as His Majesty and his wife is addressed as Her Majesty. Unlike most of the royal titles of the ancient Asian cultures, this title is relatively modern, being established in 1957 when Malaysia became an independent country after over a century of British rule.