By Aziz Idris & Hakim Hayat
Over 36,000 people flocked to the Istana Nurul Iman as it opened its doors to the public to convey their Hari Raya greetings to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pg Anak Hjh Saleha and other members of the royal family.
While 22,949 people visited the Istana in the morning, 13,200 visited in the afternoon session.
Accompanying His Majesty to receive festive greetings from the public at the Baitur Rahmah Hall were HRH Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, HRH Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah, HRH Prince Haji Jefri Bolkiah, HRH Prince Haji 'Abdul 'Azim, HRH Prince 'Abdul Malik, HRH Prince 'Abdul Mateen and other members of the royal family.
Making an appearance this year was His Majesty's youngest son, HRH Prince 'Abdul Wakeel, who stood momentarily next to his brothers and shook hands with uniformed personnel.
HRH Prince 'Abdul Muntaqim was also present in the afternoon session.
Meanwhile, accompanying Her Majesty were HRH Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah, HRH Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Hjh Zariah, YAM Pengiran Bini Hajah Faizah, HRH Princess Hajah Rashidah Sa'adatul Bolkiah, HRH Princess Hajah Muta-Wakkilah Hayatul Bolkiah, HRH Princess Hajah Hafizah Sururul Bolkiah, HRH Princess Fadzilah Lubabul Bolkiah and HRH Princess Hajah Masna.
In the afternoon, the royal entourage was joined by the spouse of HRH Prince Haji Jefri Bolkiah, HRH Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Norhayati.
The two-hour-long morning session saw people from different backgrounds extending their festive greetings to the monarch and members of the royal family.
A total of 36,149 people mostly in their new Raya outfits, young and old, locals and foreigners thronged the palace.
Shuttle buses were busy ferrying visitors from checkpoints surrounding the Istana. Once they arrive, visitors are advised to register their personal details before taking a short flight of steps, which take them through security checks, segregated for males and females.
Some excited members of the public also took snapshots with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces guards.
Numerous signboards illustrating the dress codes are posted at security checkpoints due to strict protocols. Those attired in something less suited for the occasion would be politely informed that they would not be able to greet the royalty but would be welcomed to enjoy refreshments at the public dining hall.
After passing the security checks, well-wishers would follow a pathway to collect individual coupons for the customary Hari Raya souvenir - a royal yellow-coloured box containing savouries, which can only be collected at the exit.
On top of the clinking sounds of fine Chinaware and silver cutlery mixed with the buzz of conversations and laughter, festive music echoes through the public dining hall that further enlivens the warmth and joy of the glorious occasion.
Several stalls line up either side of the pathway manned by special caterers serving local delicacies as well as assorted Hari Raya cakes and savouries.
The well-wishers then join the long queue that snakes its way to the Baitur Rahmah Hall, where His Majesty and members of the royal family wait to shake their hands and receive greetings while Her Majesty and other members of the royal family wait in the opposite hall to receive the womenfolk.
The estimated waiting time in queue is between 30-45 minutes. But the wait is well worth as this is one of the unique traditions of the country, which is seldom practised in other parts of the world.
Well-wishers carrying yellow souvenir boxes embossed in gold ink and smiles plastered on their faces tell the story of a nation that values its traditions, peaceful coexistence and a monarch who shows them all the way to prosperity and development.
- Borneo Bulletin
(2nd September 2011)