A Grand Farewell Fit for a Great Thai King

Friday December 1, 2017

Last year, the whole Kingdom of Thailand mourned the passing of their most beloved and longest reigning monarch, King Rama 9 (also known as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej). Last October, King Bhumibol was finally sent to his final rest with a spectacular 5-day funeral ceremony, fit for a great king. Royalties and dignitaries from around the world, including Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano came to the kingdom to pay their last respects to the king.

In Thailand, when members of the royal family pass away, they are given magnificent funerals that last for a few months, sometimes up to over a year. The royal funeral, a tradition which dates back to the 17th century Ayutthaya period, is a combination of Buddhism and Hinduism. It is a major public event that includes intricate, meticulous, and a well detailed, specially designed crematorium and beautifully crafted funeral processions that lead to a final cremation ceremony. The Thai king who passes away gets his own unique crematorium design and King Bhumibol’s was drafted within 24 hours after his death. His Majesty King Bhumibol’s crematorium depicted the Phra Sumera Mountain, which according to Hinduism, is the location of the highest heaven on earth. It is also the tallest crematorium (measured 50m high and 70m wide) since King Rama 5 or King Chulalongkorn’s funeral in 1911. It showcased more than 600 individual sculptures, from mythical beasts to angels and gods. The “Phra Narai” statue was sculpted to resemble the king and each direction of the crematorium is watched over by a sacred animal – tigers to the east; elephants to the north, cows to the south, and, horses to the west. At the center of the crematorium, the royal urn and coffin are made of fragrant sandalwood collected from Kui Buri National Park from which all of its woods are reserved for royal ceremonies. The Garuda decorations on both urn and coffin were carefully assembled layer by layer. It is believed to transport the spirit of the king to heaven. Bangkok’s royal crematorium designers made sure this will reflect utmost tribute to King Rama 9 and showcase Thai artistry that combines the unique, intricate designs with modern technologies.

The construction of King Bhumibol’s crematorium, which was located at the open field of Sanam Luang park near the Grand Palace cost around 9 million US dollars. But as a tradition, the crematorium structure must be taken down after the funeral ceremony. However, to give Thai people and foreigners a chance to get a glimpse of the site, they kept it for the whole month of November. Around 5,000 visitors each day was (were) allowed to get in the crematorium grounds, granted fifteen minutes in front of the Royal Crematorium and fortyfive minutes in the three exhibition halls: the Building of the Royal Crematorium, Royal Projects and King Rama 9 Biography. Strict rules were also implemented, including proper dress code for visitors, no umbrellas or plucking of flowers were allowed and it was forbidden to take selfies or make live stream videos while in the vicinity. I’ve been living here in Bangkok for 12 years and for these 12 long years I witnessed how Thai people loved King Rama 9 whose reign lasted for 70 years until his death. Hearing my Thai friends share their own memories of the departed king saddened me too. His love for this country, its people and his dedication to help make the lives of his citizens better are reflected by his numerous contributions to the arts, technology, and agriculture. His legacy will definitely remain in the hearts of the Thai people and will last a lifetime. This piece I wrote is thoughtfully dedicated to HM King Bhumibol.

Photo credits: Maricel Diaz; Khun Anothai Chalochatpinyo; Khun Thongrob Promchin

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