Thailand Awaits the Royal Cremation

Thailand Awaits the Royal Cremation
Thailand Awaits the Royal Cremation

HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej; King Rama IX of Thailand, passed away on October 13th last year at 88 years of age, plunging Thailand into deep mourning. A large number of Thais continue to this day to wear black to grieve over his death.

Throughout his seven-decade reign, King Rama IX worked tirelessly to improve the well-being of his people. In return, he won much love and reverence of his subjects. This year-long period between death and cremation has allowed a profound display of love and respect from the Thai people.

According to Thai Buddhist belief, religious rites and merit-making ceremonies carried out between death and cremation ease the path for the deceased and enables the departed to benefit in the next life. While the body is still present, the spirit can benefit by gifts offered, sermons preached and religious chants uttered in its presence. The cremation ceremony marks the final departure of the spirit from the mortal world. The Royal Cremation Ceremony for the late King of Thailand is scheduled for October 25th – 29th. The actual cremation will be held on October 26th (Thursday) which has also now been declared a public holiday. The ceremony will take place in Bangkok at Sanam Luang, the royal field in front of the Grand Palace. This has traditionally been the venue for royal cremations and is where the intricate 50 metre funeral pyre has been constructed by specialist workers and skilled artisans. The structure represents Mount Meru, the place where Buddhist and Hindu gods reside. Deputy Prime Minister Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn in his capacity as the chairman of the committee in charge of the Royal Funeral has revealed that His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn will be personally performing a ceremony to install the top of the nine-spired funeral pyre at 5.00 pm on October 18th, marking the official completion of construction. The five-day schedule includes a royal merit-making ceremony at the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall at the Grand Palace on the first day.  On the second day, the royal cremation will take place at the Royal Crematorium at Sanam Luang.  The royal remains will be collected on the third day.  Another royal merit-making ceremony will be held on the fourth day to bless the remains, which will occur at the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall. On the fifth day, food will be served to monks at the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall before the Royal Urn is brought to the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall.

Six grand processions are planned for the ceremonies. During the five days, there will also be performances and exhibitions in honour of the late king.  The event will be will be one of the most expensive in history with a budget of 3 billion THB. For the millions of Thais who loved the king, this event is very personal and they are eager to contribute to his final goodbye and ceremonies.

The Story of Sanam Luang

Sanam Luang has been a place of central importance for the Thai people for centuries. Sanam Luang is Thai for “royal ground”, and it is a place where the King performs state ceremonies. In the past, Sanam Luang was an open field located adjacent to the Grand Palace. It has been used as a site for the cremation of kings, queens and nobility since the reign of King Rama 1.
During the reign of King Rama III, the King wished to demonstrate that Thailand was such a fertile, flourishing country that even the area in front of the Grand Palace could be cultivated. Sanam Luang was then a normal plot of land, used for growing rice. When there was a Royal Funeral, it would be smoothed over to prepare for the event. During the reign of King Rama IV, when the ground was still used for farming, King Rama IV changed its official name from Thong Phra Meru to Thung Sanam Luang. Sanam Luang has been used as the cremation ground for all of Thailand’s kings and Royal Family members except for King Rama VII, who died in England. Mythical creatures, angels and gods are coming to life at Sanam Luang, thanks to the tireless, devout and often volunteer work of artists and craftsmen. They are building a monument for a single moment: the cremation of a beloved king. More than 100 sculptures and statues will be placed inside a crematorium complex. “This event has brought together talented artists from across the country to create the most amazing art pieces for the late king,” said painter Charoen Marboot. “Many (artists) here are loyal and faithful to the late king,” said Surathkij Pheeraphongsil, a director of the Fine Arts Department. “Nobody complains about difficulties or about being tired because the late king endured more than us.” For 23-year-old Waritha Songtua, a recent art graduate. “As a Thai who has ability in art, I can use it to give back to the country, because to conserve art and culture is like protecting the nation,” she said.

A Focus on the ‘Great Victory’ Chariot

The chariot will carry King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s body to the site of the cremation. Known as the “Great Victory” Chariot, the vehicle is believed to take the divine back to heaven. The ritual use of immense chariot, which required 295 men to carry it, dates back to the Ayutthaya period although it was later refurbished to include wheels. It was most recently used in 2011 after the death of the daughter of King Rama VI.

The chariot was first built in 1795 in the time of King Rama I for the cremation of his father. The chariot has been used 25 times, most recently in 2012. Inch by gilded inch, the chariot to take Thailand’s late king on his last journey has been restored by skilled artisans over many months. Built of wood and decorated with gold and mirrors, the 13.7 tonne chariot is 18 metres long, 11.2 metres high and 4.8 metres wide. At the Fine Arts Department, close by the cremation site, the artisans, craftsmen and artists have applied the last layers of paint to an array of deities and creatures from ancient epics as well as statues of former kings of Thailand. Many of the artists provided their skills for free. A total of 441 troops from the army’s Department of Ordnance have rehearsed the hauling of chariots; 79 for the leading chariot, 222 for the greatest chariot or Phra Maha Pichai Ratcharot, and 110 for the Kren Bandai Nak, a structure for placing and moving the royal urn.

Hua Hin to Pay Respect at Wat Huay Mongkol

The Wat Huay Mongkol temple complex, located some 15 kilometres west of Hua Hin, is famous for its enormous statue of one of Thailand’s most famous monks, Luang Phor Thuad. This complex will become the centre of Hua Hin’s recognition of the Royal Cremation and visited by thousands of local people wishing to pay their last respects.

The complex is set in a park like environment, very well suited for those who wish to reflect on the significance of the occasion. The area has a lake, waterfalls, streams, bridges, a number of pavilions and many shady areas ideal for contemplation. The Royal Cremation Ceremony for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the late King of Thailand, will be an event unlike any other in the living memory of most Thai People. It will receive international recognition and be beamed to millions across the world, in part, because of the spectacle and splendor of the occasion. However as a monarch wellknown for the longevity of his reign and for the impact his passing has had on the nation, people in many other parts of the world recognise the significance of this moment in Thai history. King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun will assume the throne as King Rama X later in the year to continue the reign of the Royal House of Chakri.