BANGKOK - After Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Oct 13, 2016, his body was moved to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Over 12 million people have travelled there to pay their respects since.
The final rites will take place from Oct 25 to Oct 29, with the actual cremation taking place on Oct 26.
The royal crematorium, built on a field called Sanam Luang next to the Grand Palace, is a representation of Mount Meru, the centre of the universe in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.
The crematorium has nine spire-roofed pavilions to honour the ninth King of the Chakri dynasty. It contains sculptures of mythical creatures like garuda (a bird with human form) and naga (serpent), as well as auspicious animals like elephants, horses, cows and lions. There are also figures of Khun Tongdaeng and Khun Jocho, the late pet dogs of King Bhumibol.
To honour the King’s work on Thai agriculture, the ceremonial compound has been planted with rice and also features a model of a flood control project he initiated. Yellow will be the main theme of flowers on display, as Thais associate this shade with Monday, the day he was born.
In ancient Thai tradition, the bodies of royalty are placed in a sitting position in an urn. But King Bhumibol’s body has been placed in a coffin, with the traditional royal urn used more as a symbol of his status.
The royal urn has an outer component of carved wood covered in embossed gold sheet and small mirrors, and an inner component cast in iron and plated in gold. On Oct 26, the urn will be carried out of the Grand Palace on an eight-metre-long palanquin with three poles.
From the palanquin, it will be transferred to the two-century old Great Victory Chariot, which features an ornate pavilion atop a stepped platform. The chariot weighs 13.7 tonnes and needs to be pulled by 222 people.
After the chariot enters Sanam Luang, the urn will again be transferred to a royal gun-carriage, which will circle the royal crematorium three times. The carriage was last used in 1950 for the cremation of King Bhumibol’s brother, King Ananda Mahidol.
Once inside the crematorium, the outer component of the royal urn will be removed, and replaced by a sandalwood version. This is made of sandalwood trees from Kui Buri National Park in central Thailand.
A symbolic cremation will take place at 5.30pm Bangkok time (6.30pm Singapore time) on Oct 26, in the presence of several VIPs including Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, Prince Akishino of Japan, Australia Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Singapore President Halimah Yacob. The actual cremation will take place at 10pm local time on the same day.
King Bhumibol’s relics and ashes will be collected at 8am local time on Oct 27 and eventually be housed in the Grand Palace, as well as two Bangkok temples – Wat Rajabopit and Wat Bowonniwet.
Eighty-five replicas of the royal crematorium have been built all over Thailand, with at least one in every province. Ceremonies will be conducted at these replicas to coincide with the actual event in Bangkok. At these and other locations worldwide, the public will offer sandalwood flowers– a traditional handmade item used in Thai pyres – as a tribute to King Bhumibol.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the only son of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has advised volunteers for the funeral to be polite and exercise restraint in dealing with the people. Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd has urged mourners not to shout “Long Live the King” during the royal funeral processions. They should not use their mobile phones to take selfies. The public are advised to wear black outfits with long pants or skirts and clothing such as jeans, sleeveless tops and slim-fit clothes are prohibited.