BANGKOK• • Thailand's generals took centre stage yesterday at a ceremony blessing the start of construction of an enormous funeral pyre for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in a vivid illustration of the army's intimate links to the palace.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who seized power in 2014, led the ceremony. A crane erected the first of a series of giant steel pillars, which will form the cornerstones of what will be a largely wooden pyre next to Bangkok's sprawling Grand Palace. The ceremony was infused with the religious ritual that permeates palace life, with Buddhist monks chanting mantras and Hindu Brahmin priests blowing conches, as workers fixed the pillar to a concrete plinth.
The widely admired King Bhumibol, who ruled for seven decades, was the world's longest-serving monarch until his death last October.
Designs for the funeral pyre show that palace architects intend to build a pyre over 50m high, complete with nine spires and covered in sculptures of mythical beasts. The pyre will represent Mount Meru, a mountain that is the allegorical centre of the universe in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cosmology. King Bhumibol's body will be placed at the centre before it is set alight with the belief his spirit will return to the mountain.
No date has been given for the funeral, but multiple government officials have told AFP they expect the cremation to take place at the end of the one-year official mourning period, in October or November.