BANGKOK • For five days starting on Oct 25, millions of grieving Thais will bid a final farewell to their beloved late king during the royal cremation ceremony.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej was affectionately referred to as the People's King for his efforts to ensure the welfare of his subjects. He died at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital on Oct 13 last year, at the age of 89, after 70 years on the throne.
His remains are lying in state at the Dusit Maha Prasat throne hall in the majestic white-walled Grand Palace, where tens of thousands of people continue to pay their respects each day.
The cremation will take place at the Royal Crematorium, located in Sanam Luang near the Grand Palace, on Oct 26.
As the date for the historic ceremony approaches, officials have stepped up their final preparations to ensure that the elaborate event, which will be steeped in Buddhist practices and royal traditions, will proceed smoothly.
"We want everything to be perfect and in accordance with the traditions. Although we are worried, we will do the best, as this is the (royal cremation ceremony) for the late king," Ms Supawan Nongkut from the Bangkok National Museum said recently to a group of visiting local and foreign journalists.
They were given rare access to various works being undertaken at the museum in preparation for the ceremony - an event considered of great importance in Thai history.
At the museum's Royal Chariot Building, workers and volunteers were busy putting the finishing touches on restoration works for the royal chariots or ratcharot that will be used during the ceremony.
Two types of chariots are being prepared - the Great Victory Royal Chariot or Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot and the Small Royal Chariot or Ratcharot Noi.
The Great Victory Royal Chariot was built in 1795 during the reign of King Rama I and will be the most significant funeral chariot used in the ceremony. Weighing 13,700kg, it stands 11.2m high and 18m long.
"A total of 222 soldiers will pull the Great Victory Royal Chariot," said Ms Supawan, adding that the soldiers had to undergo special tests for strength and endurance in order to be chosen to pull the chariots carrying the royal urn.
At the grounds of Sanam Luang, construction of the Royal Crematorium, where the urn is to be placed for the cremation, has been nearly completed. Supplementary buildings and pavilions are also being constructed for the event.
The crematorium, with structures measuring 50.5m in height from the base to the top, was designed by the government's Fine Arts Department. It is modelled after the imaginary Mount Sumeru, which represents the centre of the universe in Buddhist cosmology.
The crematorium will be decorated with hundreds of sculptures of celestial beings and mystical animals related to Buddhist practices.