Thais bid tearful farewell to King Bhumibol

Royal guards carrying the royal urn of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a cremation procession from the Grand Palace in Bangkok yesterday.
Royal guards carrying the royal urn of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a cremation procession from the Grand Palace in Bangkok yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Royalty and dignitaries from around the world turn up for cremation ceremony

Teary-eyed Thais clad in black turned out by the tens of thousands in Bangkok yesterday for a final send-off for their late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, after a year-long mourning period.

The monarch, who died last year aged 88 and whose reign spanned seven decades, was the only king many of the people had ever known.

In an elaborate procession, columns of soldiers marching with slow, deliberate steps pulled a towering golden chariot down the wide avenue from the Grand Palace to the newly built royal crematorium.

As the chariot passed them, mourners lining the road prostrated themselves in unison, in a final act of reverence to a monarch some hailed as the "king of kings".

Since King Bhumibol died on Oct 13 last year after a long illness, artisans have transformed an open field next to the Grand Palace into a gilded crematorium, complete with spire-roofed pavilions and dotted with sculptures of mythical creatures, to symbolise Mount Meru, the cosmic dwelling of gods.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the only son of King Bhumibol, presided over the cremation ceremony that was held last evening and witnessed by royalty and other dignitaries from around the world.

WELL LOVED

His Majesty had been in power for 70 years… and during that period, he had initiated many royal development projects, and those projects have empowered many Thai people and benefited them as well. He is very well loved.

PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB, who attended the late King's cremation ceremony yesterday.

They included Queen Sofia of Spain, Prince Akishino of Japan, US Defence Secretary James Mattis, Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Singapore President Halimah Yacob.

Speaking to Singapore media, President Halimah said the late king "was one of the most respected, remembered monarchs of the modern era", and laid the foundations for the good relationship between the two countries.

In Singapore, thousands of mourners in black went to the Royal Thai Embassy in Orchard Road to pay their final respects.

Yesterday morning, some 150,000 people, dressed in formal black garments, crammed onto the pavements in inner Bangkok to witness the cremation procession. Others stood in snaking queues in the heat and sudden downpour to offer sandalwood flowers - a traditional item burned in Thai cremations - for the late monarch.

"He worked very hard as a king, even though he didn't need to," Ms Kanya Bussayapa, 69, a retired teacher, told The Straits Times. "Our hearts are with him wherever he goes."

King Bhumibol, who ascended the throne at the age of 18, was seen as a unifying figure in politically turbulent Thailand. His 70-year reign, buoyed by widespread reverence but also protected by a strict lese majeste law, left the throne at the apex of prestige and wealth.

King Vajiralongkorn, 65, promised to continue his father's work when he took the throne last December.

Beyond the crematorium site, thousands more gathered around smaller replicas of the royal crematorium and watched the ceremony on LED screens put up nationwide.

 
 
 

When the cremation period ends on Sunday, King Bhumibol's relics and ashes will be enshrined in the Grand Palace and two temples in Bangkok. The military government has set aside three billion baht (S$123 million) for the funeral.

After a 30-day exhibition next month, the crematorium complex will be completely dismantled.

Businesses big and small halted operations to allow their workers to go and pay their final respects.

As a final tribute to King Bhumibol, and to mark the end of the year-long mourning period, more than 2,000 artists were scheduled to perform the traditional khon - or masked drama - as well as puppet shows and musical repertoires featuring his compositions. The performances began last evening, and will end this morning.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'Thais bid tearful farewell to King Bhumibol'. Print Edition | Subscribe