Thais conduct last rites as late king's ashes collected

Thai mourners await the royal relics and royal ashes collection ceremony as part of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej's cremation ceremony at the Royal Crematorium in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Mourners around Thailand conducted their last few funeral rites on Friday (Oct 27) as the remains of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej were collected following an emotionally-charged cremation ceremony.

Provincial officials, who had received over 19 million sandalwood flowers from mourners as offerings for the royal cremation, scattered the ashes of these offerings in canals and rivers in symbolic ceremonies across the country.

In Bangkok, where the body of King Bhumibol was cremated in a specially-built complex next to the Grand Palace, King Maha Vajiralongkorn sprinkled sacred water on the remains of his father, which were also blessed by the Supreme Patriarch, the Kingdom's most senior monk. King Bhumibol's relics and ashes were transported in solemn processions back to the palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha nearby.

After another religious ritual, King Bhumibol's relics will be enshrined within the palace on Sunday. His ashes will be enshrined at Wat Ratchabophit - a temple which bears a royal cemetery - and Wat Bowonniwet - where he served his brief monkhood.

King Bhumibol, 88, died in October last year after a 70-year reign, leaving behind a throne that was both wealthy and influential in South-east Asia's second largest economy. As a king, he was seen as a demigod and paragon of virtue often juxtaposed against corrupt politicians or officials.

Until this week, his body had lain in the Grand Palace, where more than 12 million people over the year queued to pay their respects.

On Thursday night, when the live telecast of the five-day cremation ceremony did not air as expected and smoke began billowing from the purpose-built royal crematorium in inner Bangkok, mourners who had massed nearby wept as they prostrated in farewell.

In one drawing circulated on social media, a bespectacled boy waves goodbye as he treads on clouds behind a genial woman accompanied by another girl and boy - likely a representation of King Bhumibol's late mother Srinagarindra, sister Galyani Vadhana and brother Ananda Mahidol.

Another drawing shows King Bhumibol reuniting with his late pet dog, Khun Tongdaeng, which is represented in a sculpture that sits inside the royal crematorium.

Thailand's military government has spent a year preparing for the grand send-off, erecting a gilded complex in Sanam Luang, a field next to the Grand Palace.

The shimmering pavilions - one of which housed the crematorium, proved a spectacular backdrop as royalty and other dignitaries from all over the world gathered to pay their last respects.

A portion of the tens of thousands of mourners who had travelled to Bangkok were prepared to linger near the Grand Palace till the last ceremony. But many, who had slept at least two nights in the open to witness Thursday's procession, began packing their bags and heading for home on Friday afternoon.

"We will move forward," Ms Kaveerat Yongtaisong, 42, told The Straits Times.

"We will be okay because he will always be in our heart."

The royal crematorium, meanwhile, will be open for public viewing from Nov 2 to Nov 30. After that, it will be dismantled. Sanam Luang, on which it stands, will return to being a public field.

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