Thais pack Bangkok streets to bid farewell to late King

People queueing along Phra Athit Road yesterday to enter the area around Sanam Luang in Bangkok, where the royal funeral procession for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej will take place. Many have been waiting for days to see this rare ceremony up clo
People queueing along Phra Athit Road yesterday to enter the area around Sanam Luang in Bangkok, where the royal funeral procession for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej will take place. Many have been waiting for days to see this rare ceremony up close.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
A mourner holding a portrait of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit near the Grand Palace yesterday.
A mourner holding a portrait of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit near the Grand Palace yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
The Great Victory Royal Chariot is pulled by Thai army officials dressed in ancient uniforms in preparation for the Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
The Great Victory Royal Chariot is pulled by Thai army officials dressed in ancient uniforms in preparation for the Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mourners wait for the funeral procession for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej to take place in Bangkok.
Mourners wait for the funeral procession for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej to take place in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP
Mourners wait for the start of the funeral procession for Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej before the Royal Cremation Ceremony in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Mourners wait for the start of the funeral procession for Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej before the Royal Cremation Ceremony in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mourners gather under a portrait of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they wait for his funeral procession to take place outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Mourners gather under a portrait of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they wait for his funeral procession to take place outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP

Many see procession as last chance to pay respects to monarch

Thousands of mourners packed the pavements of inner Bangkok as the country began the last cremation rites for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October last year.

The monarch's body, which has lain in state in the capital's Grand Palace since his death, will be cremated this evening in an elaborate facility specially built on an open field next to the palace.

A royal urn - serving as a symbol of the late monarch - will be carefully transported this morning from the Grand Palace to the crematorium, carried first on a traditional palanquin, then transferred to a two-century-old chariot and then to a royal gun carriage.

Many have slept in the open for days to witness this rare ceremony up close, regarding this as their last chance to pay respects to a revered king they consider the father of the nation. Across the kingdom, millions more will pay their respects at 85 replica crematoriums, and tune in to simultaneous broadcasts of the ceremony on television as well as over the Internet.

King Bhumibol assumed the throne in 1946 at a time when the royal influence was waning. By the end of his 70-year reign, however, the palace's influence and prestige had grown significantly.

Through palace-backed projects to improve rural livelihoods and ideas like his "sufficiency economy" philosophy, which advocates moderation and risk management, he left a deep imprint on generations of Thais.

The monarchy under him also grew to be one of the world's richest, with the Crown Property Bureau holding key stakes in major Thai companies.

Thailand's military government has set aside three billion baht (S$123 million) for the funeral ceremony, which began yesterday afternoon with religious rites presided over by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, King Bhumibol's 65-year-old son.

The cremation will be witnessed by dignitaries from all over the world. Some of them, like Prince Andrew of Britain, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, and United States Defence Secretary James Mattis are already in Bangkok. Singapore President Halimah Yacob, accompanied by her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, is due to arrive today.

 

Meanwhile, the sidewalks are already filled with people like 76-year-old Walee Chompu, who travelled more than 300km alone from Phitsanulok province to attend the event.

"I can't just stay home. I have to be here," she told The Straits Times.

No effort has been spared to ensure things run smoothly today.

Floods have affected northern, central and north-east Thailand since early this month, but some run-off is being diverted to prevent water levels in Chao Phraya River - which runs near the Grand Palace - from rising too high.

The crematorium complex with its nine glittering spire-roofed pavilions is a representation of Mount Meru, the centre of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. It contains sculptures of mythical creatures, and also figures representing Khun Tongdaeng and Khun Jocho, the dead pet dogs of the late King.

"This is a highly symbolic ceremony," Dr Gothom Arya, former director of Mahidol University's Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, told ST. "Many people see this as his ascension to a kind of heaven, so (the people) are spiritually accompanying him on his last journey."

Today has been declared a public holiday, with banks closed and major stores shut from early afternoon.

You can also watch the livesteam here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'Thais pack Bangkok streets to bid farewell to late King'. Print Edition | Subscribe