Thais subdued ahead of royal cremation

A worker at the cremation site on Tuesday. The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Oct 13 last year.
A worker at the cremation site on Tuesday. The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Oct 13 last year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Some 40,000 people will be allowed entry to view late King's cremation next Thursday

A cloud of sobriety has descended upon Thailand as the nation prepares to bid King Bhumibol Adulyadej goodbye.

The revered monarch, who died on Oct 13 last year after a long illness, will be cremated next Thursday in a resplendent complex built from scratch.

In the meantime, chatter on Bangkok's trains has become muted, and lively advertisements replaced by quiet eulogies. Office workers gather around long tables during lunch breaks, fashioning artificial flowers that will be used as an offering at the pyre. Art galleries and shopping malls are running exhibitions depicting the late monarch.

On Wednesday, his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, blessed and raised a nine-tiered, white and gold sacred regalia at the top of the crematorium to mark its completion. He then presented officials with a flame that would be used during the ceremonies for his father next week.

More than 12 million people have travelled to the Grand Palace over the past year to pay their respects at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, where King Bhumibol's body has lain in state near a royal urn.

On Thursday - a public holiday - the urn will be carefully transferred to the crematorium in a procession featuring a two-century-old chariot, and courtiers and soldiers in traditional dress. By the end of the rituals next Sunday, his relics and ashes will be transferred to the Grand Palace, as well as two temples within the capital.

The kingdom's military government has spared no effort in planning the multimillion-dollar event. There have been two rehearsals so far and another planned for today. Thousands of people have queued up for hours just to catch a glimpse of the dry runs. They included 82-year-old Suparb Mantarawipa, who says he has never missed any royal funeral - or rehearsal - in his entire lifetime.

"My father came from China," he told The Straits Times. "He put the pictures of all the kings on the altar. He taught us that we must pray to them like we pray to gods."

Strict rules have been set for all those attending the ceremony. The public has been told to dress modestly in black, with jeans, sleeveless tops and tight-fitting clothes disallowed. Female photographers on specially erected stands can wear only skirts - not trousers. Unnatural hair colouring is prohibited.

Major businesses in Bangkok will shutter for at least half a day on Thursday for their employees to mark the cremation. They include hypermarkets like Tesco Lotus and Big C, two major cinema chains, KFC restaurants and even 7-Eleven convenience stores.

Masses of people are expected to converge near the cremation site as early as 5am on Wednesday, when entry will be given to 40,000 people on a first-come-first-served basis.

Others who cannot afford the trip to the capital are planning a more quiet tribute for their beloved king closer to home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Thais subdued ahead of royal cremation'. Print Edition | Subscribe