Nation Mourns as Thai King Bhumibol is Cremated

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
2017.10.26
Bangkok
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171026-TH-KING-pyre-620.jpg Mourners prepare for the cremation of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Royal Ground next to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Oct. 26, 2017.
Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews

Thailand cremated its beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) on Thursday following an elaborate daylong ceremony whose grandeur reflected the scale of his 70-year reign.

The day began with a solemn procession viewed by hundreds of thousands of citizens who lined the streets around the Royal Grounds in Bangkok as millions more watched it on television and the internet.

The late-evening cremation followed hours of ceremony during the second day of a five-day ritual to mourn the monarch, and a build-up to it that had lasted more than a year since his death on Oct. 13, 2016. Smoke was seen billowing from the pyre after 10 p.m. (local time).

The late monarch’s son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, presided over the cremation ceremony and was joined by his sister, Princess Sirindhorn, in leading the mile-long procession from the Grand Palace to the cremation grounds.

People lined both sides of the procession route, most of them sitting to view the ceremonial delivery of the Royal Urn to the crematory site. Many wept while bowing their heads to worship. Some held photos of the late King Bhumibol while others displayed pictures of the monarch that they placed on fabric so these would not touch the ground, out of respect for him.

Police officers, security guards, public servants and volunteers sat with heads bowed as the procession passed. Some soldiers in full uniform stood and bowed their heads.

“I applied to be a volunteer for the royal cremation ceremony because I want to give back to the country,” Anong Chockdee, a resident of Bangkok, told BenarNews.Working as a volunteer makes me happy and proud of myself, and this is last time to do something for my King.”

Dressed in black, mourners react as the procession for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej passes, Oct. 26, 2017. (Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews)
Dressed in black, mourners react as the procession for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej passes, Oct. 26, 2017. (Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews)

 

More than 300,000 people attended the royal procession, but only 150,000 were able to sit inside or close to the Royal Crematorium at the Sanam Luang Ceremonial Ground. The others watched from video screens set up near the site.

Prior to the cremation, heads of state and representatives from 42 nations paid their respects and placed sandalwood flowers in front of the Royal Urn.

Crowd began gathering on Sunday

Outside, people who began arriving on Sunday evening refused to move from their spots along the route, insisting they stay for the ceremony to send King Bhumibol to heaven. Many spent the night sleeping on the ground as they waited for the procession.

“I arrived in Sanam Luang on Oct. 24, but I had to go home because I was ill. But, I really have to attend this royal cremation ceremony, no matter how hard it is to get in here because the King sacrificed his comfort and worked hard to make Thailand become prosperous,” said Sunee Yokakul, 51, of Nonthaburi, a province near Bangkok. “So, I have to be here to tell him that I’ll follow his steps and be a good person.”

At an estimated price tag of U.S. $90 million, the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha constructed the cremation grounds for King Bhumibol on the Sanam Luang Field or the Royal Ground next to the Grand Palace. It has been the site for royal cremations since Bangkok became the capital of what was Siam in 1782.

Those who could not travel to Bangkok attended ceremonies at 84 crematorium replicas and 878 pyre sites throughout the nation, including a replica in Narathiwat, a predominantly Muslim province in Thailand’s Deep South. In neighboring Malaysia, mourners went to Buddhist temples to pray for King Bhumibol.

Mourners line up to pay their respects during a simulated cremation ceremony in Narathiwat, Oct. 26, 2017. (AFP)
Mourners line up to pay their respects during a simulated cremation ceremony in Narathiwat, Oct. 26, 2017. (AFP)
BenarNews

 

‘Incomparable Power’

Thailand’s government spent months building the crematorium, called Phra Sumeru after the mountain, and constructing it to a height of 70 meters (230 feet), in recognition of King Bhumibol’s seven-decade reign.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose name means “The Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power,” was born in Cambridge, Mass., on Dec. 5, 1927, the youngest of three children of Prince Mahidol of Songkhla and a commoner, Sangwan Talapat.

Apart from construction workers, an army of artisans was deployed to craft and sculpt hundreds of statues and figurines of mythical creatures, such as the Deva and half-Deva, in decorating the crematorium complex.

On Friday, King Bhumibol’s ashes will be collected from the pyre and returned to the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall in the Grand Palace where they will be blessed on Saturday, and then moved to their permanent home at the Chakri Maha Prasart Throne Hall in the Grand Palace on Sunday, officials with the palace said.

The nation’s official year-long period of mourning ends Sunday.

“He is our beloved King who would do everything for Thai people across the country, and that is why we love him so much, said Supanna Boonmawong, 48, of Bangkok. “I have to be here because I love him and want to see the members of royal family.”

A mourner prays at the Wat Chetawan Thai Buddhist temple in Petaling Jaya, outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Oct. 26, 2017. (Hadi Azmi/BenarNews)
A mourner prays at the Wat Chetawan Thai Buddhist temple in Petaling Jaya, outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Oct. 26, 2017. (Hadi Azmi/BenarNews)

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