October 30 2017

Thailand Prepares for a King’s $90 Million Cremation Ceremony

BANGKOK — Capping a year of national mourning, Thailand will cremate its celebrated King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday evening, in a $90 million ceremony that symbolizes both the bountiful devotion of his subjects and the earthly abundance of what many consider the world’s wealthiest monarchy.

After 10 months of construction, a 164-foot-high royal pyre and pavilion — decorated with nine gilded spires, a great white umbrella and statuary of the king’s favorite pet dogs — awaits the funerary urn and coffin in which the ninth monarch of the Chakri dynasty has been placed.

At the time of his death at age 88 on Oct. 13, 2016, King Bhumibol, also known as Rama IX, was the world’s longest-reigning royal — and one of the most revered. During his seven decades on the throne, he helped guide a nation prone to chronic coup-making and spasms of political violence.

The cremation, which will begin at 10 p.m. in central Bangkok, is considered the concluding chapter in a journey that will return the divine monarch to the mystical Mount Meru, the heavenly heart of the Buddhist and Hindu realm.

The royal pyre will be ignited by his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, whose official coronation is expected to follow soon after his father’s cremation.

Royal palanquins and a golden chariot have been prepared for the five-day cremation ceremony, which weaves together 600-year-old spiritual traditions. On Friday, the king’s ashes and bones will be transported to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

In Bangkok, residents have folded more than 10 million flowers made of sandalwood, whose scent is believed to guide souls to the afterworld.

Near the Grand Palace, tens of thousands of Thai mourners lined up on Wednesday to secure their spot close to the grounds of the cremation complex, despite monsoonal downpours.

“The long journey and severe weather were not obstacles for me,” said Sittichai Chumwangwapee, a teacher from northeastern Thailand. “The king went to many places and through many more difficulties than this. So, compared to what our late king had to go through, this does not even represent one tiny bit of the tiredness His Majesty King Bhumibol experienced during his work.”

A quarter of a million people are expected to crowd the areas surrounding the funerary grounds, while others can gather at 85 replica cremation pavilions set up across the country. On Thursday, every Thai television channel will broadcast the ceremony live.

In a sign of the event’s solemnity, selfies have been discouraged at the cremation complex.

“Even if it is already a year since his passing, I’m still crying,” said Amornrat Werakan, 57, a business owner who had arrived from central Thailand on Wednesday to try to witness the cremation procession. “This is a very significant loss, like losing the most important person in my life.”

Since King Bhumibol’s death, millions of Thais have limited their wardrobes to black and white. With his impending cremation, Thai websites and television stations also stripped color from their content and programming.

King Bhumibol’s portrait, bespectacled and sober, hangs in most public spaces and private homes. Shopping malls have been playing jazz compositions by the monarch, a keen saxophonist.

The last time Thailand sent off a monarch to Mount Meru was in 1950, after the deceased king’s elder brother, Ananda Mahidol, died by gunshot in the palace four years earlier. The country, once known as Siam, had only recently been named Thailand and was still a tropical backwater of rice paddies and canals.


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