On 25 October Thailand will end a year of mourning with a five-day-long funeral for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on 13 October 2016 at the age of 88. At the time he was the world’s longest reigning monarch.
For several months now, the late King’s body has been laying in an ordinary coffin that has been blessed by chanting monks. The cremation itself will take place on 26 October, which Thailand has declared a national holiday. According to Reuters, hotels near where the cremation is taking place, have been fully booked. The funeral pyre consists of nine gold-tipped pavilions and is located on a public square called Sanam Luang near the Grand Palace of Bangkok. The pyre represents Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu universe. It is decorated with paintings of mythical creatures and even includes statues of the late King’s favourite dogs. The late King’s body will be placed in the central pavilion, which is 165 feet tall.
A retired permanent secretary of the Culture Ministry, Mr Chakrarot described Thai rituals to foreign diplomats and journalists during a recent visit to the crematorium. “Before the lid is closed, both the golden mask and the golden crown are placed on the body. However, as the undertaker closes the lid, he will secretly, sight unseen, remove both the mask and the crown. In this way, the two objects of royal regalia are never soiled by this decomposing body within the coffin. They are secreted into safe keeping, ready to be used on the next occasion. The whole process takes place on the day of death and after the royal family has performed the [Buddhist] bathing rites. I can confidently state that King Rama IX is not wearing his golden mask inside his coffin. The body will be cremated within the coffin. The coffin is secretly taken to the crematorium late at night, the day before, and stored out of sight in the crematorium.”
King Maha Vajiralongkorn will ignite the pyre. On the morning of 27 October, Buddhist undertakers “gather whatever is left of the king’s body, which is mainly pieces of bones and ashes. They will fashion, on the pyre, a human body [shape] out of the ashes. They will fit a bone from where it came from originally. A piece of the skull where the head is. A piece of rib for where the chest is, in this model of ashes. The king [Rama X] will come to the pyre in the morning. He will sprinkle some sacred water symbolising the putting out of the fire and sprinkle it on the pile of bones”, Mr Chakrarot said.
Any bones that remain will be enshrined on 29 October, and the ashes will be enshrined in two Buddhist temples.
The pyre alone has been estimated to cost 1 billion baht ($30 million/£23 million), while the whole cremation reportedly cost around $90 million (£70 million).
Around 250,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony.