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International royalsThailand

Thailand rehearses lavish £70 million funeral for late king

As Thailand gears up for the five-day-long cremation ceremony of the late King Bhumibol, the funeral procession is rehearsed with officials in ancient costumes and black tops. The rehearsal lasted around five hours, and crowds of mourners watched as the procession passed them by. Some held up portraits of the late King. Preparations took almost a year to complete.

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. 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. Around 250,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony.