Prepping for cremation

“As the royal cremation completes the most glorious reign the Thai people have ever known, we are saying goodbye to a great king whose final departure will take with it a collective part of us, the Thai people.” ~ Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Chulalongkorn University

King Bhumibol Aduljadej, 1927-2016

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch will be laid to rest on Thursday, October 26th, a year and thirteen days after his death on October 13th last year.

Final preparations have begun as early as the beginning of October. It is a five-day public event. Building of the crematorium, procession rehearsals, arrivals of heads of states and representatives of countries who are attending the funeral ceremony have kept the capital in solemn motion.

On the day the king died I picked up the phone to tell my son who was based in the Philippines that time. He was quiet after I broke the news. Unlike the usual things he pitches after pleasantries are exchanged like “Mom, buy me this; Mom, buy me that…” he breathed a quiet, “oh.” I like to think that was His Majesty’s philosophy of self-sufficiency economy working wonders on a Thai subject – offshore.

King Bhumibol plays the piano; Queen Sirikit looks on

Thursday, 26 October, 12:19PM. I sit alone in my apartment watching the funeral alternately on TV and social media. These are things I would want to remember from this day –

i    He played the piano and that appeals to me

ii   The cremation pyre has been built for over a year. It represents a sacred mountain, Mt Meru and the area around it represents heaven. Surrounding the pyre is an element that depicts the King’s life’s work: water.

iii  Out of around 4000 royal projects, 3000 were water-related

iv  Holy water in a conch shell is poured over the chariot by a high priest before all the craftsmen set to work.

v   Prapasok Ratmai, head sculptor emphasizes perfection in their work

vi  “We pay attention to every step of the process.” ~ PR

vii  Sacred animals are placed on the first platform. Horses to the west, elephants to the north, lions to the east (Dharma teaching) and cows to the south (abundance)

viii  At the moment, funeral procession is going on. It starts from the Grand Palace where the King’s body lay in state since last year

ix  The king’s coffin has depiction of garuda, a mythical creature believed to carry his spirit to the heavens. The royal urn is placed in a chariot which, along with the king’s body is taken to the pyre for cremation among the pagodas

x    King Bhumibol presented himself as a caring monarch

xi   He built his prestige by connecting with his subjects in a way they understood and grew to love

xii  “His legacy is a highly personalized monarchy”

xiii  A popular king no doubt. He held a demigod status but “is this love the people are showing genuine?” asks a BBC reporter of Narisa Changkrabongsri, a relative of the king

As an expat for twenty years, I echo Narisa’s answer: yes.

Thursday 13  / ABC Wednesday  /  Our World Tuesday

10 Replies to “Prepping for cremation”

  1. This is a beautiful, touching, and informative narrative. What can one, here, say to one such as you at a time like this? I’d speculate that most Americans a) Didn’t know Thailand had a king, b) Didn’t know that king had died, and c) (sadly) Probably can’t even locate Thailand on a globe. How will we ever be the unified planet we need to be in order to survive?

  2. Wow, that is really something. I am afraid I cannot relate to that kind of reverence for a leader of any kind. Thank you for teaching me something today.

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