BANGKOK – Thailand is wrapping up the final preparations for the royal funeral of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died a year ago and will be cremated in Bangkok on Oct. 26 in an elaborate ceremony, which the royal houses from different countries are expected to attend.
The funeral, which runs from Oct. 25-29, will consist of religious ceremonies held around Sanam Luang Square (the Royal Ground), where authorities have erected a number of funerary monuments based on Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.
At the center of the ceremonial grounds full of allegorical buildings and figures is the grandiose royal crematorium, which towers over 50 meters in height and represents the mythological Mount Meru, the center of the universe and home of the god Indra.
Boonteun Srivorapot, director of the Department of Literature and History of the Ministry of Culture, explained that the religious iconography was derived mostly from the book “Tribhumi,” meaning the Three Worlds, composed by the 14th-century King Lithai of the ancient Kingdom of Sukhothai.
“The design of the royal crematorium is a replica of the sacred mountain. Mount Meru will be in the center of the crematorium with the other eight peaks representing different levels of the universe,” the expert told EFE.
“The construction of the royal crematorium reflects the belief from the Tribhumi. In Thailand, this kind of funerary monument is built for kings, based on the tradition, since the Ayutthaya era,” Boonteun added, referring to another ancient kingdom during the 14th to 18th century that preceded Bangkok.
This magnificent construction in Sanam Luang, which has taken more than 10 months to build, is packed with deities and mythical beasts such as Garuda birds – vehicles of the god Vishnu – and Naga snakes, as well as mythological creatures such as the half-human, half-bird character called Kinnari and Kinnara.
Since last year, more than 12.7 million Thai people, almost a quarter of the country’s population, have visited the hall in the Grand Palace to pay respects to the remains of King Bhumibol, who died at age 88 after occupying the throne for seven decades.
In total, they made donations to the palace worth more than 880 million baht (about $26.6 million), as they aspired to make good merits and hence improve their karma.
However, the authorities have not yet revealed details on the total budget used for the funerary ceremony.
On Oct. 26, King Bhumibol’s remains will be transported to Sanam Luang on the golden royal chariot in a procession formation of thousands of royal guards, Hindu priests and Buddhist monks, and the cremation will take place at night.
Subsequently, the ashes of the monarch will be divided and placed at Wat Rajabopit and Wat Bowonniwet temples in the capital at the end of the funeral on Oct. 29.
According to Boonteun, Thai kings are traditionally considered the reincarnation of 11 Hindu deities.
The expert explained that in Thai tradition, the monarch is believed to be a semi-divine being and that, after his death, his destiny is to be reborn in a celestial kingdom called Tusita before returning later to the mundane world as the next Buddha.
Reigning under the title of Rama IX, King Bhumibol was the only monarch that most Thais have known and was viewed reverentially as semi-divine figure, a symbol of unity and guidance for the nation.
The royal cremation will allow for more preparations to be made to celebrate the official coronation ceremony of his son, King Vajiralongkorn, who ascended the throne in December of last year.
The new monarch, 65, lacks the prestige his father had enjoyed, but in recent months he has consolidated his influence by assuming greater control of various bodies related to the military and the Crown Property Bureau, whose assets are estimated at around $35 billion.
King Vajiralongkorn’s reign commenced under a military government led by General Prayut Chan-ocha, who overthrew a democratically elected government in 2014 and has recently announced that he will hold elections in November 2018.