BANGKOK – The recently-deceased Thai king was not just a father and a role model to a majority of his subjects, but also the perfect Buddhist monarch and symbolic representative of Hindu gods.
Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch who was on the throne for 70 years, passed away Oct. 13 at the age of 88, plunging many Thai citizens, most of whom hadn’t known another king in their lifetime, into grief.
During his long reign, Thailand witnessed modernization, the emergence of imposing skyscrapers and Bangkok’s elevated train on the one hand, along with the maintenance and strengthening of several Hindu rituals associated with the monarchy for centuries.
Thai monarchy expert and Chulalongkorn University law professor Chachapon Jayaphorn told EFE that traditionally, kings of the old Thai kingdoms were considered reincarnations of Hindu gods.
The Thai Grand Palace, where Bhumibol’s body is temporarily resting, is also full of depictions of Hindu and Buddhist symbols, including Indra and his white elephant Erawan, the mythical Mt. Meru and the Emerald Buddha.
The Thai monarch also played the role of Bodhisattva, or someone who has taken the route towards Enlightenment just like Buddha, explains Chachapon.
This eclecticism is also evident in the beliefs of the Thai people, who practice a form of Buddhism with traces of Hinduism and animism; it is believed that upon death, the monarch ascends to the skies to await the moment of his rebirth.
In his will, Bhumibol had said he wanted his body to be laid out in a coffin, but earlier, mortal remains of rulers were placed in a fetal position inside a golden urn.
Funeral rites for the monarch began the day after his death, and will conclude with his cremation within a year.
Buddhist monks chant mantras for him daily, while Hindu priests were sent to the southern province of Prachuap Khiri Khan to pick out the sandalwood trees that will supply the wood for his cremation.
Each day, hundreds or thousands of people dressed in mourning clothes, come to the Grand Palace to pay their respects to the king, who was also known as Rama IX.
He was venerated almost as a deity, but as someone whose merits were the result of his good deeds, rather than his symbolic connection with Hindu gods.
“Everything the king has done has been to help others and he hasn’t asked for anything in return. That is why, personally, I feel he had great compassion and was the guardian angel for all Thais,” Parita, a palace volunteer aged 40, told EFE.