BANGKOK – The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s life works were depicted in the symbolic artistic components of the crematorium as the royal cremation ceremony drew to a close on Thursday in Bangkok.
The crematorium’s golden lacquer flickered against hundreds of spotlights and the backdrop of the Bangkok’s sky at dusk.
As the late King’s children, including the current monarch King Maha Vajiralongkorn, led members of the royal family and dignitaries to the symbolic pyre on top of the crematorium’s impressive golden staircase, over 110,000 people, in prostration, braced for the coming of the end, and the beginning, on this historic night.
Vichien In-osoth, 67, a corn farmer from the Thai province of Phetchabun told EFE as he arrived in Bangkok on Monday that he usually remembered the King when he was alive, visiting the offices of his agricultural development projects of Hup Kapong and Chang Hua Man, both in Phetchaburi province.
“I saw the King visiting both places often on television,” Vichien said.
Throughout his seven-decade reign, millions of Thais were more than familiar with such a sight: the King venturing into the rural parts of the country, meeting with ordinary people, lifting them out of poverty through thousands of projects under his initiative, all highlighting the King’s humbling approach toward his job.
All the while, the world’s longest-serving monarch was revered with an affection usually reserved for a god.
The crematorium, a huge, non-permanent, golden concrete structure was erected at the far end of Sanam Luang as a testimony to the King’s years on the throne. It depicted many the most outstanding characteristics of his reign.
Decorated with hundreds of golden sculptures of gods and mythical animals, the crematorium symbolizes Mount Meru, a home of the deities in the Hindu cosmology.
As the king is traditionally believed in Hinduism to be an avatar of god, his death symbolizes his return to Mount Meru, heaven.
The pond was dug on the other side of the crematorium, an interpretation of the mythical Anodat pond, a waterway surrounding Mount Meru.
However, aerators have been put in the pond in commemoration of the late King’s own innovation, the Chaipattana aerator.
Several breeds of fish that the King had commissioned to be handed out to villages and farms across the nation were released in the body of water.
The rice field was planted around the pond, a finishing touch to the symbolical representation of the King’s focus on water and soil and their roles in improving the livelihoods of his people.
The King’s personal life was also portrayed in the crematorium with several sculptures of his adopted stray dogs. One of the sculptures is of “Khun Thongdaeng,” one of his pet dogs which had become the nation’s symbol of compassion and humility.
His Majesty’s written interpretation of the Buddhist tale Phra Maha Chanok, published in 1996, which tells a story of a prince who swims for his life across the ocean a shipwreck and became Thailand’s narrative of resilience in the decade following the 1997 Asian financial crisis was represented here with a mango tree on one side of the crematorium.
Phra Maha Chanok is known to tend well to his trees and the fruits are sweeter as a result, leading to jealousy. Many Thais take this as a lesson from the late King to always be modest and satisfied with what one has.
But his decades on the throne undoubtedly had a far more complicated side. The King’s suggestion to lift the country out of political deadlock during the 2000s through judicial means was applauded by some, but chided by many who saw it as an act of political intervention by the palace.
But it was one of the many times King Bhumibol was viewed as preventing political crisis from escalating. The student uprising in 1973 saw the King pleading through a monotone televised address for an end of the military crackdown.
During the bloody Black May in 1992, the King had an audience with the then prime minister, a general who orchestrated a coup, and the leader of the people’s uprising. The next day the general resigned, making way for a new, royally endorsed civilian prime minister.
During the last decade, the red-shirt political movement accused the monarchy of playing a major role in the military coups. Prime ministers appointed after the 2006 and 2014 coups were seen as having a close connection to the palace.
All the while, the ailing King had stayed in and out of the 16th floor of the Siriraj Hospital amid the nation’s changing agenda.
But Thailand is always changing, now, and as it was when the late King ascended the throne in 1946 at the age of 18.
The King’s history has become the nation’s history.
And thus the narrative of the demigod king descended from above to lift Thais out of poverty and hardship and is now going back to heaven has come full circle. It will unlikely see a repeat.