Thailand on Wednesday begins five days of rituals bidding a final farewell to the kingdom’s longest reigning monarch, topped off by the grandest cremation ceremony the country has ever witnessed.
Tens of thousands of Thais will gather along the processional route in Bangkok on Thursday while millions more will watch broadcasts of the cremation ceremony for King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), who led the nation for seven decades until his death on Oct. 13, 2016.
The ceremonies will end a year of national mourning for King Bhumibol, during which Thais dressed in black and white out of respect for him.
His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn assumed the throne on Dec. 1, and will preside over the cremation ceremony in front of royals and high-level delegates from 42 countries, at the Song Tham Pavilion next to the crematorium, palace officials said.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s sister, Princess Sirindhorn, will lead the mile-long procession of honor from the Grand Palace to the cremation grounds beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday. Other royals, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and government officials, senior monks, soldiers, members of the Royal Guard, musicians and students will join the procession, according to officials.
The hearse that will carry King Bhumibol’s Royal Urn, Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot or “Great Victory Royal Chariot,” was used in 1795 for the funeral of the father of King Rama I, and later to transport royals of the Chakri Dynasty. As many as 216 men will pull the 13-ton hearse of carved, lacquered and gilded wood that was rebuilt for the ceremony.
Sukanya Fezler, a restaurant owner in Switzerland who is returning to Thailand to attend the cremation ceremony, said she came back twice already this year to pay her respects to the late king, to whom she referred as “father.”
“When I was tired from work in Switzerland, I could not talk to anybody … but when I just looked at our father’s image, I know how tired he had been, but he used his calmness to solve the problems,” Sukanya told BenarNews.
“We have great teachings from our father, leading the way and giving energy to continue,” she said.
Following the processional, King Maha Vajiralongkorn will oversee a merit-making ceremony – a Buddhist ritual – attended by his mother, Queen Sirikit. About 3,000 people, including royal guests, government officials and specially selected commoners will present sandal wood for a symbolic bonfire planned for 5 p.m. Thursday.
Key guests who will be seated at a special pavilion for the ceremony include Prince Andrew of Great Britain who will represent his mother, Queen Elizabeth. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is expected to represent the United States.
The actual cremation is to begin at 10 p.m. Thursday after the guests leave, and is expected to take about five hours. About 300 rounds of heavy artillery, one for each minute of the cremation, will be fired off during the televised event.
Full story: BenarNews
Pimuk Rakkanam, Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
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