The cremated remains of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej were collected on Friday as part of an elaborate, five-day funeral ceremony that drew hundreds of thousands of black-clad mourners to Bangkok’s historic old quarter.
King Bhumibol was the world’s longest-reigning monarch when he died a year ago aged 88. His seven-decade rule spanned some of the most tumultuous moments in modern Thai history, including several coups, a deadly crackdown on student protesters, natural disasters and a regional financial crisis.
His son, new King Maha Vajiralongkorn, presided over the burning of his father’s remains in a golden crematorium in a dramatic, late-night ceremony in the Thai capital on Thursday.
Many mourners stayed to watch as smoke rose from the crematorium. Some broke down in tears at the end of what was an emotionally charged day, the mid-point of the lavish, $90 million ceremony. Others had traveled many miles to pay their final respects to their revered late king.
Shielded from the sun by a large white-and-gold umbrella, King Vajiralongkorn led a religious ceremony in the morning to collect his father’s remains. He sprinkled the bones with sacred water as classical Thai music played in a ceremony that was televised live.
Remains blessed by Supreme Patriarch
The remains were blessed by Thailand’s Supreme Patriarch, the head of the order of Buddhist monks. The late king’s bones will be taken to the Grand Palace, where he had lain in state since his death last October.
Although Thailand does not conduct polls on the monarchy’s popularity – partly because of strict laws that protect the royal family from insult –the king built up a wide personal following and is often referred to as “father”.
In a ceremony steeped in colors, ancient traditions and beating drums, a royal urn was brought from the Grand Palace to the cremation site in three processions on Thursday.
The ceremony brought Thailand to a standstill as many businesses, including banks, shut to honor the late king.
The late king’s nine-spired crematorium, built to honor the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, features intricate carvings and staircases with sculptures of nagas – a half-human, half- cobra beings – among other mythical creatures.
Pictures of mourners wearing black and holding photographs of the late king flooded social media in Thailand, with many using popular hashtags such as #rama9, #kingofkings, and #thegreatestking.
Mourners slept overnight on thin plastic mats on pavements near the Grand Palace in the Thai capital so they could get a good view of the procession earlier on Thursday.
The late king’s body, which had been lying in state at the palace since his death, was moved to the cremation area on Wednesday night.
New King Maha Vajiralongkorn, King Bhumibol’s only son, arrived at the Grand Palace on Thursday dressed in a red uniform with his two daughters and young son. He presided over religious chanting as the urn was removed by soldiers and placed onto a golden chariot.
Other senior members of the Thai royal family walked behind the urn, which arrived at the royal crematorium early on Thursday afternoon before the evening’s cremation.
All television stations in Thailand broadcast the ceremony that evoked images of ancient Siam, Thailand’s former name.
Ancient Thai beliefs dictate that the rites in the funeral ceremony will ensure the late king’s return to heaven. The Thai word “sawannakhot”, which means “return to heaven”, is used to describe a monarch’s death.
Officials in charge of the ceremony said around 110,000 members of the public had gathered near the cremation area, with another 200,000 in adjacent areas in the city’s historic center.
A series of processions leading the urn wound through the streets from the Grand Palace in Bangkok’s historic quarter to the 50-metre high Royal Crematorium that has been erected in a square nearby.
A sum of $90 million has been set aside for the funeral, the likes of which has never been seen in Thailand, officials have said, even though King Bhumibol was portrayed as a frugal man despite being one of the world’s wealthiest monarchs.
In other parts of the Thai capital and around the country, 85 smaller replicas of the royal crematorium and more than 870 pavilions were built for mourners to lay sandalwood flowers and pay their final respects to their beloved king.
Many were visibly moved as dozens of men, clad in ancient red garb, pulled the golden chariot carrying the royal urn.
Others clutched black and white pictures of the late king and many chose to prostrate themselves as the royal urn passed by. The practice was abolished in 1873 by King Chulalongkorn, also known as Rama V.
In Nonthaburi province north of Bangkok, a long queue of black-clad mourners waited to place sandalwood flowers to pay their final respects as volunteers handed out food.
Death leaves a vacuum
Piyamat Potsopho, 38, said she had been waiting for the king’s funeral procession in Bangkok since Wednesday night. “I was very fortunate to have been born under the reign of King Rama IX,” she said.
Analysts say the king’s death has left a large vacuum in the Thai psyche.
Thailand has observed a year of mourning and radio and television stations have played songs dedicated to the monarch almost non-stop. The songs urge Thais to follow in “father’s footsteps”.
Many businesses around the Southeast Asian nation were shut, while Bangkok’s old quarter was draped in floral garlands made of marigolds. Some government buildings placed potted yellow marigolds around portraits of the late king.
King Bhumibol was born on a Monday, a day which Thais associate with the color yellow.