Sunday 22 September 2019

Thai king's cremated remains prepared for enshrinement

A procession carrying King Bhumibol Adulyadej's ashes to special locations for further Buddhist rites (AP)
A procession carrying King Bhumibol Adulyadej's ashes to special locations for further Buddhist rites (AP)
Smoke rises from the royal crematorium of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

The cremated remains of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej have been transferred to spiritually significant locations for Buddhist rites that will prepare them to be enshrined on the final day of an elaborate funeral.

Hours after the king was cremated in a ceremony steeped in centuries of tradition, his son King Maha Vajiralongkorn returned to the site to bathe Bhumibol's charred bones and place them in golden urns.

The remains were then moved to the Dusit Maha Prasad Throne Hall and Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok's Grand Palace for monks to bless.

On Thursday night, just before midnight, smoke rose from the ornate crematorium built across from the palace in the year since Bhumibol died aged 88, signalling his cremation had taken place following a day of spectacular funeral processions broadcast worldwide.

Bhumibol's death on October 13 last year, after a reign of seven decades, sparked a national outpouring of grief for a monarch who was regarded by many Thais as a father figure.

Yet it has also ushered in a sense of uncertainty for Thais who had grown used to Bhumibol as a unifying presence in a country regularly beset by political upheaval.

The five-day funeral began on Wednesday with Vajiralongkorn performing Buddhist merit-making rites.

On Thursday, a ceremonial urn representing Bhumibol's remains was transferred from the throne hall to the crematorium in sombre processions involving thousands of troops, a golden palanquin, a gilded chariot and a royal gun carriage.

The funeral will conclude on Sunday once Bhumibol's remains are enshrined and placed on royal pedestals in the throne hall and within two temples in Bangkok closely associated with the royal family, Wat Bavoranives and Wat Rajabopidh.

On Thursday, a day designated a public holiday in the kingdom, tens of thousands of mourners dressed in black watched the processions from streets in Bangkok's historic district and millions more saw broadcasts aired live on most TV stations and shown at designated viewing areas across the country.

The adulation Bhumibol inspired was fostered by palace courtiers who worked to rebuild the prestige of a monarchy that lost its mystique and power when a bloodless 1932 revolution ended centuries of absolute rule by Thai kings.

That effort built a semi-divine aura around Bhumibol, who was protected from criticism by a draconian law that mandates prison of up to 15 years for insulting senior royals.

But he was also genuinely respected for his development projects and personal modesty, though his influence waned in his final years.

The lese majeste law has been used with increased frequency by the military junta that overthrew a democratically elected government in 2014.

The law has discouraged open discussion about the role of the monarchy within Thai society even as the country evolves in other ways. Local media engages in self-censorship and foreign media have had stories about the Thai monarchy censored.


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