The ceremony will be a monumentally historic moment for Thailand and only a small number of elderly people have ever before witnessed such an event. The last Royal Funeral Ceremony for a Monarch was that of King Bhumibol’s brother, King Rama VII, in 1950.
It has been fascinating to observe the extensive, year-long preparations for King Bhumibol’s funeral and to witness how the ancient Thai royal traditions, developed over many centuries, continue to be practiced by master craftsmen. The incredible effort and skill of those involved in the restoration of the historic royal chariots, vehicles and palanquins, the building of Phra Meru Mas (the royal crematorium), the crafting of Royal Urn, and the intricate statues of mythical beings, is not only a fitting tribute to the revered King Bhumibol, but also a testament to the rich, ancient religious and artistic traditions of Thailand.
The Royal Cremation Grounds at Sanam Luang are a real-world representation of the Buddhist cosmos, which is also deeply influenced by the even more ancient Brahman religion. In this tradition it is believed that Mount Sumeru, where King Bhumibol’s spirit will return, is the centre of the divine universe, and is surrounded by Mount Sattaboripan, the ocean and four continents where people live. It is believed that the King is an incarnation of Narayana, who comes to earth for the sake of the world’s peace. When he dies, he returns to Mount Sumeru.
Another testament to the skill of Thai artisans is the Sandalwood Royal Urn (Phra Kot Chan) assembled from a total of over 10,000 pieces of carved woods and featuring 46 traditional Thai flower patterns adorning 64 Theppanom deities.
The ceremony will also feature a royal puppet show, a tradition dating back to the Ayutthaya period.
So whether you watch on television or attend the ceremony at the replica Phra Meru Mas in Saphan Hin, you will be witnessing the enactment of ancient traditions that form an integral part of Thailand’s rich cultural heritage.