A Photo Essay
As most anyone who can read knows, Thailand has recently ended a one year period of mourning for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the universally loved and revered ‘father and heart’ of all Thai people for the last seven decades. In fact, there are few Thais alive today who personally know of any other king in their lifetime. As a Western foreigner living here with my Thai wife and step daughters, it has been a unique experience for me to witness the outpouring of love and sadness at his passing.
Rather than brave the millions of mourners who came to the capital to witness the royal cremation, we watched on TV monitors and with fellow citizens in our hometown of Krabi. To prepare for this once in a lifetime event, the Fine Arts Department was assigned to design and construct the Royal Crematorium for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Royal Crematorium comprises nine spire-roofed pavilions (busabok) rising from the base, which is formed in three levels. The principal pavilion is in the middle and is the centerpiece of the ceremony, with the pyre for the setting up of the Royal Urn to be cremated and fire screens. The Nine-tiered Great White Umbrella of State is placed at the top of the principal pavilion. There are stairs in the four directions. The western part of the Royal Crematorium faces the Royal Merit-Making Pavilion (Phra Thinang Song Tham).
Over a period of 11 months, construction of the Royal Crematorium and supplementary structures for the Royal Cremation were created by hundreds of builders, architects and master artists. The entire complex covers two-thirds of the 30-acre Sanam Luang park, across from the Grand Palace. Following the cremation of His Majesty, it was decided to open the entire exhibit to the public through the end of November. That has now been extended to December 30, after which all structures will be disassembled and removed.
Anna and I flew to Bangkok and toured the exhibit, which is free of charge, on the morning of Thanksgiving. Our eldest daughter traveled separately by overnight bus with her school group as did thousands of classrooms throughout Thailand to bid a final farewell to their king.
Referred to as Phra Merumas (Golden Crematorium), the Royal Crematorium is where the Royal Urn is placed on the pyre (Phra Chittakathan) for the cremation. It is recorded for the first time in the Ayutthaya period, also referred to as the second Kingdom of Siam (1351 to 1767 CE).
The Royal Crematorium is modeled after the imaginary Mount Sumeru, the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. In the ancient Thai kingdom, the concept of a divine king was firmly established and institutionalized, and it was influenced by Hinduism and deism. To represent this concept, the artists and architects used their imagination in the construction of the Royal Crematorium.
Elephants, some with wings and fish tails, figure prominently as do many animals both real and mythical such as copper oxen, winged horses, nagas (multi headed cobras-guardians of Lord Buddha), dragons, and half bird half human figures, all of which figure prominently in Buddhist and Hindu cosmology.
Additionally, the landscape pays tribute to some of the many royal projects initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, with a rice field, vetiver grass, Chaipattana Aerators, along with a model kaem ling, or water retention area, among others. Literally meaning “monkey cheek,” kaem ling is a well-known flood-control project initiated by His Majesty.
Adjacent structures contain exhibits detailing the life and works of the King and his family. There is still time to visit if you are in Bangkok. Although the exhibit is receiving over 100,000 visitors per day, we found the organization of crowd control to be very efficient. We waited in a shady fan-cooled pavilion for about 30 minutes until our group entered and were given cold water and apple slices for refreshment while we waited. Conservative dress is required, long pants for men, no bare midriffs or shoulders for woman. Black mourning colors are not required. Cameras, but no selfies are allowed.
Background info credits:
- Royal Brochures given to Sanam Luang visitors
- Biographies of the Chakri Dynasty
- Richard Barrow’s Website
- Family Recollections
- Siam Memories Website
- Bangkok Post
- The Nation
- All photographs are mine (with the exception of the first coronation photo)
and are copyrighted by inclusion
You can view more photos from our trip to Sanam Luang here.