The Upcoming October Royal Ceremonies
By Walter Smith
In April the Thai Government announced the date of the cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which will take place on the 26th of October 2017 and we were all alerted to the fact that the actual funeral will be over a five day period. The confirmation of the date also set a framework for the coronation of the late King’s son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn. The new king actually ascended the throne in December 2016, but the formal coronation was in abeyance until his father was laid to rest.
For those of us that having been living in the kingdom over the past year, we all are fully aware that the country has been in an official state of mourning for twelve months. But with these two immense ceremonies imminent, it is expected that the lull in politics will come to an end and portends of a general election are being muted.King Bhumibol passed away on the 13th of October 2016 after suffering a long illness, he was 88 at the time. During his reign the king signified a symbol of unity amongst his people, whilst different political factions clashed, the King remained a calming influence over his polarized nation.
The nation stands with baited breath waiting to formally say “goodbye” to their most beloved monarch. The actual ceremony is expected to be a lavish occasion and deservedly so, and it has been suggested that a budget of over USD$30 million has been allocated. It is also expected that a huge crowd is expected to attend the funeral and a massive crematorium is being erected close to the Grand Palace, at Sanam Luang. An incredible six million mourners have paid their last respects to their late king’s remains at the Grand Palace, and the nation will come together as one on the 26th to witness the final chapter in this most emotional period of Thailand’s history.
King Bhumibol was coronated in 1946, and was instantly revered as a demigod. It was a time of unease in Southeast Asia at the time and indeed for Thailand too. These upheavals, often violent, were a dangerous period for Thailand, and King Bhumibol steered his nation through turbulent waters.The construction of the Royal Funeral Pyre in Sanam Luang is well under way and is a most elaborate affair. The Thai construction masters are constructing a “vision of heaven”, which is a nine-spired pyre that will despatch his soul into the afterlife.
The construction represents Mount Meru, which is the centre of the Hindu universe, and it will feature the ultimate of Thai arts and architecture, with intricate towers adorned with images from mythology and from the late king’s life.
The main tower will be 165 feet high, with a seven-tiered roof and a spire. This will be surrounded by eight smaller pavilions representing the mountains that encircle Mount Meru. There will also be four ponds at each corner of the pyre which symbolise the Cosmic Ocean flowing around it. To represent King Bhumibol’s enthusiasm for rural development there will also be a small garden, featuring rice and vegetables. The icons on the pyre to portray the King’s life and accomplishments will include dams, wind farms, reservoirs and irrigation projects. These were the very achievements that bought a nation together and cemented a love affair with their monarch.
The elaborate wooden pyre will be dismantled after the ceremony, and its wood sent to temples and wats all over the kingdom. The pyre will be the second tallest in history and the design of the eight towers is to represent King Bhumibol’s position as the ninth monarch of the Chakri dynasty.In the past different types of ceremonial precedents have been applicable. Years ago for , and for an auspicious occasion such as this the whole nation were required to shave their heads.
The new monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, has already been making his mark. He has made major alterations to the royal household and called for constitutional changes. Unlike many people previously thought, the new king has made it clear that he will not simply be a figurehead. Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second biggest economy behind Indonesia and is ranked 27th in the world, and the new king is determined to forge the country into economic prosperity.
King Bhumibol ascended the throne at an early age and was very much a “modern monarch” of his time. He was born in the United States and educated in the West, he even played saxophone with jazz luminaries such as Duke Ellington and composed his own music. He was a keen sailor, loved photography and even an expressionist oil painter.Later in his reign the king was instrumental of keeping his people together, his tireless work on massive rural projects benefitted his subjects and the nation took their king to their hearts. King Bhumibol is cited with having over 4,000 development projects to his name and the famous photos of the Thai monarch armed with a notebook, a two-way radio and camera around his neck have become part of Thai folklore.
The 26th of October will signify a massive change for Thailand, it is a day that will be recorded in history for its significance, and a day that will also pose questions of what is to come.
Things will never be the same again, but that is life, it evolves and changes on a constant basis. For those that lived in Thailand during the reign of King Bhumibol it was a privilege to experience such an immense period of Thailand’s history.