Making of a monarch: Thais set to part with the 'people's king'

PHOTO: AFP

Bangkok - Flipping through a binder of images of Thailand's late king Bhumibol Adulaydej, Somsree pauses and pulls out her favourite: a shot from the 80s of the casually-dressed monarch sitting on a wooden bridge, his back against a truck and chatting with a villager.

Given his lofty role he did not have to travel the country, Somsree Trupsangsree says from the shop in Bangkok's old quarter where she sells portraits of the revered monarch.

"But he went there to work," the 59-year-old says, misty-eyed at the memory of Bhumibol, or Rama IX, whose funeral on Thursday will bring Thailand to a standstill.

"His hands still held a map. He sat next to the people, so down-to-earth," she added.

Like many Thais, Somsree's bond with King Bhumibol, who died a year ago aged 88 after a seven decade reign, is instinctive and intimate.

It is also grounded in a narrative tirelessly reinforced by the palace's propaganda machine.

Pictures of him, like the ones she sells, plaster homes, storefronts and billboards while memories of his good works roll nightly across palace TV broadcasts.

From formal portraits in opulent robes to snaps of a sweat-streaked sovereign trudging through jungles to document his country's needs, the late king is remembered as regal but accessible, rich but unflashy and always dedicated to the Thai people.

Thailand bids farewell to late King Bhumibol Adulyadej

  • The bones and ashes of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej were brought to their final resting places on Oct 29, 2017, the fifth and last day of an elaborate funeral ceremony that drew hundreds of thousands of mourners to the streets of Bangkok.
  • After a three-hour religious rite, KingMaha Vajiralongkorn and Royal Family members joined the procession featuring the Rajendrayan, or Royal Palanquin with Four Poles, carrying the Royal Reliquary Urn to the nearby Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall.
  • In the evening, last elaborate procession of the Royal Funeral began as a troop of King’s Guard cavalry transferred the Royal Ashes from Phra Sri Rattana Chedi in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in a car to Wat Rajabopidh and Wat Bovoranives.
  • The Royal Ashes were carried on Phra Saliang, or small palanquin with two poles, before being transferred to the motorcade procession.
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn accompanied their father’s ashes to the two temples.
  • Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the granddaughter of the late King, graced the cavalry troop of 78 by leading the procession.
  • The 29th Cavalry Battalion included 78 horses selected for their physical appearance and colours according to royal traditions.
  • Mourners prostrated themselves to show respect as it seemed the entire nation came to a standstill.
  • At Wat Rajabopidh, King Bhumibol’s Royal Ashes were laid beneath the base of the Phra Buddha Ankhirot, the temple’s main Buddha statue.
  • The other temple, Wat Bovoranives, is where King Bhumibol resided while he was ordained as a monk in 1956.
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrives at the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace to preside over the religious rites on the final day of the Royal Cremation Ceremony.
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrives at the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace to preside over the religious rites on the final day of the Royal Cremation Ceremony.
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn presides over a royal merit-making ceremony for the Royal Relics of his father at Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace.
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn presides over a royal merit-making ceremony for the Royal Relics of his father at Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace.
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn selects relics from the ashes of his father at the Royal Crematorium on Oct 27, 2017.
  • Dignitaries lining up to pay respects to the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
  • King and queen of Bhutan paying respects at the Royal Cremation ceremony for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok.
  • Japan's Prince Akishino (2nd L) shaking hands with Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn (C), as Japan's Princess Kiko (L), Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (C back) and Thailand's Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti (R) watch.
  • Japan's Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko attending the Royal Cremation ceremony.
  • Sweden's Queen Silvia (L), Queen Maxima of the Netherlands (C), Belgium's Queen Mathilde (2nd R) and Spain's Queen Sofia (R).
  • A soldier salutes in front of the Royal Crematorium.
  • The marching band arrives at the Royal Crematorium for a funeral ceremony where the relics and royal ashes of the late Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej will be transported to the Grand Palace.
  • Dignitaries watching as Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn (R) takes part in the Royal Cremation ceremony for his father.
  • Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn arriving for the Royal Cremation ceremony for his father.
  • Dignitaries attending the Royal Cremation ceremony.
  • Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has presided over the royal merit-making ritual that marked the start of the Royal Cremation Ceremony for his late father.
  • The ritual took place inside the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace.
  • The reigning monarch arrived at the venue at about 3pm, accompanied by his two daughters HRH Princess Bajra Kitiyabha and HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana.
  • The royal merit-making ceremony was held to prepare the moving of the Royal Urn of HM the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej to the Royal Crematorium at the Sanam Luang ceremonial ground.
  • The ritual took place inside the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace.
  • The spectacular send-off for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej began on Oct 26 with an elaborate collage of Buddhist rituals and palace protocol, ahead of his cremation at the gilded pyre erected in Bangkok’s historic heart.
  • While sombre, the funeral is also a celebration as the late king ascends to heaven, with music and traditional dancers a key part of the ceremony.
  • The funeral formally began on Wednesday with a Thai Buddhist religious ritual led by Bhumibol’s only son King Maha Vajiralongkorn, known as Rama X. His father was Rama IX of the Chakri dynasty.
  • Three days of ceremonies to remove royal relics from the ashes will follow. The ashes will be taken to the Grand Palace while the relics will be enshrined in two temples.
  • The funeral procession will be headed by the king, Rama X, with his sister Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn leading the rest of the royal family.
  • It is not clear how much of a role Bhumibol’s wife Queen Sirikit will play, as she has been in ill health for years.
  • Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (C) takes part in the funeral procession.
  • Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, with Crown Prince Jigme.
  • Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, with Crown Prince Jigme.
  • Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
  • Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
  • Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
  • Queen Sofia of Spain.
  • Park Joo-sun, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea.
  • Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of Vietnam.
  • Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland.
  • Christian Wulff, former President of Germany.
  • Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, Apostolic Nuncio to the Republic of India and Federal Republic of Nepal.
  • King Tupou VI and H.M. Queen Nanasipau’u of the Kingdom of Tonga.
  • Thailand on Wednesday (Oct 25) marked the start of a lavish, five-day funeral for King Bhumibol Adulyadej with a Buddhist religious ceremony attended by senior members of its royal family.
  • King Bhumibol, who died last year aged 88, will be cremated on Thursday on a royal pyre within a cremation complex of gold pavilions in front of Bangkok's Grand Palace, in a ceremony that is expected to draw about 250,000 mourners.
  • Thailand has observed a year of mourning for King Bhumibol, who was regarded as a pillar of stability during a reign of seven decades that witnessed political upheaval and rapid development in the Southeast Asian nation.
  • "It's overwhelming," said one mourner, Aporn Wongdee, 60, who hails from the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat."I've been here for two days already and I want to see our father to heaven."
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn, known as Rama X, who inherited the throne in December on his father's death, arrived at the Grand Palace by car on Wednesday as soldiers dressed in red uniforms and black hats stood to attention.
  • Loyal subjects queued all night despite heavy rain in the hope of getting close to the Royal Procession route for the Royal Cremation Ceremony.
  • The difficulties of having to queue and sleep on the street side without any roof above their head did not deter the people’s will to find a viewing place for the Royal Cremation Ceremony.
  • They waited patiently at all nine screening points around Sanam Luang which opened to the public at 5am on Wednesday.
  • Mourners walk in line as they attend the Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
  • Loyal subjects queued all night despite heavy rain.
  • The difficulties of having to queue and sleep on the street side without any roof above their head did not deter the people’s will to find a viewing place for the Royal Cremation Ceremony.
  • They waited patiently at all nine screening points around Sanam Luang which opened to the public at 5am on Wednesday.
  • Main edifice of the cremation site for Thailand's late king Bhumibol Adulyadej surrounded by a shallow pool.
  • It was reported that there were kilometres-long queues at the other screening points.
  • Thailand has been prepping for the elaborate cremation ceremony that will take place on October 26, 2017.
  • Each mourner is given a sticker for identification after they show their identity card to officials.
  • Late Thai King's granddaughter makes an appearance at the final dress rehearsal.
  • She led the 77-horse cavalry in the sixth procession.
  • The final procession will see the Royal Ashes transferred in a royal car from the Phra Sri Rattana Chedi at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to be enshrined at Wat Rajabopidh and Wat Bavoranives.
  • The real royal ceremony will take place on October 29 at 5.30pm.
  • Thailand is putting the finishing touches to a lavish five-day funeral ceremony in a final goodbye to its late King Bhumibol Adulyadej,
  • who helped shape the South-east Asian nation for decades after World War Two.
  • Many of the hundreds of thousands of black-clad mourners are expected to camp for days near Bangkok's Grand Palace to capture a good view of the ceremonies,
  • which will be guarded by 78,000 police officers and culminate in the cremation on Oct 26.
  • Artisans have worked for ten months in Bangkok's ancient quarter to build an elaborate cremation site fashioned after a vision of heaven,
  • where Thais believe dead royals return to live above Mount Meru, a golden mountain in Hindu mythology.
  • The funeral of King Bhumibol, who died on Oct 13 last year after seven decades on the throne, is also a time of uncertainty for some Thais
  • Though steeped in ancient traditions, the funeral of King Bhumibol will permit more public participation than those of previous kings, said Thai monarchy expert Tongthong Chandransu.
  • Among the many royal objects restored for the funeral is a golden chariot that will carry the king's body in a giant ornate urn to the cremation site.
  • More than 3,000 performers will join in a night-long final tribute of music and puppet shows to end a year of mourning.
  • The Royal Crematorium site for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is seen near the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
  • Artisans have worked for ten months in Bangkok's ancient quarter to build an elaborate cremation site fashioned after a vision of heaven.
  • Officials take part during a funeral rehearsal for late Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand October 21, 2017.
  • Among the many royal objects restored for the funeral is a golden chariot that will carry the king's body in a giant ornate urn to the cremation site.
  • The urn will move to the Royal Crematorium before the cremation on the night of Oct 26, which has been declared a national holiday.
  • Thai royal guards salute during a funeral rehearsal.
  • Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn takes part during the funeral rehearsal.
  • Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn takes part during the funeral rehearsal.
  • Soldiers in uniform march past the crematorium built for the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej before the final dress rehearsal for his funeral in Bangkok.
  • Guards march towards the crematorium.
  • Guards march towards the crematorium.
  • Royal guards in uniform march during a dress rehearsal.
  • More than 3,000 performers will join in a night-long final tribute of music and puppet shows to end a year of mourning.
  • Many of the hundreds of thousands of black-clad mourners are expected to camp for days near Bangkok's Grand Palace
  • The funeral of King Bhumibol, who died on Oct 13 last year after seven decades on the throne, is also a time of uncertainty for some Thais.
  • Gilded chariots, horses and columns of military men in bright costumes swept through Bangkok's old quarter on October 21 in a final dress rehearsal for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's funeral.
  • Gilded chariots, horses and columns of military men in bright costumes swept through Bangkok's old quarter on October 21 in a final dress rehearsal for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's funeral.
  • Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha.
  • A Thai Navy boat patrols the river adjacent to the Grand Palace.
  • Thais devoted to the memory of the king have folded paper flowers for his cremation, making 10 million in Bangkok alone.

Bhumibol's image has never been more prominent than in the run-up to his cremation - an elaborate affair expected to draw 250,000 mourners to Bangkok's old quarter.

Thais are still adjusting to life under an heir who now presides over the crown's immense wealth and prestige but is yet to foster the same bond with his people.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 65, is a more remote figure to his subjects and has spent much of his first year in power abroad, although he will be centre stage throughout the funeral.

But unvarnished discussion on either monarch is impossible inside Thailand which jails critics of the institution under one of the world's harshest royal defamation laws.

Kingdom rebuilt 

Raised in Switzerland, Bhumibol ascended the throne aged 18 in 1946 after his elder brother Ananda Mahidol was shot dead in mysterious circumstances at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

He was crowned four years later, inheriting a monarchy whose power was in steady decline.

By time of his death, all of that had changed.

Bhumibol left behind one of the world's richest monarchies, with the palace the pivot point of Thailand's power networks including the influential military.

"Thailand needed a king as rallying and unifying symbol and a young king found a people to rebuild a kingdom around," explained Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a politics professor at Chulalongkorn University.

A revival of antiquated palace rituals - including prostration in his presence - and spiritual duties gilded the throne, elevating Bhumibol to a semi-divine status.

That deification made scenes of his engagement with ordinary Thais even more remarkable to a nation awed by his work ethic.

Over years spent criss-crossing Thailand, Bhumibol seeded thousands of well-publicised royal projects in a poor, agrarian country that won him the moniker the "Development King".

The trips produced a portfolio of pictures that cast Bhumibol as a compassionate king who shrugged off the riches of his position to put his people first.

Palace PR spread the message.

"There is a lot of hagiography and officially enforced views about Thailand's traditional institutions, but it all would not have worked without King Bhumibol the way that he was," Thitinan wrote in comments to AFP.

"The king was so devoted, dedicated and diligent that people saw it and over time this became their bond." His long reign saw the flickers of Communist rebellion extinguished with US help and repeated rounds of electoral politics unpicked by violent protest and military coups.

Yet King Bhumibol was perceived as above the fray despite his ties with the military whose repeated power grabs from fragile civilian governments he formally endorsed.

Big shoes to fill

Bhumibol's saintly reputation has left his heir with big shoes to fill.

The new king's colourful personal life and finances, including the recent transfer of $500 million worth of shares from a palace trust, are the subject of endless rumour.

Some analysts fear for the stability of the kingdom, with a junta at the helm of a country simmering with political divisions and the new reign in its infancy.

But criticism of the new monarch must stay behind closed doors due to the lese majeste law.

Publicly, Thais have taken the royal succession in their stride, erecting portraits of the new king around the country since he ascended the throne last year.

"This king will become our new father," Prapai Saebae, who at 90 is among the few Thais to have known life under another monarch.

"We have to respect him."

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