Pomp and pageantry as Thailand rehearses late King's funeral

PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - Gilded chariots, horses and columns of military men in bright costumes swept through Bangkok's old quarter on Saturday in a final dress rehearsal for late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's funeral - a meticulously-planned spectacle of devotion to a man known as the "soul of the nation".

Steered by the Buddhist ritual, palace protocol and social hierarchy that underpin Thailand's powerful monarchy, the elaborate cremation ceremony will befit a king who commanded a cult-like following during his 70-year reign.

The five-day fanfare, which kicks off next Wednesday, is the culmination of months of painstaking preparation that began after Bhumibol died a year ago, aged 88, plunging the nation into grief. It will feature mass parades, cultural performances and Buddhist ceremonies centred around a gleaming funeral complex that has been erected from scratch outside Bangkok's Grand Palace.

On Saturday thousands of black-clad Thais watched a dress rehearsal of the procession that will deliver Bhumibol's body to the tiered funeral pyre on October 26. Onlookers marvelled at the rich array of ancient garb on display - from puffy blue helmets to embroidered red caps and pointy white hats - as marchers beating drums and bearing tiered umbrellas strutted through Bangkok's historic heart.

Junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha and the late king's daughter, Princess Sirindhorn, were also among those striding through the blistering heat.

"Officials had to study and work very hard to manage this event, because it is the first time our generation has prepared for a king's funeral," 54-year-old Rataya Kobsikarn told AFP.

"All of us love our King so much and this is the last chance we have to be close to him," she added.

Many Thais have worn only black-and-white since Bhumibol's death, draining colour from Bangkok's streets in a striking act of collective mourning encouraged by the ultra-royalist junta. Royal propaganda has gone into overdrive in the run-up to his cremation, with portraits of the bespectacled monarch popping up all over the country.

A draconian royal defamation law criminalises criticism or perceived snubs of the monarchy.

Prosecutions under the law have surged since the arch-royalist junta grabbed power in a 2014 coup, with record decades-long sentences handed down for insults often posted on social media. 

DRESSING FOR A DEMI-GOD

Strict dress codes for the royal funeral have been set for the public and officials.

"Ceremonies for the king are still viewed as ceremonies for a demi-god," explained Eakkarak Limsunggas, a police commander tasked with enforcing proper funeral attire.

"The language and dress code used for the monarchy must be different than what we use in normal life."

Boosted by the late king's charisma, Thailand's once-weak monarchy grew in popularity during Bhumibol's reign and the palace revived royal rituals that had been dropped by previous sovereigns. By the time of his death, Bhumibol sat at the apex of Thailand's power networks and was revered as a moral paragon in a country riven by corruption.

Many Thais refer to him as the "father" of the nation and are moved to tears at the prospect of bidding him a final goodbye next week.

Bhumibol's heir, 65-year-old King Maha Vajiralongkorn, has yet to command that level of devotion and spent much of his first year in power abroad. He is expected to be formally crowned after his father's cremation, though no date has been set.

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.

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