The Royal Cremation of King Bhumibol — Thailand Post #1135 (2017)

Thailand - Thailand Post #TH-1035c (2017)
Thailand – Thailand Post #TH-1035c (2017)

Today. October 26, 2017, is the second of five days of funeral ceremonies for His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (Rama IX) of Thailand. The procession of the Royal Urn and Coffin begins at 9:00 this morning from the Dusit Maha Phasat Throne Hall to the Royal Crematorium at Sanam Luang Royal Plaza where the actual cremation will take place at 10:00 tonight.  It will be witnessed by 8,000 invited guests, including foreign dignitaries of 43 countries, as well as millions of Thais around the world. A replica of the funeral pyre has been constructed in each of Thailand’s 77 provinces and nine in Bangkok so that mourners can attend the funerary rites without having to travel to the capitol or brave the crowds in the area near the Grand Palace.

A special folder containing the Royal Crematorium stamps, sold by International House of Stamps in Bangkok.
A special folder containing the Royal Crematorium stamps, sold by International House of Stamps in Bangkok.

A set of three sheets of stamps commemorating the Royal Cremation were released yesterday, October 25, by Thailand Post comprising 13 designs with the full set priced at 99 baht. Given the issue number TH-1135, the first sheet contains nine 9-baht stamps bearing portraits of King Bhumibol while the second sheet includes three 3-baht stamps portraying the royal coffin, the royal palanquins and the royal chariots. The last sheet has a single 9-baht stamp with an image of the Royal Crematorium and a crowd of Thais praying and singing the Thai national anthem at Sanam Luang on October 22, 2016.

Thailand - Thailand Post #TH-1135a (2017)
Thailand – Thailand Post #TH-1135a (2017)

Thailand Post sold reservations to buy the stamps from August 28 to September 11 at its offices and on its website. The president of Thailand Post, Samorn Therdthampibun, reported on October 17 that the stamps bearing King Bhumibol’s portrait had nearly sold out but that two million of the other sheets were still available for sale on October 25. She also said that officers at Thailand Post’s branches nationwide had reported long queues to buy the stamps featuring portraits of the late King every day since October 14 of last year.

Thailand - Thailand Post #TH-1035b (2017)
Thailand – Thailand Post #TH-1035b (2017)

The elaborate, temporary Royal Crematorium was constructed in the northern section of Sanam Luang beginning in February this year, cost Thai taxpayers more than one million baht, and will be torn down a month after the funeral. Breaking with precedent, King Bhumibol will be the first monarch to be placed in a coffin rather than a ceremonial urn for the cremation.

The elegant, nine-spired funeral pyre for King Bhumibol was built to represent Mount Meru, the center of the Hindu universe, and embodies the highest of Thai arts and architecture with delicate towers adorned with images from mythology and from the life of the king.

The main cremation tower is 165 feet tall — the second tallest in history — with a seven-tiered roof and spire, surrounded by eight smaller pavilions representing mountains that surround Mount Meru. Ponds at the pyre’s four corners represent the Cosmic Ocean that flows around it. There is a small garden with a plot of rice and vegetation commemorating the king’s commitment to rural development.

The pyre’s iconography portrays some of the king’s accomplishments including dams, wind farms, reservoirs and irrigation projects. It contains paintings of angels and mythical creatures as well as hundreds of sculptures, including a statue of the king’s favorite dog, Tongdaeng.

Following the king’s preference for lifelike depictions, the faces of angels in the cremation complex are more human and less stylized than in traditional arts, and the animals — cows, horses and elephants — are more lifelike, along with Singha, a mythical lion figure. In addition to the traditional gold, the structures are decorated in colors associated with King Bhumibol: yellow, pink and green.

Thailand - Thailand Post #TH-1035 (2017) set of first day covers.
Thailand – Thailand Post #TH-1035 (2017) set of first day covers.

The cremation itself will take place in a confined incinerator within the structure. Any remaining bones will be enshrined as royal relics at the Throne Hall of the palace, and the ashes will be kept separately at two temple. Allowing a month for the public to visit the Royal Crematorium following the funeral, the pyre will then be  dismantled, its wood sent to temples or other destinations around the country.

In this overwhelmingly Buddhist nation, beliefs about the monarchy are an amalgam of Buddhism and Hindu mythology. While the chanting of the monks at the funeral will be Buddhist, the cremation itself, with the pyre at its center, will be Hindu with the body believed to rejoin the main Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

The funeral follows architectural and ceremonial precedents that have been modified over the years, largely to make them more accessible to the public. Among other things, the entire population is no longer required to shave their heads in mourning and professional weepers will no longer accompany the funeral procession.

The cremation in the Sanam Luang Plaza takes place, 13 days after the 1st anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death. Tonight, a special Khon performance will be held in the plaza grounds, organized by The Foundation of the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand (SUPPORT) and the Bunditphatthanasilpa Institute. There will also be a royal puppet show, the first ever to feature a woman performer in keeping with the modern age — Ancharika Noosingha — who will be the first lady royal puppeteer in history, keeping a historic tradition from the Ayutthaya period.

Royal Crematorium at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Photo taken on October 9, 2017.
Royal Crematorium at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Photo taken on October 9, 2017.

Thai television stations are broadcasting bilingual coverage of the events via the state Television Pool of Thailand and are being aired via satellite and streamed worldwide online in both English and Thai via the official funeral webpage, the RTA Thai Global Network, NBT World and the YouTube channel of Thai PBS, the first time this has ever been done.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai recently of the 42 countries who have sent dignitaries to attend the funeral, 24 countries had their royal heads of states, heads of states and royal family members attend the ceremony, and 18 countries sent their deputy heads of states, government leaders, and special representatives to the funeral.

Tomorrow morning, the royal ashes and relics will be removed from the funeral pyre, followed by a procession transferring those items to Dusit Maha Phasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. A ceremony of internment of the royal relics to the Heavenly Abode Room, Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall of the Grand Palace will occur at 10:35 a.m. on October 29, the official final day of the mourning period that began October 13, 2016, with the death of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (Rama IX).

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