October 2017 will be remembered by everybody over the age of 5 in Thailand for as long as they live. There has never been a solemn spectacle to compare with events planned for the cremation of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX. Here’s what can be expected:
1. The month will grow increasingly solemn. Already, TV programs are being changed and soap-opera dramas are being postponed. TV programs will feature accounts of the life and work of the late King. Public entertainment and parties are going to disappear. Wearing black, long sleeves and full-length trousers and skirts will become important again. From October 13 to 30 appearing in public in any other color will cause offence.
2. October 13 is the first anniversary of the death of HM King Bhumibol. It will be solemnly observed. Expect government offices to be closed, although it has not yet been declared a holiday. Hereafter, October 13 will be a national significant day in the same way October 23 commemorates the death of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V.
3. Since Monday October 23 is already a government holiday, and since the funeral events for King Bhumibhol are scheduled for October 25-28, expect schools and government offices to be closed from October 21-29. Bars and entertainment venues will be closed much of this time. Alcohol will not be legally sold or consumed in public.
4. During the month of October there will be rehearsals, practices and preliminary ceremonies that will result in street closings and interruption of normal activities in Bangkok. It will probably be impractical to try to get to the Grand Palace from now on. Visitation of the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall to pay respects to the late King will be discontinued as of September 30 unless public pressure prevails. Throughout the country black and white decorations will be restored and models of the cremation structure will be erected in every provincial capital. Tens of thousands of smaller shrines are already under construction.
5. The main cremation and funeral events will be on October 26 beginning early in the morning until midnight. Crowds will be immense in the palace area. The best viewing will be in front of your television. The funeral proper will begin with a stately (very, very slow) procession from the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Grand Palace to the Sanam Luang Royal Plaza cremation site, beginning at 1 p.m. Although this is only a few hundred yards, about 2 city blocks, it will involve scores of civilian and military units, including cavalry and a unit of elephants. Large, spectacular chariots will carry the funeral urn and the traditional priest reciting stanzas continually. World leaders and ambassadors, national leaders and high ranking royalty will be assigned to pavilions in the Sanam Luang area. However, members of the late King’s family will walk in the parade which will conclude with 3 counter-clockwise circumambulations of the crematorium structure, which contains more than a hundred sculptures and towers. Then the urn will be installed with elaborate ceremony. Special guests will be allowed to pay final respects by passing through the crematory tower one group at a time. Around the country in hundreds of locations people will likewise place cremation flowers at shrines in solidarity with those in Bangkok. The late King’s body and the innermost cask containing it will be cremated in an electric crematorium in the interior of the facility, but a large amount of smoke will be generated at the same time to symbolize the event which will begin at midnight. The great Mount Meru building will not be burned. Throughout the night there will be performances of Khon masked dance drama scenes, scenes from royal puppet stories, and musical performances reserved for such occasions.
6. On October 27 the royal children, led by HM King Rama X and his sisters will ceremoniously gather relics (bones) from the cremation to take back to the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall. They will be interred, as previously announced, in two temples later. There will be other religious and merit-making ceremonies concluding on October 29. Life will return to normal after that and people will no longer be expected to wear black. The Mount Meru cremation structure including all its sculptures will be open to the public from November 1 to 30. After that it will be dismantled.
As soon as the funeral ceremonies are over, events should quickly begin leading up to the coronation of HM King Maha Vaijiralongkorn, Rama X soon after his Father’s birthday anniversary on December 5 which is being retained as national Father’s Day. I have heard that the coronation is tentatively planned for December 12.
In November newly printed Thai money will appear in circulation with the new King’s image in place of his father’s.
All these are predictions based on announcements from the palace and on past royal funerals, none of which was for a reigning sovereign; so the way things actually work out may be more elaborate.
Additional actions to be expected include a large pardon of prisoners and reduction of sentences by royal decree. Medals, awards and royal elevations will be granted to hundreds of prominent people. There will also be memorial tokens and official souvenirs for almost everybody. In the past the palace distributed grandfather clocks to hundreds of institutions with royal connections. I have not heard what is in store this time.
Finally, within the next year or two there will be the erection of a statue of Rama IX somewhere in the city of Bangkok, where memorial services will be held each October 13. The best known statues are for King Taksin the Great in Thonburi, the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn in the Royal Plaza in front of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, and the statue of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI at the front gate of Lumpini Park.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.