What We Can Expect For King Bhumibol’s Funeral Rites (Updated)

Mourners line up Friday to sign their condolences for His Majesty the Late King at the Grand Palace.

Update: Members of the public can pay their respects before the Royal Urn starting Oct. 29

BANGKOK — For the first time in 70 years, Thailand will witness a funeral for a king, an elaborate ceremony that usually lasts for a year.

The funerary rites for His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol began on Friday with a symbolic bathing of his body at the Grand Palace and will end in cremation at Sanam Luang. Tens of thousands of are expected to participate in the final farewell to their revered king, and millions more will likely watch televised broadcasts of the rituals.

Read: Black Friday: Crowds Throng Palace For Final Glimpse of King (Photos)

The body of King Bhumibol, who died at 88, is currently in the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace compound.

Like his late mother Srinagarindra who died in 1995, King Bhumibol has been placed inside a modern-style coffin instead of the traditional royal urn, or Kot, in the manner of the ancient monarchs.

But the Kot will play a prominent role throughout the rites. An empty Kot will be the center of all the ceremonies in the throne hall, and palace guidelines dictate that King Bhumibol be known as “His Majesty the King in His Kot.”

A Kot containing the body of Rama VIII in 1946.
A Kot containing the body of Rama VIII in 1946.

Much of the funeral will be series of Brahma-Hindu rituals full of mystic symbolism. An example of this was Friday’s royal bath, at which Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn poured water on his father’s chest and brushed his hair before breaking the comb, symbolizing his entry into an afterlife without need of mortal beauty.

Buddhist prayers will also be significant. In fact, monks are set to chant their prayers in front of the Kot for the next 172 days, day and night, until Jan. 21. Prayers each day will last from 6am to 9pm.

From Oct. 29, the public can pay their respects in front of the symbolic Kot, or urn, inside the Dusit Maha Prasat, the same hall where the body of His Majesty the Late King is kept for funerary rites.

Up to 100 people will be allowed inside the hall at a time, and the palace will admit a maximum of 30,000 to 40,000 people per day. To control the crowds, numbered tickets will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

In the meantime, members of the public can queue up to sign their condolences on a guestbook at the Grand Palace.

While prayer continues in the throne hall, construction of the cremation pyre will begin on Sanam Luang, whose formal English name is the Royal Cremation Ground, in reference to the past funerals of kings and queens in history.

It may be called a pyre, but the structure will look more like a pavilion boasting traditional artworks and intricate woodcraft. The pyre is designed to resemble Mount Meru, the heavenly center of the universe in both Buddhism and Hinduism.

A cremation pyre (Meru) for Galyani Vadhana, HM King's sister, who died in 2008.
A cremation pyre (Meru) for Galyani Vadhana, HM King’s sister, who died in 2008.

The long funeral will finally reach its climax when the king’s body is brought in an elaborate procession to the pyre for his cremation. Massive crowds are expected to flood the historic quarter around Sanam Luang on that day.

The late king’s designated heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, will likely be crowned as King Rama X after the cremation.

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