Royal Cremation Ceremony

Galiani Funeral 2 The three-day cremation of the late Princess Galiyani Vadhana, the King’s sister who passed away in January, took place this weekend with nearly round-the-clock coverage on all the TV stations. 

One channel broadcasts in English and that provided some interesting (and repetitive considering things proceeded very slowly) coverage. 

Here are a few pictures from the events just to give you an idea of the grandeur given to such a ceremony, a good illustration of the love Thais have for their royal family.

Left: the royal urn was transported from its resting spot at the Grand Palace to the site of the cremation, the adjacent royal field known as Sanam Luang.

The urn is the traditional shape used to hold the royal body or bodies of high-ranking monks.  As I understand it from online coverage, the Princess’ body was in a more traditional (although elaborately decorated) coffin and this urn was only for ceremony.

I was asked in a previous post why there was such a long time between the death of the Princess and her cremation.  In Thai tradition, a body was usually kept at the temple for 100 days before being cremated.  This allowed the spirit time to leave the body and move on to the next life.  Especially if the death was sudden and unexpected, Thais believe that the spirit may have a hard time letting go of the body.

This also gives the family and friends time to grieve before saying a final farewell at the cremation.

In contemporary Thai society, this period of time is regularly shortened to seven or fewer days.  But in the case of the late Princess, much more time was allowed.  This gave more than a million people the opportunity to come pay their final respects (the section of the Grand Palace in which her body has laid in state has been open only to mourners since January) and allowed the Brahmin priests to choose an auspicious date for the cremation.

Khru Kitiya, my Thai tutor, was down at Sanam Luang along with thousands of other people.  She shared several stories with me yesterday, including how after waiting for several hours to see the King’s motorcade pass by, she nearly missed him as she was fiddling with a broken strap on her shoe.

Below, an aerial view of the procession as it heads from the Grand Palace.

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Above, one of the thousands of people lining the route to pay their final respects to a much-loved princess.

Below, a nighttime view of the cremation complex, in the foreground, with the Grand Palace behind it.

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On Friday evening, members of the royal family came to pay last respects to the Princess, making merit for her by donating robes to Buddhist monks.

Saturday morning there was more royal merit making followed by the ceremonial cremation.  This was a symbolic cremation in which fires were lit and flowers made of sandalwood were burned. 

Below, their Majesties the King and Queen pay their final respects before the King lights the pyre during the ceremonial cremation.

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The actual cremation ceremony began late Saturday night (about 9 pm) and various entertainments were held – traditional Khon dancing, for example – as its the Thai custom to signal the end of the mourning period.

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Above: taken at sunset just before the actual cremation started in the golden tower in the middle.  The chedis in the background are at the Grand Palace.

Early Sunday morning the royal family returned to the site.  With the Crown Prince acting on his father’s behalf, royal relics were collected and placed in an urn, then the remaining ashes were placed in another container to be interred at the royal cemetery.  Interestingly, the ashes were laid out on a silk cloth in the shape of a body, looking a bit like a grey gingerbread man. 

The Prince selected bone fragments with his bare hand, placing them in the urn, being sure to take pieces from each section of her body.  It was quite interesting to watch this being broadcast live on television.

The Bangkok Post has a four-minute video montage of images from the ceremony here.  Nicely done.

Needless to say, this is just a fraction of what we will see when the sad day comes that His Majesty the King passes away.

Note: I wasn’t planning on doing a full entry on this but found many interesting pictures that I thought were worth sharing.  I’ll continue with the rest of the Buriram trip in the next few days.

31 thoughts on “Royal Cremation Ceremony

  1. @RakkaRay – Good question but I don’t know.  Would imagine that there was embalming done first.  As for the pictures, sadly I’ve used them from other sources and failed to give credit.  (Given the level of piracy here, that’s not surprising, huh?)  Most of them are from The Nation and the Bangkok Post newspapers’ websites.

  2. Nice work, Christao.  With all of the political and economic news these days I missed this one.  I am pretty sure that the youmg lady in the photo is praying for extra-wide noodles at the wake!  I know I would.  –BTB

  3. Great pics! It IS very interesting. An ignorant question for you, is Thailand’s royalty actually the ruling power or more of a figure like in the UK? Please educate me. I know they have a prime minister…do they share in the decision making?

  4. @swcheng15 – Thailand’s constitution and government is modelled on the UK, so it is a constitutional monarchy and, in theory at least, the King has no political role.  He “approves” cabinet choices, new laws, etc. but there is no real expectation that he would veto anything.  In reality, though, during the King’s 61-year reign he and his backers have built his position into one of enormous influence.  This was done through numerous means, not the least of which has been very effective PR for all the social service projects the royal family has been involved with.  Not a day goes by when you don’t hear about some member of the royal family donating something, giving something, opening something or helping out with something.

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