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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Truly Amazing Thailand!

er journey lit by the full moon, HRH Princess Bejaratana was given a truly royal send-off yesterday. Eight months of preparations preceded this day which included multi-gun salutes, a long parade, appearances by all the royal family (including the King, who was her cousin), plus important personages in government, the military, the monkhood, and dignitaries from other countries. Richly detailed architecture and gardens turned Sanam Luang (the Great Field across from the Grand Palace) into a colorful, gilded fantasyland intended to mimic the mythical Himaphan Forest.

The ceremonies officially began on the 8th with some members of the royal family paying their respects at the Throne Hall where the Princess had been lying in state since her death in July 2011. Her body was contained in a large gilded urn that was elevated on a multi-tiered altar of sorts.

On the 9th the urn was carried from the Throne Hall to Sanam Luang by a series of conveyances in an impressive parade. No elephants were in evidence, but those walking included the Crown Prince and his sister Princess Maha Sirindhorn, the Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and ranks of men in a variety of uniforms. The range of attire was fascinating and included traditional uniforms from the 19th century or before, as well as dress whites of modern times. Even the Prime Minister was wearing a quasi-military jacket and hat. Headgear was even more varied and should be seen to be appreciated. Women without rank, but of importance, wore close-fitting black silk, long-sleeved jackets over matching ankle-length skirts. In Bangkok's heat it must have been most uncomfortable, but everyone played their part with dignity and precision.

Early in the urn's procession it was transformed with the addition of a multi-part covering of carved, gilded wood with a tall, pointed spire and decorated with delicate silver ornaments. At one point it was carried in a 200 year old funeral carriage; later it was held aloft by over 50 attendants in dark orange uniforms. Along the way it was accompanied by seven-tiered umbrellas denoting royal status. Upon arrival at the special pavillion at Sanam Luang it was again transformed when the gilded cover was removed, revealing a beautifully detailed, carved sandalwood container. It was ensconced on an elevated platform, almost a baldachine, with a canopy and columns covered with creamy white flowers strung together in a delicate net-like design. Here, monks chanted, and a procession of dignitaries placed symbolic sandalwood flowers around the base of the urn and last respects were paid.

The actual cremation followed, at just before midnight, during which time the attendees were entertained by classical 'khon' dancers performing dances from the Ramakien/Ramayana. Other performances, including the large three-dimensional puppets, went on throughout the night. The entire spectacle was broadcast on public TV and footage has been posted to YouTube (some links shown here). It made me proud to be living in this quite amazing country.

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