Thai royal cremation set for six days in November

Not since the death in 1995 of Her Royal Highness Sangwal Talapad, known affectionately to the Thai people as Somdeth Ya – the Royal Grandmother – has something so deeply affected the people of Thailand as the death earlier this year of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana.

Born a commoner, the daughter of a poor goldsmith, HRH Sangwal Talapad was orphaned when she was eight years old. At 20 she married a royal prince and gave birth to two sons who became kings.

It’s not surprising that in the 100 days of mourning following Princess Sangwal’s death more than 2.3 million Thai citizens visited the Thai Grand Palace to pay their respects

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand -the worlds longest reigning monarch
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand -the worlds longest reigning monarch

It’s doubtful if the people of any other nation hold their royal family in such high esteem and respect as the people of Thailand.

When news of the death of Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, Princess of Narathiwat, was announced on January 2nd this year, the nation as a whole was immediately plunged into mourning.

Political and religious differences were put aside and the nation as one ‚Äì from the beer bars of tourist hot spots such as Pattaya and Koh Samui to the traditionally conservative northern cities of Lamphun and Lampang ‚Äì took on a somber and muted feeling at the passing of the the royal often referred to as “Princess Mother”.

On news of Princess Galyani’s death the country’s television stations all immediately broke with scheduled programming and news readers and program hosts all wore black.

Government employees and officials nationwide wore black for 100 days, while ordinary Thai people did the same for a minimum of 15 days.

Throughout the days following the death of Princess Galyani Thai television stations broadcast archival footage celebrating the life and work of this much loved and respected member of the Thai royal family.

While the death of 84-year-old Princess Galyani, elder sister to Thailand’s ruling monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was not unexpected, the Thai population had lived in hope and prayed for her recovery.

HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Princess Mother, and HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana
HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Princess Mother, and HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana

For seven months the Princess Galyani stoically battled abdominal cancer, but not even ongoing and aggressive medical treatment could prevent her from occasionally leaving her hospital bed to undertake duties she deemed important.

When it was reported that she had suffered a stroke in October 2007 the nation as one prayed for her recovery, with large segments of the population adopting the same colored clothing worn by the king on his daily visits.

Born in London, England on May 6, 1923, Princess Galyani was elevated to Royal Highness after her brother, King Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended the throne in 1946.

Her many charitable works with children, education, public health, rural schools and the poor, earned Princess Galyani immense respect from the Thai people.

She wrote many books, including a best-seller about the Thai King and his older brother.

An early portrait of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana
An early portrait of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana

Princess Galyani also produced videos about her overseas trips and had a great desire to raise the education levels of Thai people above those of other countries.

Her thoughts were that videos were a wonderful way to do so and the videos she produced are still often shown on Thai television.

In the first six days after her death more than 118,000 people thronged the Grand Palace to sign the condolences book. In every province throughout Thailand ordinary Thai’s queued to do the same thing.

The royal funeral of the late Princess Galyani will take place between November 14th and 19th at Sanam Luang Park in Bangkok, with a budget of Bt300 million (about $US8.8 million) being set aside for the ceremony.

The first four days of the royal funeral ceremony are associated with the cremation, while the latter two days with the collection and entombment of the ashes and royal relics.

There will be six grand processions for the four days of the cremation (November 15, 16, 18, and 19) ceremony involving 3,294 soldiers and the three Thai royal chariots: Phra Maha PichaiRatcharot , or Great Victory Chariot (มหาพิชัยราชรถ), Phra Wetchayanta Ratcharot (พระเวชยันตราชรถ) and Phra RatcharotNoi , or Little Charriot (ราชรถน้อย).

Princess Galyani Vadha - a tireless worker for those in need
Princess Galyani Vadha – a tireless worker for those in need

These magnificent 200-year-old chariots have undergone a full restoration since the death of the Thai royal princess by a team of Thai artisans skilled in traditional construction techniques.

Two royal palanquins, a type of wheel-less sedan chair known in Thai as Phra Yannamas, and carried by human bearers will also be used.

The Thai royal chariot Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot is 11.2 meters tall and 15.3 meters long. It was built in the reign of Thailand’s King Rama I in the Rattanakosin period, in 1795.

The Thai royal chariot Phra Wetchayanta Ratcharot is 11.7 meters tall, 17.5 meters long, weighs 40 tonnes and requires 206 men – 160 in front and 46 at the rear – to draw it.

It was also built in the reign of Thailand’s King Rama I, in 1799, for use to carry the remains of high-ranking members of the royal family to the Sanam Luang ground.

The first three processions of the royal funeral will take place on Saturday, November 15 when the royal urn, or Kosa in Thai, which has been crafted from three aromatic sandalwood trees, aged 142, 118, and 111 years will be escorted from the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall by 662 soldiers to the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot at Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho).

Thailand's Kings guard at the funeral of HRH Sangwal Talapad, the Royal Grandmother, in 1996
Thailand's Kings guard at the funeral of HRH Sangwal Talapad, the Royal Grandmother, in 1996

The second procession will move the royal urn on Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot to the royal crematorium at the Sanam Luang ceremonial site.

Escorted by 1,114 soldiers, it will proceed along Sanam Chai Road, pass Ratchadamnoen Nai Road, and finally turn left to the central road that crosses Sanam Luang.

The third procession, comprising 376 solders, will carry the royal urn by Phra Yannamas Sam Lamkhan to circle counter-clockwise three times around the royal crematorium. Then the royal urn will be moved back to the royal crematorium.

The Thai royal cremation will then take place on a pyre of traditional Thai design with the construction similar to that commonly seen in traditional Thai palaces and castles.

The royal funeral urn of HM Queen Rambhai Barni of Thailand in 1984
The royal funeral urn of HM Queen Rambhai Barni of Thailand in 1984
The Thai Mahapichai Ratcharot royal chariot
The Thai Mahapichai Ratcharot royal chariot
The Thai royal chariot Pra Vachandra Ratcharot
The Thai royal chariot Pra Vachandra Ratcharot
The intricate handicraft of the Thai royal chariot Phra Mahapichai Ratcharot
The intricate handicraft of the Thai royal chariot Phra Mahapichai Ratcharot
The Thai royal chariot Phra Ratcharot Noi. Photo courtesy NM Krung
The Thai royal chariot Phra Ratcharot Noi. Photo courtesy NM Krung

A main aspect of the pyre, which has taken 200 highly skilled artisans from the Thai Fine Arts Department more than seven months to construct, is that it has seven levels of Sawettachattra, symbolic of royal umbrellas used to protect members of the Thai royal family.

The seven-tier umbrella also signifies the Buddhist factors of enlightenment: awareness, wisdom, effort, delight, tranquility, concentration, and upekkha or neutral thinking.

Though traditionally made of wood, the funeral pyre for Princess Galyani will be constructed with a steel frame and covered in wooden paneling to ensure stronger construction.

By tradition the royal pyre must be removed from Sanam Luang the day after the royal cremation to prevent bad luck. The royal pyre of the late Princess Mother was later used for a building at Patumwanaram temple — the nearest temple to Sraprathum palace.

The fourth procession, consisting of 822 soldiers, will take place on Sunday, November 16, when the ashes are collected.

It will transfer the royal urn containing the royal relics and ashes from the royal crematorium to the Grand Palace.

The royal relic urn will be placed upon Phra Thinang Rajendhrayan, a royal palanquin, and the royal ashes placed on Phra Wor Siwigagarn, a covered palanquin with two carrying poles.

The fifth procession on Tuesday, November 18, will be joined by 329 soldiers and transfer the royal relics and ashes by Phra Thinang Rajendhrayan from Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall to Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall, within the Grand Palace compound.

The sixth procession will take place on Wednesday, November 19, when the royal ashes will be transferred from Phra Si Rattana Chedi, a stupa in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, to be placed in a stupa at Wat Ratchabophit Sathitmahasimaram in Bangkok.

A full-dress rehearsal for the Thai royal cremation is scheduled for Sunday, November 2nd, with 2,500 soldiers participating.

For the first three days of the Thai royal cremation ceremony Thai people will wear mourning black, while entertainment venues throughout the country have been requested to stop their programs, or reduce them in line with the somber occasion.

While the Thai royal cremation is not being promoted as a tourist event, the pomp, ceremony and pageantry associated with the occasion are sure to make the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, 11 years ago pale into insignificance.

The Committee on the Organizing of the Thai Royal Cremation Ceremony is expecting hundreds of thousands of Thai’s to join in the cremation ceremony and have made special arrangements for the installation of large television sets at Sanam Luang for people to view the proceedings.

In addition, relief centers will be established near Sanam Luang and Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue to provide food, drinking water, toilets, and first aid to those joining the ceremony to payh their last respects to the late Princess Galyani.

In recognition of Princess galyani’s contribution to Thai society, Thailand Post will issue a series of commemorative stamps, scheduled to go on sale before the ceremony of lighting the funeral pyre begins, showing the pictures of the Princess.

The Thai Treasury Department is also producing three commemorative coins to mark the Thai royal cremation.

The first coin will be a 15-gram gold coin 26 millimeters in diameter, with a value of Bt25,000 (about $US735). The second, a 15-gram silver coin 30 millimeters in diameter, is priced at Bt1,000 (about $US29), while the third will be a 13-gram copper coin 30 millimeter in diameter, worth Bt50 (about $US1.47).

For Thai’s, the death of Princess Galyani is a wakeup call that their revered royal family is aging. The king has had some serious health issues recently and late in 2007 had a stroke and was hospitalized for several weeks.

At the time the King and his sister were in the same hospital in Bangkok and thousands of people sat outside holding photographs of the King and Princess, and burning incense to pray for their good health.

While the loss of such a loved and revered member of the Thai royal family such as Princess Galyani has deeply saddened many Thai’s, the death of their beloved King, who at age 81 is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-serving monarch in Thai history, is something most Thai’s would care not to contemplate.

ENDS:
© John Le Fevre, 2008

More detailed background on the life of Princess Galyani can be found at Thailand mourns the passing of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana

Footnote: Article 112 of the Thai constitution makes it an offense to place any photograph above that of the King of Thailand.  For that reason a full photo gallery is not possible with this article. Also note that the original photographs used for this story were only obtainable at very small sizes. THey images have been enhanced as much as possible but the results are not great, for that I apologize

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Thailand royal family • Thailand royal cremation • Funeral of Princess Galyani of Thailand • Thailand travel • Thailand tourism • Thailand royal funeral • Thailand royal chariot
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John Le Fevre

Deputy editor, Thailand & GMS editor at The Establishment Post

John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 35 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor.

He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

2 Responses to "Thai royal cremation set for six days in November"

  1. Thailandblog   October 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    At this moment Bhumibol is sick and stay in a hospital

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  2. Gene   May 15, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Such beautiful woodworking in the pictures.

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