**** Photo credits by Thai PRD Department, YouLike.com, the album of Worathat Rattanaphan and other internet sources
The Royal Crematorium built for the cremation of the Royal Remains of late HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej is one of the most impressive in Thai history as befits the leader of a nation that has dedicated his entire life for the success and development of Thailand and the Thai people tirelessly. It is the least that the grateful Thai Nation could do to give a sendoff that is not only fitting but as a mark of deep appreciation, gratefulness and of the utmost respect and honor for a Monarch that has touched every heart of the Thai people and also that of people who are not Thai but deeply respect and love the former Monarch as well.
The design and construction for the Royal Crematorium was set into motion within a 24 hour time frame on receiving the news of the demise of HM King Bhumibol on the 13th of October 2016. The Royal Cremation date was set for the 25th to 29th October 2017 (approximately a year) and the teams involved in the design and construction had only 9 months to complete the project.
The location of the Royal Crematorium was to be located at the field in Old Bangkok at Sanam Luang, not far from the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall in the Royal Grand Palace. It was also the place of the routes used by the King, Queen and Royal Family members during major Royal celebrations and events. It is expected that huge crowds of people will be making their way to this place a few days before the Royal Cremation date and road blockades will be enforced to facilitate the influx of mourners who will come and take a place to be as close as possible to the Royal Cremation procession ceremony and the cremation itself.
The Royal Crematorium called “Phra Merumas” or Golden Crematorium is modeled after the mystical and legendary Mount Sumeru. The Royal Urn and coffin with the Royal Remains will be placed on the Golden Funeral Pyre or “Phra Chittakathan” which sits in the middle of the Royal Crematorium building. According to old Thai traditions dating back to the Ayutthaya period, the Royal Crematorium was constructed at the time of death of a King, Queen, and member of the Royal Family or for high-ranking royals in a temporary location normally in the middle of a city for the cremation ceremony.
If you look at the profile outline of the Royal Crematorium, it resembles a high mountain surrounded by several smaller mountains. This symbolically represent Mount Sumeru which in Buddhist cosmology is the center of the universe. It was and still believed in Thai customs that a King is the Divine embodiment of the highest almost God-like figure on earth. This was the influence of Hinduism which was steeped in the mysteries of angels, deities, mythical creatures and beasts which became the concept for the artisans to base their design and architecture of the Royal Crematorium. It is supposed to represent Heaven on Earth and the place where the spirit of HM King Bhumibol will be sent off to Heaven.
Construction and architecture of the Royal Crematorium was assigned to the Fine Arts Department which has been keeping the traditions of all Thai Fine Arts alive for the past 235 years. This Royal Crematorium was to be the grandest ever constructed in Thai history and would comprise of a massive complex that has spire roofs or “Busabok” in three levels.
The highest Principle Pavilion is where the funeral pyre is located and where the Royal Urn will be placed for the cremation and enclosed by four sets of fire screens. The symbolic Nine-tiered Great White Umbrella of State will be officially placed by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun on the spire of the Principal Pavilion in a ceremony a few days before the Royal Cremation date. This remarkable pinnacle of magnificent Thai art will be built in tribute to honor HM King Bhumibol in a historical send-off by the Thai people. The entire complex will measure 50m high by 70m wide will be the tallest ever built for a Royal Crematorium since the reign of King Rama V in 1911. The 70m width is symbolic of the number of years that King Bhumibol has reigned in Thailand which also made him the longest reigning monarch in history.
It will require the skills of 250 Thai artisans to build this beautiful Royal Crematorium which has more than 600 individual sculptures that will be placed to adorn each level of the Royal Crematorium (also fondly known among the artisans as an “architecture of Heaven”) including the Phra Narai figure which is made to resemble HM King Bhumibol.
The entire Royal Crematorium complex will be made of an inner steel core and all other details sculpted of wood. Starting with the Principal Pavilion (Busabok) which is the center of the complex and where the funeral pyre will be located and the Royal Urn placed, it will have four open entrances with a long flight of stairs on each side to represent the four directions of north, south, east and west. The western entrance will face the Royal Merit Making Pavilion (Phra Thinang Song Tham). You might notice two sculptures of dogs at the entrance to the Principal Pavilion which represent the two favorite dogs of HM King Bhumibol (often seen in photos) Khun Tongdaeng and Khun Jo Cho. It is also notable that some sculptures and decorative wooden items especially the Royal Urn are made from fragrant sandalwood from the Kuri Buri National Park. This wood is reserved only for Royal Ceremonies and is very delicate, therefore it requires specially trained and skilled artisans to work on these wood carvings patiently and requires assembly layer by layer.
The base level of the Royal Crematorium is the Heavenly Pond which occupies four corners of the Royal Crematorium base. This is also where each auspicious animal is placed such as the cow which watches over the South, the elephant at the North, the horse at the West and tigers to the East. There are also other beautifully sculptured mythical animals which are believed to inhabit the Himmaphan (Himavanta) Forest, eight magnificent standing Celestial beings and thirty two kneeling Celestial beings.
The first level of the Royal Crematorium is surrounded by a Ceremonial Fence called the Rajawat. This area is recognized by the Chatra-tiered Umbrellas, flags and the four Guardians of the Universe called the Thao Chatulokkaban that is found at the four corners. The Transfer Platform or “Koei La” faces the western side of the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall. Stairs on the east are to facilitate the moving of the Royal Urn on to the platform from the Throne Hall while stairs on the West are for the moving of the Royal Urn to the Golden Palanquin with Three Poles.
The second layer of the Royal Crematorium complex contains the four Dismantling Halls or “Ho Plueang”. This is where the special decorative Outer Royal Urn or “Phra Kot Thong Yai” and the Sandalwood Royal Urn or “Phra Kot Chan” will be kept once the inner urn which will be burnt is placed onto the funeral pyre. There are also six sculpted figures of the Garudas or mythical creatures that are half-bird and half-man, and believed to be the transporters for the spirit of King Bhumibol in his ascension to Heaven.
The third level of the Royal Crematorium contains the four Monk’s Pavilions or “Samsang” and will be where the Monks are located who will be chanting the Buddhist scriptures from the moment that the Royal Remains in the Royal Urn are placed onto the funeral pyre at the Principal Pavilion and throughout the Royal Cremation ceremony. Also on this level are the pavilions for the Royal Doctors, Court Officials and the funeral orchestra. These pavilions are collectively called “Thim” and constructed next to the enclosures. There are also eight pavilions at the four corners of the boundary called “Thap Kaset” which are Pavilions Describing the Boundary of the Ceremonial Site for Government officials who will be attending the merit-making at the Royal Cremation ceremony and the five “Sala Luk Khun” or Government Officials’ Pavilions in the ceremonial grounds itself.
The two prominent pavilions are the “Phlap Phla Yok” or Elevated Royal Pavilion which is at the ceremonial site in Sanam Luang for the use of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun and members of the Royal Family to receive the Royal Urn from the Royal Victory Chariot into the Royal Crematorium site. While the other is the “Phra Thinang Song Tham” or Royal Merit Making Pavilion which is a large hall to the west of the Royal Crematorium which measures 155m long by 445 m wide and with a height of 22m and adorned with paintings of the royal projects initiated by King Bhumibol during his reign, painted on all the inner walls of the pavilion. It is meant for HM The King, members of the Royal Family, the special Privy Council, ministers of the Cabinet and members of Parliament, the Prime Minister, both high-ranking military and civilian officials, foreign dignitaries, and religious leaders of the country to listen to prayers and for the merit making ceremonies.
Other pavilions are the “Phlap Phla Na Phra Thinang Suddhaisavarya Prasad” or The Royal Pavilion in front of Suddhaisavarya Prasad Hall for female members of Royalty to pay homage to the Royal Remains and to watch the procession, while the other “Phlap Phla Yok Na Wat Phra Chetuphon” or Elevated Royal Pavilion in front of Wat Phra Chetuphon is where the King and members of the Royal Family will observe the removal of the Royal Urn from the Golden Palanquin with Three Poles to the Great Victory Chariot.
In the center of this all is the Principal Pavilion which houses the Golden Fire for the funeral pyre and where the Royal Urn will be placed for cremation. The structure is built around a gas fired cremation oven where the coffin is placed inside. Four folding fire screens or “Chak Bang Phloeng” (one on each of the four stairway entrances) will be used to shield the funeral pyre. Each screen is designed in pairs, one pair for each of the four directions. The fire screens are painted and decorated in Celestial designs and scenes as befits a King and resembles a heavenly abode.
There will also be 85 replicas of the Royal Crematorium constructed at various locations around Thailand of which 76 are placed in the “muang” or city of each province and nine more in and around Bangkok city to facilitate the Thai population in paying their last respects to beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej simultaneously with the actual Royal Cremation ceremony in Sanam Luang, Bangkok. After the Royal Cremation ceremony, the Royal Crematorium will be opened to the general public from the 2nd to 30th November as an exhibit on the traditions and customs of the Royal Cremation and Crematorium after which it will be dismantled and kept as it is considered bad luck to leave it in the center of the city after the time period.