Sea of black as thousands gather in Thailand for late king's funeral

Bangkok: Amid beating drums, the whistle of an ancient flute and an artillery salute, Thailand began a lavish and elaborate ceremony on Thursday steeped in ancient rites for the funeral and cremation of revered late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Hundreds of thousands of black-clad mourners lined the streets of Bangkok to watch the funeral procession, with buildings on the route draped in yellow marigolds before his cremation. Mourners slept overnight on thin plastic mats on pavements near the Grand Palace in the Thai capital so they could get a good view of the procession.

“This is the last goodbye. I really love and miss him. It is very difficult to describe,” said a tearful Pimsupak Suthin, 42, who traveled to Bangkok from the northern province of Nan.

King Bhumibol, also known as King Rama IX, died last October aged 88 after ruling for seven decades. He played a pivotal role in maintaining stability during years of political upheaval and rapid development.

Officials dressed in blue and orange removed a symbolic golden urn from the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall at the start of the ceremony. The late king’s body, which had been lying in state at the palace since his death, was moved to the cremation area on Wednesday night.

New King Maha Vajiralongkorn, King Bhumibol’s only son, arrived at the Grand Palace dressed in a red uniform with his two daughters and young son. He presided over religious chanting as the urn was removed by soldiers and placed onto a golden chariot.

Other senior members of the Thai royal family walked behind the urn, which arrived at the royal crematorium early on Thursday afternoon before the evening’s cremation. All television stations in Thailand broadcast the ceremony that evoked images of ancient Siam, Thailand’s former name.

Ancient Thai beliefs dictate that the rites in the funeral ceremony will ensure the late king’s return to heaven. The Thai word ‘sawannakhot’, which means ‘return to heaven’, is used to describe a monarch’s death.

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