The people of Thailand said farewell to King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s late sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana, who died of abdominal cancer in January at the age of 84.
Tens of thousands lined the streets of old Bangkok, and millions more watched the funeral on TV. Some even performed funeral rites at Buddhist temples that dot Thailand.
“We are here because we love the princess and the king,” said Lek Paekhajae, 65, a farmer from Nakorn Sawan, 210 kilometres north of Bangkok. Lek and his wife arrived at Sanam Luang on Friday morning to make sure they had a frontline view of the processions.
The ceremony of the 6-day, $9 million funerary rites that provided a rare glimpse of the pageantry of the House of Chakri.
More than 2,000 soldiers in dress uniform marched alongside the elaborate chariot containing the urn with the remains of the princess in a funeral procession from the glittering Grand Palace, where the princess’ body has been lying in state since January. The royal court had waited for the most auspicious time for her cremation.
With conch shells wailing and cannon fire thundering, crimson-clad soldiers pulled the gilded chariot containing the body of the revered Thai king’s sister to a seven-story pyre.
The crematorium is a temporary complex of pavilions built by hundreds of Thai craftsmen over the past seven months. At the center is a four-sided castle, decorated with figures of heavenly beings at the base and a special seven-tiered white umbrella used only at royal events.
Members of the royal family performed the cremation at the pyre Saturday as guards from the three armed forces fire cannons and a group of court musicians performed classical Thai music.
The main part of the ceremony was when King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit lit symbolic candles in front of his sister’s sandal-wood casket at an ornate Buddhist pavilion.
Thai royals in attendance include Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn.
The funeral will continue until Wednesday. Other moments will include the gathering of the bones and ashes.
“We love her because she did a lot for the common people and also because she helped to raise her brother, the king,” said Tipyatabienkarn Laiad, 75, a former pharmacy professor at Mahidol University.
Princess Galyani was patron to 63 charities. She was best known for promoting the French language and promoting music. In fact, from late evening Saturday until the early hours of Sunday, five of Thailand’s symphony orchestras were playing classical music at the funeral.
The funeral of Princess Galyani is a painful reminder for Thais, for their beloved King may one day have a funeral of his own. He will turn 81 years old in December, and has spent time in the hospital with health issues. Many Thais see King Bhumibol as the rock of Thailand, a country that has been troubled by political turmoil for decades.