A Year of Mourning in Thailand
I’m currently in Laos, but wanted to acknowledge the magnitude of what’s going to happen throughout Thailand tomorrow, Thursday, October 26. It’s the cremation date for King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX), who passed away just over a year ago. He was the world’s longest-serving monarch at the time, and is called father by many citizens throughout Thailand. More than 250,000 people are expected to attend the ceremonies at Sanam Luang, an area of Bangkok where a giant cremation palace has been constructed.
I wrote about the late king’s passing last year. It was astonishing to bear witness to an entire nation going into deep mourning. Overnight, a normally bustling and colorful capital city became black in almost every way. Every single billboard went dark, or featured a somber note of condolence for the king. Thai citizens wore black for a month (and most tourists and expats showed respect by doing so as well), and many have carried on that action throughout the year. Everywhere you went, from the BTS Skytrain to malls to street markets, an entire people showed their grief by toning down, well, everything.
The ceremony itself will be a catharsis for Thailand. Rehearsals have taken place over the last several weeks, including blocking off large swaths of roads around the Grand Palace and the area where the cremation will take place. The military junta government, which has a Bureau of the Royal Household, has issued rules about what to wear and how to act on this national holiday.
There are also questions about what happens after the former king’s cremation. His son has succeeded him to the throne. I won’t pretend to be an expert on Thai history and politics, but this article does a good job laying out some of the questions that are being asked now that the mourning period has ended. There are political ramifications, in addition to those involving compassion and continued mourning on the part of ordinary Thais.
Part of me wishes I could participate in such an historic moment in the country I currently call home. And I regret not going to see the crematorium as it was being constructed. But my travel plans were made before the cremation date was set, and it feels a bit strange to think of peering in on rites that don’t belong to me, aren’t a part of what I’ve known and grown up with. For Thais, this is a sacred time. What I do offer are my profound sympathies. I’ve watched them mourn for more than a year now, and hope they find some solace and peace in what takes place in Bangkok tomorrow.