The Royal Crematorium on Sanam Luang was opened to the public on Thursday 2nd November. I am here on opening day. The first thing I should say is that there wasn’t a separate entrance for foreigners today. We had to enter and queue with the Thais. It took me 90 minutes to get in. I think people coming later wouldn’t have to wait so long. There was a delay for people in the first round to enter.
Referred to as Phra Merumas (Golden Crematorium), the Royal Crematorium is where the Royal Urn is placed on the pyre (Phra Chittakathan) for the cremation. Traditionally, it was built as a temporary construction in the middle of the city for cremating a deceased king or queen, or high-ranking royal, and is recorded for the first time in the Ayutthaya period.
The Royal Crematorium is modeled after the imaginary Mount Sumeru, the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. In the ancient Thai kingdom, the concept of a divine king was firmly established and institutionalized, and it was influenced by Hinduism and deism. To represent this concept, the artists and architects used their imagination in the construction of the Royal Crematorium.
The Fine Arts Department was assigned to design and construct the Royal Crematorium for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Royal Crematorium comprises nine spire-roofed pavilions (busabok) rising from the base, which is formed in three levels. The principal pavilion is in the middle and is the centerpiece of the ceremony, with the pyre for the setting up of the Royal Urn to be cremated and fire screens. The Nine-tiered Great White Umbrella of State is placed at the top of the principal pavilion. There are stairs in the four directions. The western part of the Royal Crematorium faces the Royal Merit-Making Pavilion (Phra Thinang Song Tham).
The structure measures 50.49 meters from the base to the top. It is made of wood, with an inner steel structure. The “heavenly pond” is found in the four directions of the Royal Crematorium base and is also decorated with auspicious animals, namely elephants, horses, cows, and lions. Sculptures of mythical creatures that exist in the Himmaphan (Himavanta) Forest surround the base of Mount Sumeru.
There are also sculptures of Khun Tongdaeng and Khun Jo Cho, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej pet dogs, to be placed in the principal pavilion of the Royal Crematorium.
The first level is surrounded with the ceremonial fence, or enclosure (Rajawat). The figures of Thao Chatulokkaban, or the four guardians of the world, are found at the four corners.
The second level consists of the Dismantling Halls (Ho Plueang), where the Outer Royal Urn and the
Sandalwood Royal Urn will be kept, as well as other items used in the Royal Cremation Ceremony. There are also six sculptures of Garuda (a mythical figure that is half bird, half human).
The third level comprises the Monks’ Pavilions (Sang) at the four corners of the Royal Crematorium, for monks who will chant Scriptures.
The magnificent Royal Crematorium is also decorated with eight standing celestial beings and 32 celestial beings in a kneeling position.
The landscape at the ceremonial site has been arranged to pay tribute to the work of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, with a rice field, vetiver grass, Chaipattana Aerators, along with a model kaem ling, or water retention area, among others. Literally meaning “monkey cheek,” kaem ling is a well-known flood-control project initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The ceremonial ground is also decorated with many plant species, with an emphasis on yellow flowers, such as marigolds. Yellow is the color representing Monday, the day on which His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born.