Thai beliefs combine ideas from both Brahmin practices and Buddhism. The Brahmin elements are derived from the Thewaraj school, or Brahminism, which holds that the highest Brahman deities reside in the realm of heaven called Dawadungsa, where Indra resides.
This paradise was located above the peak of a mountain called Phra Sumeru, or Mount Meru, the centre of the universe, which was surrounded by other mountains. These subsidiary peaks, called Sattaboriphanboriwan in Thai, were, in turn, surrounded by an enormous ocean called Samut Seethandon. The entire realm was called Phop (which meant the world of celestial beings) and was inaccessible to ordinary mortals.
At the very end of the Samut Seethandon lay a land that was connected to the sea by the Himaphaan Forest, a wilderness of aqueous plants that was inhabited by strange, fairy tale-like animals called Sat Himaphaan and Ariyabukkhon, which resemble humans but have non-human features like wings. The Hong and Kinaree, in Thai stories and fables, are examples of Sat Himaphaan and Ariyabukkhon. Beyond the forest lay the world of mortals, called Chomphu Thaweep.
Monarchs in the Chomphu Thaweep, or human world, were believed to be incarnations of Indra, the creator of the world in Thai beliefs, born in the world of mortals to help rule it and maintain the peace and happiness of human beings. The Queen, royal children and royal relatives were also considered to be divine beings, incarnated in mortal form.
Buddhist belief holds that the monarch possesses boonyaathikaan, or inborn Buddhist merit. In order to have enough Buddhist merit to be born as a monarch, he must have accumulated so much merit in previous existences that the Lord Buddha intended for him especially to guide and assist the nation, its religion and its people.
Both of these beliefs have been clearly seen in practice dating back to the Ayutthaya Period in the names of numerous kings, like Phra Borom Trilokanat (which refers to ``all three worlds''), Somdet Phra Intracha (Indra) and Somdet Phra Narai Maharaj (Vishnu). All three have clear Brahmanistic meanings.
The Thai word for the death of a monarch is sawannakhot, which means ``return to heaven''. The deceased royal personage goes back to the Dawadungsa level of heaven, above Mount Meru, where he or she resided before being incarnated into the mortal world. It is a feature of Thai jareetpraphenee - a tradition that must always be observed without change - that an elaborate funeral pyre called Phra Merumas be built for a Royal Cremation.
The form of the Phra Merumas is a stylised representation of Mount Meru. It consists of a high building, a palace set in the middle of an elevated platform. Surrounding it are subsidiary buildings and a fence called Rachawat that symbolise Sattaboriwan in accordance with the Brahmanistic concept of Phop. These buildings are also put to use.
The Phra Merumas is a temporary structure. After the royal personage has been sent to Dawadungsa it is demolished and not retained for future royal cremations. According to Thai tradition, funerals are not prepared for in advance.
Even though the Phra Merumas will be used only once, it is a work of the greatest artistry in its architecture and ornamentation. Its designers, besides having a deep knowledge of royal ceremonial tradition and Thai art history, also have the creative imagination to achieve a sense of perfectly harmonised dimensions and volume.
In creating ornaments, gold is used generously because its colour suggests brightness and purity.
The location where the Phra Merumas should be built was never originally specified, but was left to the wishes of the monarch himself (the successor to the one being cremated). During the Ayutthaya Period, the location was chosen on the basis of appropriateness.
After the cremation had taken place, a Buddhist temple was built on the site to earn royal merit in the time to come. For example, Somdet Phraboromracha II (Chao Sam Phaya) had a Phra Merumas and a cremation ceremony held for his two older brothers, who died at the same time. After the cremations had taken place, he ordered the construction of a temple on the site, Wat Rajburana, which is located in the middle of Ayutthaya.
When Somdet Phrasri Suriyothai, the Queen of Somdet Phra Maha Jakaphat, died, a cremation ceremony was held in Sobsawan Royal Park, where the King subsequently had a stupa constructed.
In modern times, royal cremations have been held at the Phra Mane Ground (Sanam Luang) since the beginning of the Rattanakosin Period.
In Thai, there are two words used for royal cremations: Phra Merumas and Phra Meru. The first is reserved for the cremation of a monarch, a Queen, the King's mother and a Crown Prince. The remains of royal family members are called Phra Boromsob.
In the case of members of the immediate royal family and royal relatives, the cremation ceremony is called Phra Meru, and the remains, Phrasob.
-- Suthon Sukphisit