Recalling the Royal Cremation

Recalling the Royal Cremation

A B800m museum will preserve intricate details, artefacts of historic ceremony

Items of lore: The ornate sandalwood outer casing of the royal urn and some decorative pieces used at the royal cremation last October were put on public display at the National Museum.
Items of lore: The ornate sandalwood outer casing of the royal urn and some decorative pieces used at the royal cremation last October were put on public display at the National Museum.

Saturday marked the second anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's passing away. Apart of love and lingering sadness among Thais, what remains vivid in the collective memory is the image of the Royal Crematorium used for the Royal Cremation.

After the cremation was completed in October last year, the splendid structures were removed from the Sanam Luang ground. It has been royal protocol to remove such structures.

Now, the Ministry of Culture plans to build a 800-million-baht Museum of the Royal Cremation of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej to display art pieces and materials used to construct and decorate the Royal Crematorium.

According to the Office of Architecture at Fine Arts Department (FAD), architectural designs for the new museum are now 90% complete and construction is expected to begin in 2019 and finish in 2020.

"When it's ready to open its doors, this museum will become one of the must-see museums in Thailand," Mr Alongkorn Karnchanakuha, an architect of the museum, told the Bangkok Post.

Under the plan, the museum will be located in a 200-rai compound in Pathum Thani's Klong 5 which also houses the Supreme Artist Museum and the King Rama IX Archive. The museum will be built as a two-storey building imitating the Songtham Pavilion, the Royal Crematorium.

The ground floor will tell the story of the Hindu-Buddhist ideology behind divine Kingship under which the King was believed to be semi-divine, and where the crematorium symbolises Mouth Meru, the centre of the universe atop which lies the Home of the Gods, to which the King returns after death.

The construction of the Royal Crematorium and the Royal Funeral Chariots used in King Bhumibol Adulyadej's cremation ceremony from start to finish will also be explained in detail on the first floor. Mr Alongkorn said visitors will be able to see the transition of Thai arts from Phra Prang-style pavilions in Ayutthaya era to the busabok-style in Rattanakosin era. There will also be models of the royal crematoriums from the Ayutthaya period to the Rattanakosin period.

"The construction of the Phra Merumat often took months, if not years, to complete and they featured the exquisite craftsmanship of the kingdom's best artisans, so it's worthwhile for younger people to learn about Thai traditional arts and architecture from them," said Mr Alongkorn. On its second floor, the museum will display the meticulous craftsmanship of the monarch's sandalwood Royal Urn (Phra Kot Chan) and sandalwood Royal Coffin (Phra Heep Chan).

Designed by artist Somporn Supaluck-ampaiporn at the FAD, the Royal Urn and Coffin took over eight months of laborious attention to detail to complete. Both are made from fragrant dead-standing sandalwood trees taken from Kui Buri National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

"The sandalwood Royal Coffin features a total of over 30,000 pieces of hand-carved wood assembled together to create an exquisite design, featuring 24 patterns of intertwined sprays adorning 132 Garuda, Vishnu's carrier. The statue of Garuda, decorated with gold leaves, is placed on the third-layer base of the principal busabok," Pichit Nim-ngarm, a senior artist from the Office of Traditional Arts, said.

He added the sandalwood royal urn is composed of three interlocking parts -- the base, body and the top -- assembled from a total of over 10,000 pieces of carved wood featuring 46 traditional Thai flower patterns adorning 64 Theppanom deities. The design of the top part is inspired by the crown of the King featuring three layers of topknot ornaments. "People will be able to learn all of this at the new museum," Mr Pichit said.

Apart from the Royal Urn and Royal Coffin, 132 sculptures of Hindu deities and legendary creatures from the Himmapan mythological forest and Anodard Pond used to decorate the Royal Crematorium will be displayed on the second floor.

The sculptures include the main four deities -- Shiva, Indra, Brahman and Narayana, as well as mythical creatures like Garuda (the half-human, half-bird servant of Narayana), naga (serpent), singha (lion) and kinnari (half-human, half-bird beings).

Sculptures of other auspicious animals like elephants, lions, horses and cows created to accompany the King into the afterlife will also be displayed.

In memorial: A woman lays flowers to pay respect before a portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej outside the wall of the Grand Palace as Thais nationwide took part in events held in commemoration of their beloved King who passed away two years ago on Saturday.

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