(Thank many Thai media for photo and BangkokPost.com for news.)
As His Majesty the King lit the fire for the cremation of his sister, HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, the nation joined together as one to say their final farewell to a beloved royal whose dedication to the welfare of the people earned her a place in their hearts
As Pol Lt Thongchai Wattanakeewong approached the front of the Phra Meru, dressed in his white ceremonial robes and head-dress and seated at the front of the royal victory chariot, he must have felt a combined sense of pride and sorrow. As the driver of the royal car of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, he was also selected to assume the position of “driver” of the ceremonial royal chariot that carried the royal urn on its final trip. It was his final act of service to the princess he had loyally served in life, and now in death.
It was a royal procession that showed Thai pageantry at its best. Taking its history from the Ayutthaya period, the royal procession began just after 7am when the royal urn was carried from its position of state in the Dusit Throne Hall, Grand Palace compound, to the Phra Meru cremation pavilion at Sanam Luang. Though only a stone’s throw away, the procession took all of four hours, carrying with it all the solemnity, grandeur, cultural and artistic heritage that is the pride of the Thai nation.
Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets to witness the rare procession and pay their final respects to their beloved princess. Many had been arriving since the night before, from Bangkok and upcountry, to find the best location to witness the proceedings. Thousands of reporters and photographers from around the world lined the official press stands to cover the event.
The ceremony was also broadcast to 171 countries around the world on Thai Global Network.
HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the early morning rites at Dusit Throne Hall, and, together with HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, accompanied the royal funeral cortege with the royal golden urn borne atop the three-poled golden palanquin as it travelled along Maha Rat road, Tai Wang road to Sanam Chai road. Here, the royal funeral urn, which dates back to the reign of King Rama I, was transferred to the royal victory chariot drawn by 216 men.
The glistening roofs of the Grand Palace complex provided a stunning backdrop for this last, and longest, stretch of the royal funeral procession. Joined now by members of the armed forces, the prime minister and representatives of eight schools, the procession stretched from the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Rajini School.
Accompanied by the melancholic strain of the Phya Sok slow march, the procession moved slowly and solemnly towards Sanam Luang, turning in on the centre carriageway and stopped in front of the Phra Meru. Here the royal urn was transferred to the golden palanquin once again to circumnavigate the Phra Meru, before being installed within the pavilion.
At 5pm, Their Majesties the King and Queen arrived to perform the merit-making rites. Their Majesties, accompanied by members of the royal family, then ascended the Phra Meru to light the fire for the symbolic cremation, with the haunting Phya Sok lament accompanied by the sobbing pi chanai oboe in the background. After the 21-gun salute, His Majesty lingered momentarily in front of the elaborately carved royal sandlewood urn before leaving the Phra Meru.
The royal cremation proper took place at 10pm, presided over by Their Majesties, close members of the royal family and courtiers of Princess Galyani.
Performances on three stages set up in the northern half of Sanam Luang took place throughout the night, featuring both classical Thai dances as well as classical western music of which Princess Galyani was so fond and supportive.
It was a truly fitting tribute to a princess who was a sister of two kings, a dedicated teacher and educator, an advocate of the arts, and a supporter of health and welfare services for the people.