Thailand is finishing preparations for an elaborate cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, part of a five-day ceremony marking the end of a year of mourning that has engulfed the nation.
For weeks, local newspapers have run front-page stories on the tiniest details of the ceremony, a sign of national reverence and obsession towards a man who became known as the “father of all Thais”. Many considered the king, whose seven-decade rule made him the world’s longest-serving monarch, to be a demigod.
The country’s top artisans have completed a 10-month project to build a vast golden crematorium, a nine-spired structure that aims to depict the afterlife.
The 50-metre, three-tiered structure represents Mount Meru, the centre of the Hindu and Buddhist universe where it is believed Thai royals return after death. It has been adorned with images from mythology and the life of the king, including a pair of statues of his favourite dogs.
Thousands of volunteers, musicians and performers will be involved in the ceremony, while close to 80,000 security personnel will be deployed. A quarter of a million people are expected to descend on Bangkok.
During the past year, government workers and many citizens have worn black as a sign of grief. The capital is filled with monochrome posters of the king while local firms have spent thousands on advertisement boards to express their condolences.
Since the king died last year on 13 October, more than 12 million people have prostrated themselves in front of his coffin at the Grand Palace, where Bhumibol has remained before the cremation.
Many businesses will close on Thursday afternoon, including 10,000 7-Eleven convenience stores. Strict regulations on attire and conduct have been published and authorities have told the nation of 68 million that taking selfies is prohibited.
Bhumibol took the throne after his elder brother, King Ananda Mahidol, died aged 19 of a gunshot wound to the head in 1946. An edition of Life magazine published in 1950 said Mahidol was carried through the capital in a “195-year-old, 42-ton royal chariot, being pulled by soldiers and sailors”.
Next week, hundreds of Thais on foot will again pull the same restored red-and-gold “great victory chariot” carrying Bhumibol’s coffin in a solemn procession through the street towards the cremation site. A pyre made of rare wood will be lit by Bhumibol’s son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, at 5.30pm on 26 October, which has been declared a national holiday.
Television channels have been ordered to reduce their colour saturation and to refrain from overly upbeat or entertaining content. Parks have been lined with yellow marigolds, a flower associated with the king because its colour represents Monday, the day he was born.
“October is a sad period,” the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said this week. “I ask that politicians and political parties be peaceful and orderly.”
Vajiralongkorn, or Rama X, does not yet command the same affection as his father, who ruled through myriad coups in Thailand and was always seen domestically as a peacemaker and a philanthropist. A coronation is due by the end of the year.
Open discussion of the monarchy is restricted by a strict lèse-majesté law that makes criticism of the royal family punishable by years in prison. In practice, this means open discussion of the succession is considered illegal.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an academic from Chulalongkorn University, said in a Bangkok Post opinion piece that there had been dissent against the monarchy during Bhumipol’s tenure, which had “re-emerged and is now a formidable force to be reckoned with in the future”.
But he said: “For now, as the royal cremation completes the most glorious reign the Thai people have ever known, we are saying goodbye to a great king whose final departure will take with it a collective part of us, the Thai people.”