Thailand Pays Last Respects to Supreme Patriarch
People across Thailand flocked to Buddhist temples and several major roads in the capital Bangkok were closed on Wednesday as the kingdom paid its final respects to the 19th supreme patriarch of Thailand, the head of the country’s monastic sangha, who died in 2013 shortly after his 100th birthday.
The body of Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara Somdet Phra Sangharaja, contained within a royal urn, was borne in an elaborate funeral procession on Wednesday morning along the two-mile route from Wat Bowon Niwet Vihara, the temple where he had lain in state for two years, to Wat Debsirindrawas, where he was cremated.
“It is the royal tradition to keep the body for a long time,” said National Office of Buddhism spokesperson Somchai Surachatri. He added, “It takes a long time to prepare the flowers, details, prayers.” (BBC News)
Thousands of people dressed in black and holding photographs of the late Buddhist leader lined the streets to pay their last respects as the procession marched through the city, led by a royal guard and escorted by military troops in full regalia.
Former Prime Minister’s Office permanent secretary-general Tongthong Chandransu said the procession was made up of three parts—a parade of military officers representing the three branches of the armed forces, a flag-carrying honor parade in traditional Thai dress marching ahead of a royal chariot leading a second chariot bearing the royal funeral urn, followed by the third section that included items of rank belonging to the late supreme patriarch, accompanied by his relatives and disciples.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the cremation ceremony and lit the funeral pyre on behalf of the country’s ailing 88-year-old monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Other members of the royal family were also in attendance—Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Princess Somsavali, Princess Bajrakitiyabha, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, and Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, along with sangha leaders and representatives of Buddhist communities from 13 countries.
Arpa Tiyayon, 69, said she and her friends had traveled to Bangkok from Lamphun Province to pay their respects to the late Buddhist leader. “I come here out of love and respect,” she said. “No one escapes death. We are aware of this fact. But even if he is not here physically anymore, he is in our hearts.” (The Nation)
People also flocked to Buddhist temples across the country, which held ceremonies in tribute to the late Buddhist leader, in particular Wat Devasangaram in Kanchanaburi Province, where he was ordained. According to 2010 data from the US-based Pew Research Center, 93.2 per cent of Thailand’s population are Buddhists, almost entirely of the Theravada tradition.
On Thursday, the crown prince will preside over a ceremony to collect the supreme patriarch’s ashes, which will be returned to Wat Bowon Niwet Vihara for merit-making ceremonies. Funeral rites and ceremonies to enshrine the ashes of Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara will continue until 20 December.
“He provided spiritual guidance for our country when it was going through many changes,” said Ananya Laohateeranonda, a mourner from Bangkok. “He taught us to be calm and to be giving, something we should do more of everyday.” (DPA)
Thailand’s King Bhumibol appointed Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara as supreme patriarch in 1989. The late Buddhist leader was also the adviser and guardian of the king when the latter was ordained as a monk in 1956, and of the crown prince, who was ordained in 1978. Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara died on 24 October in 2013 at Chulalongkorn Hospital. He had been hospitalized for more than a decade before his death.
People all over Thailand farewell late Supreme Patriarch (Bangkok Post)
Millions bid final farewell (The Nation)
Funeral events for Supreme Patriarch (The Nation)
Thailand cremates late Supreme Patriarch two years after his death (Straits Times)
Thailand pauses to mourn Buddhist supreme patriarch (DPA)
Thailand cremates top Buddhist monk - the supreme patriarch (BBC News)