The royal ashes of His Majesty King Bhumibol will be interred today at two historic Bangkok temples
WHEN THE funeral rites for His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej conclude today, the ashes will be transferred from Phra Sri Rattana Chedi within the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to the two Bangkok temples most closely associated with him.
Wat Bovoranives Vihara is where he resided while ordained as a monk in 1956. At Wat Rajabopidh Sathitmahasimaram rest the cremains of other Kings of the Chakri Dynastry and those of his parents.
Through the morning, King Bhumibol’s relics will be kept in the Heavenly Abode of the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall, alongside relics of Kings Rama IV through VIII.
In the evening, King’s Guard cavalrymen under the authority of the late monarch’s granddaughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, will lead a motorcade procession in which His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will accompany their father’s ashes to the two temples.
This will be the last of the six elaborate processions that have taken place during the five days of funeral ceremonies that began on Wednesday.
Cavalrymen of the King’s Guard will today lead the sixth and final funeral procession, transporting the royal ashes to the two temples.
Wat Rajabopidh – the name means “built by a king” – was indeed erected by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), King Bhumibol’s grandfather, in 1869. It was long the custom for monarchs to build a temple to commemorate their reign.
At the side of the temple opposite Khlong Lot, to the west, is the royal cemetery that King Chulalongkorn established for the interment of his queens, consorts and descendants.
It contains more than 30 memorials of varying designs. One, the Rangsi Vadhana, holds the cremains of King Bhumibol’s parents – Prince Mahidol of Songkla and Princess Srinagarindra – and his sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana.
“The ashes of King Ananda Mahidol [Rama VIII] – King Bhumibol’s elder brother – were enshrined at Wat Suthat because he’d had it restored,” says historian Chissanupong Talakana.
One portion of His Majesty King Bhumibol’s ashes will be enshrined beneath the base of the Phra Buddha Ankhirot, the main Buddha statue of Wat Rajabopidh Sathitmahasimaram.
A portion of King Bhumibol’s ashes will be laid beneath the base of the Phra Buddha Ankhirot, the temple’s main Buddha statue, situated in the Phra Ubosot (ordination hall). Also beneath the statue are the remains of Kings Chulalongkorn and Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and the latter’s consort, Queen Rambhai Barni.
The casting in bronze of the Phra Buddha Ankhirot, whose name means “aura from the body”, began late in the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV) and was not completed until his son King Chulalongkorn was on the throne. Thongthong Chandrangsu, an expert in royal ceremonies, points out what a remarkable image it is.
“Many Buddha statues made in the time of King Rama IV are quite life-like, closely resembling actual monks. Take a look at the robes of the Phra Buddha Ankhirot – they look like real, folded fabric, just as monks wear their robes. King Rama V also provided gold ornaments he’d used in his youth to gild the statue.”
The exterior of Wat Rajabopidh’s Phra Ubosot is decorated with hand-painted tiles.
Wat Rajabopidh’s place in history is further secured by its classification as a royal temple first class of the Rajavoravihara type, and by the fact that it produced three Supreme Patriarchs, the leaders of Thai Buddhism. Its current abbot, Somdet Phra Maha Muneewong, is the 20th and incumbent Supreme Patriarch.
Thongthong notes that, while most Thai temples mark out sacred ground for the boundary of the Phra Ubosot with eight small sema stones, Wat Rajabopidh has eight huge ones set into the enclosing wall, thus consecrating the entire compound. Its monks can thus perform religious ceremonies, including ordinations, outside the Phra Ubosot.
The architecture of Wat Rajabopidh blends classical Thai and European styles.
The architecture of Wat Rajabopidh blends classical Thai and European (mostly Gothic) styles, reflecting Siam’s opening to the West under Kings Rama IV and V.
The Phra Ubosot is distinctly Thai, with the exterior covered in hand-glazed tiles and the interior featuring a raised ceiling with chandeliers. The doors and windows are decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl in the form of various royal insignia.
Thongthong says Wat Rajapradit and Wat Rajabopidh were specially built to commemorate the reigns of Rama IV and Rama V, respectively, but there has been no official announcement about dedicating a temple to King Bhumibol.
“He did, though, initiate the building of Wat Phraram Kao Kanjanapisek.”
The Rangsi Vadhana Memorial in the royal cemetery at Wat Rajabopidh contains the ashes of King Bhumibol’s parents and sister.
Each of the varied memorials in the royal cemetery is marked with a name and number. The four most prominent ones are topped with gilded chedis.
These are dedicated to King Chulalongkorn’s four principal consorts. The Sunandha Nusavaree Memorial is for Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, the Rangsi Vadhana for Queen Savang Vadhana (King Bhumibol’s grandmother), the Saovabha Praditsatharn for Queen Saovabha Phongsri, and the Sukhumala Naruemit Memorial for Queen Sukhumala Marasri.
“You can see some European influence in the memorial stones, too,” says historian Chissanupong. “One of the big memorials belongs to the Yugala family and it’s modelled after the Phra Prang Sam Yot in Lopburi and adorned with three Khmer-style prang. The stupa-like Chao Chom Manda Uam Memorial was built by the Kitiyakara family.”
In the Phra Ubosot of Wat Bovoranives Vihara is the Buddha statue Phra Buddha Chinnasi, under which a second portion of King Bhumibol’s ashes will be laid.
Wat Bovoranives Vihara – Wat Bovorn as it’s commonly known – was established in 1829 under King Rama III. This is where Siam and Thailand’s Kings and princes have traditionally spent time as monks, including King Bhumibol and his son, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The Phra Ubosot houses the revered Phra Buddha Chinnasi, a statue believed sculpted around 1357. The second portion of King Bhumibol’s ashes will be enshrined at its base, near those of King Rama VI.
Wat Bovorn is a first-class royal monastery of particular importance as the temple where six monarchs donned monks’ robes. The others were King Rama V, King Rama VI and King Rama VII.
Wat Bovoranives Vihara is where six monarchs of Siam and Thailand were ordained as monks.
A museum within the monastery pays tribute to its six abbots through the ages, and one of the resident monks insists it’s “not just for devout Buddhists”. It’s a wonderful place to learn about Thai history, politics and traditions, says Phra Soponkanaporn, and especially about the religion.
“Four of the temple’s six abbots served as Supreme Patriarchs and worked closely with the royal family,” he points out.
The first abbot, in 1836, was in fact Prince Mongkut. He was a monk for 27 years and the abbot for 14 years before being crowned King Rama IV.
The second abbot, Krom Phraya Pavares Variyalankarana, became the eighth Supreme Patriarch, serving from 1851 to 1892, and acting as upajjhaya (preceptor) under King Rama V while he wore the robes of a novice and a monk.
Krom Luang Vajiranyanavongse – the fourth abbot, from 1921 to 1958, and the 13th Supreme Patriarch – was preceptor to King Bhumibol following his ordination in 1956. It was Krom Luang Vajiranyanavongse who conceived the names for His Majesty’s children.