TIME: 'He Will Forever Be Our Legacy.' A New Era Dawns as Thais Bid a Final Farewell to King Bhumibol Adulyadej

October 26, 2017

By Dene-Hern Chen
with contributions from Kirana Kittikoonthana

 Thais line up around the Royal Palace in Bangkok to pay their final respects to the late Thai King on the one-year anniversary of his death. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

Thais line up around the Royal Palace in Bangkok to pay their final respects to the late Thai King on the one-year anniversary of his death. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

BANGKOK – In a lush open field in front of Bangkok’s Grand Palace, the nine spires of a gleaming structure stretch toward the misty sky. At the center of this three-tiered royal crematorium — painstakingly carved from sandalwood and designed with murals by Thailand’s top artisans over the past year — is the funeral pyre of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thais all over the country will officially bid farewell Thursday to their beloved monarch, who took his final breath on Oct. 13 last year at 88 years of age. Reigning for seven decades, King Bhumibol was the world’s longest-serving monarch, and few Thais alive today knew a crowned sovereign before him.

The burning of the pyre, scheduled for 10 p.m. local time after a symbolic cremation ceremony, will mark the end of a year of mourning and the beginning of a new era — one overseen by his son King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Long revered as a divine figure throughout the country, Bhumibol was regarded by his people as the very definition of kingly benevolence, devoted to his subjects and his nation’s progress. Etched in the minds of Thais’ is the enduring image of the bespectacled King in modest clothing, carrying a notebook and camera, concentrating on some agricultural conundrum against a rural backdrop, far from Bangkok’s elites. Since his death, this representation has proliferated throughout the country — in murals, outsized billboards, and on TV.

This is what Thais reach for a year on when speaking about King Bhumibol. “Since we were young until now, everybody could see how he worked to do everything for the people,” said Pui Wongsuthee, 68, on the anniversary of his death, as she traveled by ferry to the Grand Palace to pay her respects. “He didn’t act like he was above us — he was with us, he ate with us. Everybody loves him very much.”

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