One of the world’s grandest and most solemn ceremonies, the cremation rites of a king of Thailand, will take place this fall, after a year of official mourning. Conchs will be blown and ancient music played as a parade of colorfully-clad soldiers and officials accompany the coffin, carried on a monumental golden chariot, to the place of cremation.
The ceremonies, and the structures built for them, follow a long history reaching back to the Angkor period of ancient Cambodia. Reliefs, building plans, and paintings help trace the tradition, as do nineteenth-century photographs and twentieth-century films of state funerals. A major development in our understanding of the tradition came with the discovery in 2015 of two scrolls made in 1704 depicting that year’s elaborate royal cremation.
Dr. Forrest McGill, Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art and Director of the Research Institute for Asian Art, will explain to us the rituals and their significance. This is a timely subject as Thailand prepares to hold this ceremony for their dearly departed king this fall.