Throngs of people lined the streets in Bangkok this morning to witness the funeral parade of the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. The funeral procession for the most senior Buddhist monk in Thailand set off from Wat Bowon Niwet where the body of Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara had been lying in state. The cortege travelled a few kilometres to Wat Thep Sirintharawat where the Supreme Patriarch was cremated this evening in a ceremony presided over by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Tomorrow, the Crown Prince will preside over another ceremony to collect the Supreme Patriarch’s remains. These will be returned to Wat Bowon Niwet Vihara where they will be kept permanently.
A special funeral urn normally reserved for members of Thai royalty was used for today’s ceremony which was attended by senior Buddhist representatives from more than a dozen countries. Religious services have also been held at various temples throughout Thailand with local dignitaries and senior monks in attendance.
The monk from Kanchanaburi
Born in 1913 in Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand, Charoen Gajvatra, as he was known then, became a novice monk aged 14. He moved to Wat Bowon Niwet in Bangkok in 1929 to continue his studies of Buddhism and the languages of Pali and Sanskrit. In 1956 he acted as His Majesty the King’s mentor when the Thai monarch temporarily ordained as a monk. Progressing through the ranks of the Sangha, the monk from Kanchanaburi was appointed Supreme Patriarch of Thailand in 1989. A skilled linguist who not only spoke Thai, Pali and Sanskrit, he was also proficient in English, German, French and Chinese. His Holiness died on October 24, 2013 at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok. He was 100 years old.
Making merit for the deceased
At most funerals in Thailand the deceased is cremated approximately 3 days after dying. However, for somebody of high status it is not unusual for there to be a prolonged period between death and cremation and this is actually a show of love and respect for the deceased. Thai Buddhists believe that all of the religious rites and merit-making ceremonies carried out between death and cremation ease the path for the deceased and enables the departed to benefit in the next life.
The body of the Supreme Patriarch was kept in a specially adapted building at Bangkok’s Wat Bowon Niwet. According to Thai Buddhist belief, whilst the body is still present the spirit can benefit by the gifts offered, the sermons preached and the religious chants uttered in its presence. The cremation ceremony marks the final departure of the spirit from the mortal world.