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This post is in 4 parts with over 60 pics. One of #Thailand’s biggest funerals took place today. Northern #culture and rituals explained. 1 of 4

30/01/2015

Paying respect at an upper class funeral in northern Thailand.

300,000 mourners and over 30 monks in 8 days of funeral rites culminating in the final goodbye today at the crematorium. Pictures are in sequence over four blog posts.

Although it was the funeral of a rich Thai, the extended family  (the deceased had ten children) included people from all walks of life: rice farmers, taxi drivers, government officials, and those with no permanent work. As well as the more prosperous members of the family,  which traces its origins back to the founders of Thailand’s biggest newspaper group, less well off members attended with friends and neighbours in the local community. But all mingling and talking together because of their family and community links.

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One of the wreaths, from a family related to the King. It has first place among all the others from local and national institutions and businesses. Many people in high places attended the funeral as well as people from surrounding villages. One 97 year old family member, in perfect physical health but with Alzeimers, was present. In Thailand the whole family comes together at times like this. It makes for keeping in touch and family cohesion.

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The friends and neighbours helped in the catering too. Quite a task given the number of people attending today and over the last few days. Meals were provided from morning to lunch each day.

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The monks eat upstairs away from the lay mourners and can’t eat after midday. The rites start after the meal. They will sit cross-legged during the ceremony.

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Funerals are simpler in Bangkok. Here, in the North the coffin is placed on a “castle or palace” like catafalque symbolising the future home of the deceased.

 

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The white thread, shown below, links the coffin, the houses in this family complex, and the monks and mourners seating area. The sai sin  connects them all together during the rites that will take place. The monks hold the sai sin during the solemn part of the ceremony.

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Three of the deceased’s great grand children became monks on the day of death and will continue as naen, young monks, until three days after the cremation. They sit behind the adult monks but you still wai them as if they are full monks. Their participation in the rites is seen as giving them merit which they transfer to their great grandfather.

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Mourners give a donation in an envelope (usually an airmail envelope) when they arrive and take a small gift from the bowls alongside. It is seen as making merit for themselves. They put their names on the envelope. It anyway helps towards the cost of the funeral, 300,000 baht.

Apart from when the monks are chanting, there is much gossiping and talking going on. I’ve seen politicians handing out election leaflets at funerals and lottery sellers  routinely visit and circulate among those present. Thais love a gamble and believe in trying all means of getting good luck. They’ll pick what they see as an auspicious number. Much deliberation goes into their selection. On the first day of this funeral, armed soldiers were called in as there were too many sellers and they were becoming a nuisance. They were chased at gunpoint into the surrounding rice fields. I naively asked why the police were not called but  quickly realised that it was because the police are notoriously involved in taking back-handers from the sellers for allowing them to operate. The military government has said it will stop all corruption of this type. That won’t happen of course, corruption is endemic and almost a cultural trait with the Thais but the present unelected government has already made positive steps to minimise it. A fact that the ordinary Thai is aware of but the foreign media has failed to see.

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The monks are now seated and the rites are about to begin. They have come from several wats, some as far as 40 kilometres away. The most senior monk is on the far left and the man in the white shirt is a village elder who will lead the congregation in the ceremony. More photos of this and explanations later.

 

 

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