Thai King Honored Like a God and Burned on Massive Funeral Pyre at Lavish $90 Million Ceremony

Hundreds of black-clad mourners have lined the streets of central Bangkok at the start of an extravagant five-day funeral for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died over a year ago.

For millions of Thai people it is the first funeral of a ruling monarch of their lifetimes, given that Bhumibol, also known as King Rama IX, was the world's longest reigning monarch, ruling for 70 years and 126 days before his death on October 13 last year, aged 88.

Following his death, the country's prime minister announced a one-year mourning period that was extended twice and will conclude on October 29, during which all government officials were made to wear black—a provision also observed by some members of the public who avoid wearing colourful clothing.

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Thai royal guards salute during a funeral rehearsal for late Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand October 21, 2017. Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The monarch's son King Maha Vajiralongkorn, known as Rama X, inherited the throne but won't officially be crowned until the end of his father's funeral rites.

The new king spends large portions of his time abroad and especially in Munich, Germany, where his son is at school, but was seen on Wednesday arriving at the palace with his two daughters. He lit candles in front of his father's coffin and a symbolic royal urn, Reuters reported.

The late king's body, which had been lying in state in the Grand Palace compound to allow people to pay their final respects, will be cremated on a carefully-crafted royal pyre within a cremation site of gold pavilions built for the occasion in front of the palace in the night of October 26.

The date was declared a national holiday. Most shops and activities will shut down for the entire or most part of the day to allow the public to follow the ceremony, which will also include live performances of the traditional khon masked dance, puppet shows and music on three open-air stages.

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Mourners wait for tomorrow's Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 25, 2017. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Joining the 250,000 people expected to take part in the funeral, members of royal families from all over the world are expected to attend the ceremony. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is on a week-long trip to Asia, will lead the U.S. delegation at the event.

Mourners are making long journeys from across the country for a chance to be in the presence of the late king one last time. "I traveled here two days ago so that I could be the first to get a good spot," a 72-year-old told Reuters. "We only have to brave the rain for a few days. This is worth it if we can be near him one last time."

A 59-year-old merchant from Rayong, 100 miles south of the Thai capital, told the Bangkok Post he was the first in line to enter a screening checkpoint. "My family spent months planning our visit here," he said.

The Thai government set aside $90 million for the funeral ceremony, Reuters reported, and took almost one year to organize the event to a painstaking level of detail, as is explained in a handy 170-page guide to the media covering the royal cremation.

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The Royal Crematorium site for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is seen near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand October 24, 2017. Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

It outlines how the gold cremation site is dense with symbolism and tradition. It includes eight structures meant to symbolise mountains which, according to an ancient Thai belief, represent the edge of the universe.

Each structure is decorated with ornaments of various deities, as the king himself was considered a semi-god. Across the country, 85 miniature replicas of the royal site were built to allow the population to take part in the rite without having to travel to the capital.

Mourners are invited to join the funeral cremation flowers ceremony, which involve the use of seven different types of sandalwood flowers, reflecting another ancient Thais belief that sandalwood fragrance leads the soul of the deceased to heaven.

Among these is the chabathip, a flower created specifically for the occasion, but mourners will also spot the presence of many marigolds along the cremation site as their trademark yellow color symbolizes Monday, the day on which the late king was born.

A strict dress code is in place for the ceremony, which becomes even stricter for the press covering the event. According to the media guide, male journalists should wear a matching black suit with a plain white long-sleeved shirt, a black necktie, a black mourning armband, a black belt, and black leather shoes. "They should have short hair and should not have a beard or mustache, or wear earrings," the guide reads.

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Signs instruct the public of the strict dress and protocol for mourners attending the Royal Cremation of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 24, 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Female members of the media are warned to ensure that their skirts reach below the knee, and that they wear beige stockings. It is also prohibited to wear "caps, hats and dark eyeglasses, jeans and sport shoes" or have "unnatural hair coloring."

Among other prohibitions, a ban on drones is in place over the royal crematorium in Bangkok and its 85 replicas out of concerns for "safety and public order," according to local media.

People who live in buildings in the proximity of the procession routes were also told to keep their windows and door curtains closed at all times for the 72-hour long cremation period, as British journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who wrote a book critical of the Thai monarchy that was banned in the country, reported in an article on Medium.

The strictly-choreographed ceremony reflects Thailand's rigid control of public opinion and freedom of expression.

The Bangkok Post even published a list of appropriate sentences to mourn the late king, which could be useful in a country where acts interpreted as disrespectful to the monarchy can be punished with up to 15 years in prison.

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Mourners wait for tomorrow's Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 25, 2017. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The military junta that overthrew the elected government in a coup in May 2014 is fiercely loyal to the monarchy and recently declared King Vajiralongkorn's birthday on July 28 a national holiday and urged people to "do good deeds" in his honor.

Since the coup, the amount of arrests on so-called 'lèse-majesté' charges more than doubled. According to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, over the last three years at least 285 people were investigated for insulting the monarchy.

In May, Thai authorities threatened to sue Facebook over content published on its platform deemed disrespectful to the monarchy, including a video purportedly showing the new King Vajiralongkorn walking around a German shopping mall with a young woman, wearing a crop top and low-waisted jeans revealing his extensive body tattoos.

Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg was reportedly due to meet with Thailand's prime minister, Thai officials said, but in a statement the company said: "There are no plans currently for any of our senior leaders to visit Thailand," the Associated Press reported.