Remains of late Thai king collected after night of tears and ancient funeral rites

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A soldier salutes in front of the Royal Crematorium during the funeral of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok. (photo by Damir Sagolj, Reuters)

BANGKOK — The cremated remains of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej were collected on Friday as part of an elaborate, five-day funeral ceremony that drew hundreds of thousands of black-clad mourners to Bangkok’s historic old quarter.

King Bhumibol was the world’s longest-reigning monarch when he died a year ago aged 88. His seven-decade rule spanned some of the most tumultuous moments in modern Thai history, including several coups, a deadly crackdown on student protesters, natural disasters and a regional financial crisis.

His son, new King Maha Vajiralongkorn, presided over the burning of his father’s remains in a golden crematorium in a dramatic, late-night ceremony in the Thai capital on Thursday.

Many mourners stayed to watch as smoke rose from the crematorium. Some broke down in tears at the end of what was an emotionally charged day, the mid-point of the lavish, $90-million ceremony. Others had traveled many miles to pay their final respects to their revered late king.

Shielded from the sun by a large white-and-gold umbrella, King Vajiralongkorn led a religious ceremony in the morning to collect his father’s remains. He sprinkled the bones with sacred water as classical Thai music played in a ceremony that was televised live.

The remains were blessed by Thailand’s Supreme Patriarch, the head of the order of Buddhist monks. The late king’s bones will be taken to the Grand Palace, where he had lain in state since his death last October.

Although Thailand does not conduct polls on the monarchy’s popularity – partly because of strict laws that protect the royal family from insult – the king built up a wide personal following and is often referred to as “father.”

In a ceremony steeped in colors, ancient traditions and beating drums, a royal urn was brought from the Grand Palace to the cremation site in three processions on Thursday.

The ceremony brought Thailand to a standstill as many businesses, including banks, shut to honor the late king.

The late king’s nine-spired crematorium, built to honor the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty, features intricate carvings and staircases with sculptures of nagas — half-human, half- cobra beings — among other mythical creatures.

Pictures of mourners wearing black and holding photographs of the late king flooded social media in Thailand, with many using popular hashtags such as #rama9, #kingofkings, and #thegreatestking.