Thailand bids farewell to HRH Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda today, with three processions to escort her royal urn from Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall to the cremation pyre at Sanam Luang.
The royal cremation site of Her Royal Highness Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda glitters ahead of the ceremonial cremation, which will be presided over by Their Majesties the King and the Queen at 4.30pm today. PATIPAT JANTHONG
A cast of thousands in full uniform will be in formation along the surrounding streets as Princess Bejaratana makes her final journey.
The princess passed away from septicemia on July 27, 2011, aged 85.
The day will begin at 7am when the royal urn is carried from Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall atop the royal golden palanquin to an area in front of Wat Phra Chetupon, or Wat Pho.
There, the urn will be transferred to the Phra Maha Pichai Ratcharot, or royal chariot, for the one-and-a-half-hour procession to Sanam Luang.
The chariot was built from gilded teak wood during the reign of King Rama I, and was used for the funeral of Her Royal Highness The Princess Mother and Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana. It weighs around 13 tonnes and requires 216 men to pull.
The chariot will set off along Sanam Chai Road towards Ratchadamnoen Avenue.
When it arrives at Sanam Luang, the urn will be returned to the palanquin for the third and final procession.
The palanquin will circumnavigate the phra meru, or royal funeral pyre, three times, with each lap covering 260 metres, before the urn is placed on the pyre.
Members of the public wishing to pay their respects may leave paper and sandalwood flowers for the cremation at 4pm at five points around Sanam Luang and at 46 temples in Bangkok.
The ceremonial cremation will go ahead at 4:30pm, followed by the more private official cremation at 10pm and a programme of cultural events for the public through the night.
The funeral is the culmination of about eight months of work by the Fine Arts Department and Religious Affairs Department, which allocated a budget of 218.1 million baht for the preparations and ceremony.
Princess Bejaratana was the only child of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, and Phra Nang Chao (Queen) Suvadhana.
Her royal father, seriously ill at the time, passed away just one day after the princess was born, and it was her grandmother, Queen Savang Vadhana, who took the baby princess under her wing.
The princess spent much of her formative years in the United Kingdom after the 1932 revolution which toppled the absolute monarchy and led to the abdication of her uncle, King Prajadhipok. By the time she returned to Thailand in 1959, her cousin, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was on the throne.
She spent the rest of her life at Ruenrudi Villa, working on behalf of various charitable organisations and projects that were established and initiated by her royal father as well as her grandmother, Queen Savang Vadhana, with her mother constantly by her side.
Princess Bejaratana was a talented musician, blessed with skills that she no doubt inherited from her artistic parents. She loved classical music, and could play by ear.
Music was a shared topic of interest for the princess and His Majesty the King whenever they met.
HM the King has accorded the princess the highest honours for a princess of celestial level, signified by a seven-tiered umbrella of rank.
Their Majesties the King and Queen, joined by members of the royal family, will preside over the ceremonial cremation at 4.30pm.
The cremation proper, a more private affair, will take place at 10pm. For this, the royal urn will be removed and replaced with a sandalwood urn which will be set alight by HM the King.
All through the night various forms of cultural entertainment will be provided in accordance with tradition dating back to the Ayutthaya period.
From 7pm, there will be performances for the public stretching through the night until 6am, with a one-hour break during the official cremation.
In front of the phra meru, the khon masked dance Nang Loy will be the traditional offering.
Stage 1 at Phra Pin Klao Bridge will feature a Nang Yai shadow puppet show and the Ramayana masked dance.
Stage 2 in front of the Supreme Court will feature the Phra Abhaimanee puppet show, a scene from Sakuntala, a play written by King Vajiravudh, and a traditional lakhon nok play based on the folk tale Sang Thong.
Music will dominate Stage 3 in front of Thammasat University, with the CU Band from Chulalongkorn University, chorus from Santirat Institute of Business Administration and the Public Relations Department Band.
Tomorrow, a ceremony will take place at 8am to collect the royal relics and ashes and move them to the Grand Palace for merit-making ceremonies. They will then be transferred to the Royal Mausoleum at Wat Ratchabophit on Thursday, winding up the four-day royal cremation ceremony.
The pyre will be open to the public on Wednesday until next Tuesday.
The crematorium is based on the one built for Princess Galyani Vadhana, but with a different styled top due to different royal honours, the Fine Arts Department said.
It was designed by national artist and former Fine Arts Department director-general Avudh Ngernchoo-klin.
''It has been slightly reduced in size from the one that was used for Princess Galyani Vadhana, but it will uphold the highest honours available to Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda,'' he said.