King­dom sings in sor­row

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

TENS of thou­sands of black-clad Thais gath­ered out­side Bangkok’s Grand Palace on Oc­to­ber 22 to sing the royal an­them in a strik­ing dis­play of de­vo­tion to the re­cently de­ceased King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej.

The monarch, who died on Oc­to­ber 13 fol­low­ing years of poor health, was seen as a guid­ing light and rare source of unity in a king­dom dogged by cor­rup­tion and po­lit­i­cal ri­val­ries.

His death has plunged the na­tion into grief, with the govern­ment declar­ing a one-year mourn­ing pe­riod and urg­ing the pub­lic to don black and dial down all fes­tiv­i­ties for at least 30 days.

Crowds have been mass­ing out­side his glit­ter­ing Bangkok palace for the past week, with many jour­ney­ing from far-away prov­inces to pay re­spects to a man cel­e­brated as the fa­ther of the na­tion.

Some have pitched tents on a large grassy field out­side the royal com­pound, while oth­ers have been sleep­ing un­der the stars on sim­ple bam­boo mats.

Over the week­end, a sea of black filled the field and sur­round­ing roads to stand and sing a royal an­them along­side a 100-piece orches­tra and pro­fes­sional choir.

Many held up por­traits or bank notes bear­ing the face of the be­spec­ta­cled king as they sang in uni­son, some through tears.

“I came here to sing a song and pay my last re­spects to his majesty the late king,” said Chotika Pat­tana­teer­adej, who like most was dressed all in black de­spite Bangkok’s swel­ter­ing mid­day sun.

“Many peo­ple have come to­day and they are help­ing each other. I feel very proud,” she added.

Pub­lic dis­plays of mass de­vo­tion have been en­cour­aged by Thai­land’s arch-roy­al­ist mil­i­tary rulers, who grabbed power in a 2014 coup many be­lieve was staged to en­sure a smooth suc­ces­sion.

A flurry of free or dis­counted bus, train and plane rides have helped move thou­sands to the cap­i­tal, where city work­ers and vol­un­teers are pro­vid­ing free food and med­i­cal care to mourners.

While the out­pour­ing of grief has been over­whelm­ingly sober and dig­ni­fied, it has also un­leashed small pock­ets of ul­tra-monar­chist forces that have shamed, mobbed and in some cases beaten Thais seen as crit­i­cis­ing the monar­chy.

The govern­ment has con­demned this vig­i­lan­tism but stepped up its own surveil­lance of royal defama­tion – a crime that car­ries 15 years in jail for each of­fence un­der the king­dom’s lese ma­jeste law.

The leg­is­la­tion has seen scores of Thais thrown be­hind bars – some­times for decades – for per­ceived slights against the monar­chy.

All me­dia based in­side the coun­try must heav­ily self-cen­sor to avoid vi­o­lat­ing the law, which has been wielded with re­newed vigour by the junta. –

A mourner sobs out­side of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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