Thursday, December 17, 2015

Funeral for the Patriarch

Women hold photos of the Patriarch while they wait for his funeral procession Wednesday.

Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara Somdet Phra was the Supreme Patriarch for Thailand. He was the most senior monk in Thai Buddhism and a revered figure with close ties to Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand (he served as the King's spiritual advisor during the King's time as a monk in the 1950s). The Patriarch is appointed by the King. Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara Somdet Phra was appointed Supreme Patriarch in 1989 and occupied the position for more than 20 years. He was the longest serving Patriarch in Thai history.
Prayers for the Patriarch at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, his "home" temple. The temple has been packed with mourners since he died in 2013.

The Patriarch was much revered by Thais. Thousands came out in mourning when he died in October 2013 at 100 years old. Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, his home temple in the old section of Bangkok, was frequently packed with mourners and Buddhist clergy from around the world came to offer their condolences and respect. 

The Patriarch's body was at Wat Bowonniwet for more than two years while his state funeral was planned.
People offer prayers for the Patriarch at Wat Bowonniwet Vihara.

I went to Wat Bowonniwet a couple of times to photograph mourning ceremonies related to the Patriarch's passing. I covered his funeral procession from Debsirin School, about four kilometers from the temple. (The actual cremation took place at a temple behind the school and was not open to the media.) 

Tens of thousands of people lined the route of the procession, offering prayers as the ornate urn passed them. 
Attendants lead the way for the royal chariot bearing the Patriarch's funeral urn. 

The Patriarch's physical remains are in the ornate urn.

The procession was led by military honor guards - I was a little surprised that there was such a huge military presence at the funeral of Thailand's spiritual leader. There were no tanks or heavy equipment and all the personnel were in the ornate uniforms worn during ceremonies for the monarchy. I don't know if it was a deliberate attempt to tie the military to the Sangha (Buddhist clergy) or if it was simply a part of the ceremony, but it struck me as odd that soldiers would lead the way while monks, the Patriarch's coreligionists, were nearly last in the procession. 
Soldiers in formal uniforms lead the procession. 
While monks and religious lay people followed behind the procession.

The procession was about 500 meters long. It took them about 90 minutes to cover the four kilometer route from Wat Bowonniwet to Debsirin School and then about 30 minutes for the entire formal procession to pass my camera position. 
The chariot carrying the urn passes my position. 

Thais, and many non-Thai Buddhists joined the procession as it passed them. For me, it was the moving part of the day, the most visible show of public reverance reverence for the Patriarch. The procession was ornate and lovely but didn't match the solemnity of thousands of people, dressed in mourning black, some walking silently, some chanting, behind the monks and nuns. 
Buddhist nuns (called Bhikkhuni) walked behind the monks. Nuns in Thailand are not usually ordained, they live a spiritual life and follow the precepts and serve in temples in support roles but women are not ordained.
Thousands of lay people, most carrying photos of the Patriarch, followed the procession. They fell into line as the procession passed them. 

There are more photos of the funeral procession in my archive or available from ZUMA Press
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