In Bangkok's historic old quarter, tens of thousands of people have gathered to bid a final farewell to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the man who ruled Thailand for seven decades and whose passing marks the end of an era. The King's death in October 2016 at age 88 ushered in a year-long mourning period, during which Thais dressed in black. The morning culminated on Thursday in a cremation ceremony laden with pomp and rich and Buddhist and Hindu tradition.
The carefully rehearsed ceremony included no fewer than six processions and involved thousands of people, traditional dancers, and orchestras. Some Thais camped out for several days to secure prime viewing spots at the event. King Bhumibol's cremation took place in a multi-spired crematorium built especially for the event near Thailand's historic Royal Palace.
The crematorium is meant to represent the mythical Mount Meru, the allegorical centre of the Hindu and Buddhist universe. King Bhumibol, who was crowned King Rama the ninth in 1946 at age 18, was both head of state and leader of a royal household with vast property assets. During his reign he consolidated the power of the monarchy as Thailand's defining national institution. While he was on the throne, Thailand established itself as an anti-communist bulwark and US ally, when many of its regional neighbours plunged into war, foreign invasion, or genocide.
King Bhumibol's reign also coincided with Thailand's economic take off and the transformation of Bangkok from a sleepy southeast Asian capital to a world class metropolis. Most Thais have known no monarch other than King Bhumibol, and viewed him as a guarantor of stability in a country with unsettled politics. The late King's successor, Maha Vajiralongkorn, became King after his father's death last October but will only be crowned officially in the coming months. A date has not yet been set.
The new King, who has spent much of the past year outside Thailand, is a less known figure than his father. And Thais, who prize stability, are now bracing themselves for change. The country's fractious political scene, which was quiet during the mourning period, is expected to spring back to life next year after the accession of the new King and head of a national election that Thailand's ruling junta has promised to hold by November. So the late King's passing marks a turning point in more ways than one.