Friday, 10 November 2017

Ritual as the performed expression of our 'deep': the King's farewell

This year my time in Thailand coincided with the cremation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.(1)  What an experience.  Although I was not among those who were privileged to gain places along the route, I was still glued to the televised coverage from 9 am until 10.30 pm, by which time the focus had turned to traditional and other performances and I gave up and went to bed.  The next morning while visiting a friend, I was fortunate to catch the morning parade of the King’s relics and ashes from the royal crematorium back to the grand palace.

It was an once-in-a-lifetime event; one which encapsulated the deep love, trust and respect the people of Thailand had for their king.  It was especially touching to see how carefully his body, and then ashes, were guarded and protected every step of the way. This huge ritual pageant, with both Hindu and Buddhist elements, was magnificent and very moving. I could not help but compare our attitudes to our democratically elected leaders and other dignitaries in Australia.  There is no-one, I think, that could engender that depth of feeling on a national level.  Certainly no-one we love, respect, or trust enough.

During his lifetime King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a great humanitarian.  He did not seem to directly influence the political processes.  Rather he focussed on the people and their needs with the aim of uniting Thailand and moving it towards self-sufficiency.

He implemented and financially supported many projects all over Thailand, based on his philosophy of:
  •      sufficiency economy and sustainable development for agricultural areas as well as cities; a middle path with ethical business practices and without greed or harm to others;
  •    the importance of continuing education and education without discrimination, including for the poor and needy.

Ideals like these seem to have been lost in our ‘profit-is-all’ and ‘the-greater-profit-the-better whatever-the-cost’ world.  It is not surprising that respect for our political and business leaders is also missing.

Watching the outpouring of love and grief, and the magic of the ritual performance over the five days, illustrated that there is more to life, more that we need and can experience, than just profit and balancing the books.  The event would have been enormously expensive.  But it spoke to, and was for, all Thais, not just a few elite.  

During the day of the cremation Thai people also had the opportunity to place a white funeral flower at a local memorial to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, which was burned at the same time as the King’s cremation in Bangkok.  I was told that the king’s remains were to be divided into two urns, and placed in two temples so the public could visit although I’m not sure about this, and I missed this last part of the journey, having to journey on myself.

We in Australia lack much as a nation by not having someone to represent us who we can respect and perhaps grow to love; someone who will work for the good of the people, not just for profit.  It would probably need to be someone outside the political system.  I have been interested in the swell of interest in moves for Australia to become a republic and elect an Australian Head of State.  I do think it is well over time for us to become a republic but perhaps this is not enough.  An elected Head of State is still a civic functionary and somewhat removed.

I’ve also toyed with the alternative idea of an indigenous ‘royal couple’, elected by the indigenous community.  There would certainly be more flexibility in their role.  Is this an answer? Apart from being ‘the right thing to do’ I don’t know.  I do know it should be someone who loves this country, can respond empathetically to those in need, and guide the nation towards a better future for individuals as well as a country.  Idealistic?  Yes, but so what.  To have a leader who we can love, respect and trust...that would be a great gift.  Thailand had the People’s King, Britain had the People’s Princess, Australia....?


(1) The details and photos of this event can easily be found on the internet so I have not included them here, eg. Bangkok Post, Friday October 27 2017