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Artisans making preparations for Thai king's funeral

IN a large workshop about an hour west of the Thai capital, fans ease the stultifying heat beating down on artisans hard at work fashioning ornate articles, large and small, to be used at the cremation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The work — weaving embroideries, restoring artifacts and making sculptures, all in the royal style — is overseen by the Culture Ministry's Department of Fine Arts, but around 100 volunteers have signed up to help the experts, demonstrating their devotion to the beloved monarch.

Thailand's military government has allocated 1 billion baht ($28.6 million) for the funeral of Bhumibol, who died Oct. 13 at age 88 after seven decades on the throne.

Bhumibol's funeral is scheduled for this October in a ceremony that will take place over several days. A huge crematorium is being erected at Sanam Luang, a large field close to the Grand Palace that is a traditional public gathering space.

Thailand's last royal funeral was held at the same place in 2008, when Buddhist and Hindu rites were held for the king's sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana.

The scene was unforgettable as crimson-clad soldiers pulled a gilded chariot containing the princess' body to a seven-story funeral pyre. More than 2,000 soldiers in dress uniform marched alongside in a slow procession that included rows of drummers, trumpeters and conch-blowers.

Several such golden chariots are in the royal inventory, including one around 11 meters (38 feet) tall with a pinnacle at the top symbolizing the ascent to heaven that will bear the king's body this year.

Supaporn Saiprasith, a Department of Fine Arts official supervising 50 volunteers who are refinishing artifacts, said she has to make sure the royal chariot looks as if it was just made, "to make sure it is restored well enough to suit the honor of our late king."

"The people who come here, their hearts are in it 100 percent," she said of her team. "They come to help without any sort of compensation from us."

Other items being worked on include larger-than-life-sized sculptures and decorations that use traditional embroidery techniques.

Assadayuth Yooyen, a Thai volunteer sculptor, said eight sculptures will surround the main golden chariot, each around 2 meters (6.6 feet) tall. The funeral proceedings will include around 100 other smaller sculptures that depict images from Thai mythology and former kings and other figures.

"I am very happy and proud that I can be a part of this," said Kasideth Choodam, 19, a student volunteer from the Golden Jubilee Royal Goldsmith College, who is an expert at embossing. "I have the skills, so I wanted to help."


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