When Thailand’s king Bhumibol Adulyadej died last October, it was, for many Thai people, the first time they’d mourned a monarch. The king, also known as Rama IX, took the throne in 1946. In his 70-year reign, he was looked at as a unifying figure even during Thailand’s growing pains (14 coups took place while he was in power).
In Bangkok, builders and artists have worked for months to construct a 165-foot-tall funeral pavilion where King Bhumibol (pronounced poo-me-pon) will be cremated this month. At the same time, The Buddhist Center of Dallas, which was selected by Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a site for mourning, has been busy with its own preparations. A smaller pavilion, 22 feet tall, was completed at the center in September. Flowers surround the elevated platform, where, in the back, a large mural of King Bhumibol stands.
These aren’t the only flowers involved in the memorial. In August, thousands of volunteers started crafting their own handmade flora out of corn husks. Through careful cutting and tying, the designs were made to resemble daffodils (in Thai, dararat). The plan is for 4,999 of these flowers to be ready by mid-October. Two will be selected and shipped to Bangkok, where, on October 26, they’ll be burned inside the original pavilion as a tribute to Bhumibol.
Thailand set a goal to produce 36.8 million funeral flowers, called dok mai chan, by September 20. Aside from daffodils, there are artificial lilies, orchids, and four types of roses, all the same shade of pale yellow owing to the corn husks. Each of these seven varieties represents some aspect of the king. Lilies signify pure love; orchids stand for stability; the Chinese rose means impermanence and divinity. Daffodils have a more worldly import. They were a gift Bhumibol often gave to his wife, Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.
Dallas’ Thai community will get a chance to pay their respects to the king during a ceremony at the pavilion that starts one day before his cremation. “In my lifetime,” says Ken Theppote, president of The Buddhist Center of Dallas, “this is the first king that I’ve seen that I will bear witness to his passing.” Beyond bearing witness, the flowers are Dallas’ way of being present in Bangkok at one of the biggest goodbyes that city has ever had to say.