Attending a Buddhist Funeral and Cremation Ceremony in Rural Thailand
Funerals and Cremation in Rural Thailand
Funerals and cremation in rural Thailand are very different from the United States.
In the United States, death, funerals, and cremation are difficult unpleasant subjects for many people to deal with. Cremations are handled by funeral homes and I am not aware of anyone who has attended one.
I found in rural Thailand, however, that death, funerals, and cremation are not as taboo as they are in the U.S. This is because 99 percent of the Thai population is Buddhist and view death as passing into a reborn future life. The Thai funeral and cremation ceremony, therefore, although sad, is also a time to celebrate the life of the deceased.
In this article, I recall the events following my mother-in-law's younger sister Jom's death on February 21, 2020, until the cremation ceremony on February 24. They include where the deceased was kept after death, the funeral procession, and ceremony at the Buddhist temple crematorium before cremation.
What Happens Following Death
My mother-in-law's younger sister Jom passed away in an Udonthani, Thailand, hospital on February 21, 2020. The 76-year-old Jom had been seriously ill in the hospital for one week before her death.
Following her death, Jom's body was released to her immediate family who brought the deceased back to the home where she had lived in my mother-in-law's village.
Before the hospital released the body, it was embalmed and placed in a refrigerated casket. The casket was then placed in the living room of the family of the deceased. It was surrounded by wreaths, candles, and sticks of incense.
From February 21 until the funeral and cremation ceremony on the 24th, the closed casket of the deceased was on display for all mourners and people paying respect. My wife and I paid our respect during the day on the 23rd. We did this by lighting a candle and stick of incense and then placing them on the floor next to the casket. Seven Buddhist monks were invited on the evenings of the 21st-23rd to offer chants for the deceased.
The deceased was a Buddhist. This religion views death as a natural part of the life cycle of a past life, present life, and future life. Death leads to reincarnation in which a person's spirit remains close by and seeks out a new body and new life. Where and how a person is reborn depends on their good and bad actions in the past life. The spirit will be with the body until it is released at the time of cremation. For this reason, the chanting of monks and offerings by mourners and people paying respect will help the spirit of the dead be reborn in a favorable body.
The Funeral Procession
At about 1:00 p.m. on February 24, the casket of the deceased was taken from its home and placed on the back of a pickup truck. Six men or pallbearers were on the back of the truck to ensure the casket was secure during the funeral procession.
The funeral procession went from the home of the deceased in the village of Nongyibao to the Dongsakol Temple two kilometers away. It was led by 11 monks in pickup trucks followed by the pick-up truck hearse. Behind the hearse was a vehicle with the immediate family mourners. A white string connected the monks with the hearse and the family mourners. Other mourners followed in a big truck and personal vehicles.
During the funeral procession, the lights of vehicles were not turned on as they are in the United States. It was interesting to see small white flowers scattered by the monks on the road during the procession.
After reaching the crematorium on the temple grounds, the procession of monks, hearse, and immediate family members walked and rode around the crematorium three times in a counter-clockwise direction.
Next, the simple wooden coffin of the deceased was removed from the casket and placed on a stand just outside of the crematorium furnace.
Funeral Procession Around the Village Temple Crematorium
Following the funeral procession, monks, mourners, and people paying respect were seated in and near a pavilion not far from the crematorium.
A master of ceremony first gave a eulogy that mentioned all family survivors. They included my mother-in-law and her younger brother. The names of the head of Nongyibao Village and its school leaders were also noted.
Next, the head monk of a group of 11 led a series of chants for the deceased.
Following the chants, two traditional Thai dancers put on a small performance in front of the crematorium.
The final ceremony was paying last respect to the deceased. First, monks removed the lid of the coffin to expose the body of the deceased wrapped in a white sheet with only head showing.
Next, the monks and family members then, in turn, dipped a yellow flower in Buddhist sacral water and sprinkled it on the face of the deceased.
Following this, other mourners were invited to come up to the coffin. Everyone had a small piece of wood that they first placed in the coffin before sprinkling the face of the deceased with water.
After descending the steps of the crematorium, all mourners were presented with a small hand towel. Finally, members of the family scattered pieces of candy for all mourners to retrieve.
The ceremony ended at around 3:00 p.m. As customary, the deceased was cremated at dusk and the body burned throughout the night. The following morning, family members gathered the unburned bone fragments from the crematorium.
Gathering at the Pre-Cremation Ceremony
Traditional Thai Dancing
Ascending for a Final View of the Deceased
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn