‘To Keep or Not to Keep: King Bhumipol’s Funeral Meru Platform’ (Wednesday, 14 March 2018)

Speaker: Prof M L Pattaratorn Chirapravati (Head of Studies, Arts and Humanities, Division of Humanities, Yale-NUS)
Date: Wednesday, 14 March 2018
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


Traditional Thai royal funeral (Meru) platforms are built of wood and adorned with beautiful Hindu and Buddhist mythical beings. The Meru platform represents the center of the universe in both Buddhist and Hindu cosmologies. Typically, following the funeral, the platforms would be torn down and the wood given to temples or recycled for other uses (e.g. sold to Chinese merchants for building ships). Funeral materials are considered inauspicious and so are not kept or reused. On October 26, 2017, King Rama IX (King Bhumipol Adulyadej, r. 1946-2016), who passed away on October 13, 2016, was cremated. His Meru structure was the largest in Thai history. For the first time, it was built of steel and wood. The royal coffin, in which the body was seated straight up with the hands folded in a veneration hand gesture, was only used symbolically; instead the king’s body was laid in a rectangular coffin. The decoration of the Meru platform was not only embellished with traditional religious themes, but also images inspired by the King’s royal projects for Thailand. The funeral materials will be kept and a museum built. What of this will be preserved and why? What else have been changed and since when have they changed? This paper covers the transformation of funeral procedures that occurred during the reign of King Bhumipol as well as the new designs of the Meru structure and decoration.

About the speaker

Professor M L Pattaratorn Chirapravati obtained her PhD and MA in Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University in 1994. She graduated with a BA in Art History (first class honours) at Silpakorn University (Thailand) in 1982. Professor Chirapravati specialises in Southeast Asian art and visual culture. Prior to joining Yale-NUS as a Visiting Professor, Professor Chirapravati worked as a faculty member of California State University, Sacramento, in the Art Department and has served as both the Director and Vice Director of the Asian Studies Program (2007-2016). She has been a member of the Southeast Asian Council (SEAC), one of four regional councils operating within the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) since 2014. She was an assistant curator of Southeast Asian art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (1997-2002) and later co-curated two major art exhibitions there of Thai and Burmese art entitled The Kingdom of Siam: Art from Central Thailand (1530-1800) and Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma (1775-1950). Professor Chirapravati has published on ancient Buddhist art and Southeast Asian visual cultures. She works on religious icons and the interpretation of religious practices and texts from art work in Southeast Asia. She is also interested in the political usage of images and identity. Her major publications include: ‘Thai Funeral Culture: Studies of Images and Texts in Thai Art’ (forthcoming), ‘Divination Au Royaume De Siam: Le Corps, La Guerre, Le Destin’ (Presses Universitaires de France, 2011) and ‘Votive Tablets in Thailand: Origin, Styles, and Uses’ (Oxford University Press, 1997)