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Attending a Buddhist Funeral and Cremation Ceremony in Rural Thailand

Paul first visited Thailand in 1996 and has been retired in Siam since 2007. He has a beautiful and loving Thai wife and can speak Thai.

Coffin of deceased in front of the furnace of the Dongsakol Temple crematorium

Coffin of deceased in front of the furnace of the Dongsakol Temple crematorium

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.

From left to right:  mother-in-law, daughter of deceased, and my wife

From left to right: mother-in-law, daughter of deceased, and my wife

Casket of the Deceased

Casket of the Deceased

Places for seven monks to sit for evening chants in the home of the deceased.

Places for seven monks to sit for evening chants in the home of the deceased.

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

attending-a-buddhist-funeral-and-cremation-ceremony-in-rural-thailand
attending-a-buddhist-funeral-and-cremation-ceremony-in-rural-thailand

Pre-Cremation Ceremonies

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

attending-a-buddhist-funeral-and-cremation-ceremony-in-rural-thailand

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

Comments

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

Thank you very much for your condolences, maxwell. I am pleased that you found this article very informative.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

I am very pleased that this article gave you an insight into Thai culture. Thanks for your comments.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

Thank you very much for your compliment, MG. I would be very interested in comparing Buddhism to Hinduism.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

Thanks for commenting. There are so many customs and ceremonies different from the U.S. here.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

Yes, Thai culture makes funerals and cremations special.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

I am very happy you found this article interesting and liked my pictures.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

Thank you very much for reading and commenting, Devika

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 29, 2020:

Thanks for commenting. I am very happy you learned a lot and enjoyed my article.

Maxwell Kamlongera on February 29, 2020:

Sorry for your family's loss, Paul. With that said, I find it quite interesting how different cultures handle funeral rites and also how religion may or may not affect the process. A very informative read.

Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on February 28, 2020:

Thanks for describing this Buddhist funeral ceremony. It was interesting to gain some insight in another culture.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 27, 2020:

I am very happy you liked this article, Liz.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 27, 2020:

I am happy you liked this article, Louise.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 27, 2020:

This is a well -weitten and detailed account. It is interesting to read how death is dealt with in another culture.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 26, 2020:

This is a very interesting description of a Buddhist funeral. Reminds me the basic principle of life after death is ingrained in Hinduism also. Hinduism also believes in the theory of transmigration of soul and rebirth.This is the essence of Hindu thought and Buddhist also. I compliment you sir on an excellent account of the Buddhist funeral

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 26, 2020:

Thanks for telling us about Buddhist funeral and cremation ceremonies where you live. As you said, while sad, it is also celebratory.

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on February 26, 2020:

Wow, every culture has things that make it special. The water and candy are really cool.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 26, 2020:

These funerals are so interesting and filled with some joy it seems. I appreciate all of this informaiton as it is new to me. Your pictures are also very good.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 26, 2020:

I have not been to one but you made me feel as I have and this is informative and interesting to know of another culture.

Readmikenow on February 26, 2020:

Excellent article. I learn a lot about a Buddhist funeral and their cremation process. I enjoyed reading this and found it fascinating.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 26, 2020:

This was very interesting to read. I've never been to a Buddhist funeral before. The pictures and video helped too. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your mother-in-law's sister.