Going to a Thai Funeral

It would seem that the longer I stay in Thailand, the higher the frequency that I attend funerals. In fact, I have two sets of funeral clothes now. I thought today I would give a brief overview of a cremation in order to help any foreigners who might find themselves attending a funeral while in Thailand. Normally, a funeral will go on for three, five or seven days with the actual cremation taking place on the last day. It is possible that you might be invited to attend the chanting during the week. You would do this if it was a close friend or a relative of a close friend. However, most people would only attend the actual cremation on the last day.

For this cremation, most people were invited to turn up at 5 p.m. By the way, cremations never take place on a Friday. During the afternoon, the coffin was transferred from the main hall where the daily chanting took place and was taken in a parade to the crematorium. Before it was taken up the steps, it was taken around the crematorium three times. Normally, we would do this in a clockwise direction. But, for funerals, this is always done in an anti-clockwise direction. The coffin is then put on a stand in front of the crematorium and the photo of the deceased placed to one side.

At some cremations I have attended, there were performances such as traditional Thai dancing and also music. However, as this all costs a lot of money, most funerals keep it simple. After the history of the deceased person has been read out, distinguished guests and close family members then present monk’s robes in front of the coffin. Notice on the right a piece of cloth that goes up and into the coffin where it is attached to a piece of string that leads to the deceased person. What happens is a monk will then take the robe from the tray as if the deceased person had presented it themselves.

The monks in attendance, distinguished guests and close family members will then place sandalwood flowers underneath the coffin. This is symbolic and is as if each person is helping light the fire. Then everyone else, including you if you attend a funeral, go up the steps of the crematorium to place the flower too. What most people do is tap the coffin a couple of times, place the flower in a tray under the coffin and then give a quick “wai”. You are also supposed to say a short prayer telling the deceased person that you forgive them for any wrong doings in the past. On your way down, you will be given a kind of souvenir of the funeral to take home. Sometimes this a book about the life of the deceased person. Notice in this picture how people are dressed. You should wear black or white or combination of both.

At this stage, most people would go home. They have paid their respects. For this particular cremation, it was over within twenty minutes. Others I have attended took about an hour as there were performances too. It is mainly family members that stay for the actual cremation. What happens first is that the ornaments decorating the coffin are removed. The coffin is then lifted off its base and then carried towards the crematorium oven. The lid is then taken off. A coconut is cut open and the juice poured over the deceased person. The coffin is then pushed inside the chamber. This is the last chance for family members to pay their respects. Some even threw more sandalwood flowers into the coffin.

Everyone then went down to the bottom of the steps where they gathered around to watch the cremation. At some funerals I have attended, rockets were fired into the sky. However, this is banned in residential areas. They don’t wait for the fire to finish. They will come back the next day to collect the ashes. There will then be more chanting before the ashes are scattered on the Chao Phraya River. This is where I went today and I will share my pictures with you later in the week.

3 responses to “Going to a Thai Funeral

  1. thanks for sharing these facts with us. My friends son died before xmas he was only 16. It is nice to know the procedure of cremation in Thailand. I could not go to the cremation as I had being there a few months earlier. I got my chance to say good bye to him.

  2. Yes – great information thanks Richard. I have been invited to a couple of funerals but haven’t gone as I have been a little worried about what may happen. This certainly ‘demystifies’ it. Nice to know that it is over rather quickly too – I was worried about having to kneel down for hours for chanting or something – and my knees would’ve given me hell.

  3. The chanting is usually done in the days leading up to the cremation. Majority I have been to have chairs for everyone.