Sea of black in Bangkok
♦ 300,000 people gather around funeral area
♦ A sum of $90m set aside for funeral
A solemn but colour-splashed procession streamed through Bangkok's historic heart yesterday as Thailand bade farewell to King Bhumibol Adulyadej in an elaborate, ritual-laden funeral that gripped a nation mourning the loss of its chief unifying figure.
Some 300,000 black-clad mourners packed the streets from early yesterday, many weeping and prostrating themselves on the ground as a golden chariot carrying the royal urn slowly snaked through the blazing heat.
Pipers, drummers and soldiers in a dazzling array of costumes joined Buddhist monks, Brahmin priests and the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn as the procession made its way to the spectacular funeral pyre.
King Vajiralongkorn led royals, junta leaders and foreign dignitaries up the central tower to lay sandalwood flowers at the pyre ahead of the cremation, scheduled for 10:00pm, to a haunting accompaniment chanted by traditional singers.
The $90 million funeral drew a "Who's Who" of Thai power -- royals, generals and establishment figures -- as well as scores of foreign guests including Great Britian's Prince Andrew and Japan's Prince Akishino and Princess Akishino.
For the public, the lavish affair was a chance to say a final goodbye to a monarch cherished as the "father of the nation".
Bhumibol, who was crowned in 1950, towered over decades of Thai history before his death last October aged 88 seeded uncertainty in a country ruled by a divisive junta.
A brew of palace propaganda and a harsh lese majeste law burnished the king's reputation throughout his reign.
But Bhumibol's intimate connection with his subjects was on display yesterday.
"He was perfect. He helped the country and Thai people so much. Seventy million Thai people are united in their love for him," said 65-year-old Wacharadej Tangboonlabkun, who like most Thais knew no other monarch before Bhumibol's death.