Thailand laid to rest King Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej earlier this week with a massive five day funeral that drew hundreds of thousands of Thais to the streets in a national show of mourning.
King Bhumibol, who at his death was the longest-ruling monarch alive, is the only king most Thais have ever known. He ruled the nation for 70 years, serving as the calm center in a country rocked by a series of coups, corruption scandals, and military regimes since the early 1930s.
When I heard the news that the king had passed away I was in New York City but the shock of knowing what the country must have endured hit me as if I was there. I spent two years living in Thailand. I knew that this would be a defining moment for the generation that lived through it. Once I returned several months later it was clear that a heavy burden was weighing over the heads of the population.
When I first arrived in Thailand, the ever present gaze of the king was everywhere. Photos of him were a fixture in the Thai capital, where modest gold-framed portraits of King Bhumibol and his wife Sirikit are displayed in homes, shops, and massive ones on the streets. Thais donned black clothes and entered a period of mourning when the king's death was announced in October of last year. Some fainted when they heard the announcement. Others struggled to imagine a future without the only king they ever knew.
"Everyday on the news I saw videos of how he worked for the country, and I think this is why the Thai public loved him so much, because he did not need to work so hard for us but he choose to help us as much as he could" Acharappan, a Bangkok resident originally from Buriram province, told me.
I was on the streets, near Sanam Luang, when the cremation ceremonies began. There were tens of thousands of mourners crowding the sidewalks, all of them dressed in black. Many of them carried framed portraits of the king with them as they waited to bear witness to their late monarch's transubstantiation from the physical world to heaven.
Thais believe that the spirit leaves the body and is released into the afterlife during the act of cremating the body. Over the course of the one year mourning period an estimated 12 million Thais paid their respects to the king. But, for mourners like Gundy, the entire ceremony was too emotional to put into words.
"We cannot explain this situation, this event means everything in our lives and our families lives because it is totally overwhelms our minds and our hearts," he told me.
When the royal cremation began at 10 pm on 26 Oct a somber silence fell over the crowd. Many burst into tears as the smoke slowly began to rise from the royal crematorium. On 29 Oct. the king's ashes were transported to the throne hall at the Grand Palace and two temples in Bangkok.
The country which I first visited years ago has changed through it's traumatic loss of the man they called the father of their nation but the uncertainty that plagued the collective consciousness over his passing has faded.
The king's portraits will be taken down, replaced with those of his son King Rama X (formerly Vajiralongkorn) as the kingdom enters a new era. But, judging by the show of grief on the streets of Bangkok, few will forget King Bhumibol's rule.