BANGKOK, Thailand -- To the blare of trumpets and the chant of monks, Thailand paid homage today to Queen Rambhai Barni in an elaborate $1 million royal funeral that ended with the cremation of her body nearly one year after she died.
An ornate 40-ton funeral carriage, considered one of Thailand's most beautiful works of art, was pulled along the procession route by 400 men in 97-degree heat while cannons boomed out salutes.
The procesrion brought the queen's body, in a huge gilded royal urn, to a specially built crematorium near the Grand Palace. After performing religious rites, King Bhumibol Adulyadej applied the sacred fire to the pyre.
At that moment, conches, trumpets, flutes and drums sounded while a single guard of honor played the Last Post. The royal anthem also was played, accompanied by gun salutes by scores of soldiers.
Scores of Buddhist monks chanted and read ancient scriptures.
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out at the parade ground near the royal palace complex to watch the colorful and ancient funeral rituals of Thailand's ruling Chakri dynasty.
Many of them had waited throughout the night to be sure to be in position to view the five-hour procession, which was broadcast live to millions of people over all radio and television stations in the kingdom.
The funeral of Queen Rambhai, the nation's last link to the days of absolute monarchy, was the first of its kind to be performed in Thailand since 1954.
She died of a heart attack May 22, 1984 at the age of 79. Her body was kept preserved until the funeral.
The late queen's husband, King Rama VII, ruled in 1932 when a coup changed the nation, then known as Siam, from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy.
The king accepted the changeover to avoid bloodshed but two years later left the country for self-imposed exile in England where he abdicated the throne in 1935. He died there in 1941.
Queen Rambhai remained in England until 1949, when she returned to Thailand with the ashes of her husband and was given an emotional welcome. She was known for her many charitable works, her good humor and devotion to golf.
The colorful 200-year-old funeral cereeony began early today with religious rites at the Dusit Throne Hall presided over by the king and Queen Sirikit.
The elaborately carved, bejeweled and gilded 59-foot funeral carriage, the 'Royal Great Victory Chariot,' is regarded as one of Thailand's most beautiful works of art and is normally housed in the National Museum.
Renovation of the funeral carriage, construction of 95-foot high wooden crematorium and other preparations for the ceremony, which took nearly a year, cost $1 million.