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Ornate Funeral Honors Thailand's Longest-Reigning King

The five-day ceremony caps a year of mourning for the monarch, who reigned for 70 years.

In an elaborate end to a year of country-wide mourning, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand is being laid to rest in a five-day cremation ceremony in Bangkok.

King Bhumibol, the ninth head of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, died on October 13, 2016, at the age of 88. He had ruled Thailand for 70 years, taking over the throne in 1946 after his brother was shot in the head. At the time of his death, he was the world’s longest-reigning monarch.

The Guardian reports that the Thai people saw Bhumibol as a stabilizing and peace-brokering presence, in a country that has faced political chaos and multiple coups, including one in 2014. (Read more about Thailand’s recent instability in National Geographic magazine.)

He was also revered as a philanthropist who brought many Thai out of poverty. The Thai monarchy is considered the world’s wealthiest: In 2015, Forbes estimated that Bhumibol was worth $30 billion, much of that a result of investments in Thai businesses.

The junta governing Thailand set aside more than $70 million for Bhumibol’s funeral, which crescendoed on Thursday evening, CNN reports. At the ceremony’s climax, Bhumibol’s son King Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to light a 164-foot-tall funeral pyre containing his father’s remains. The ornate structure represents Mount Meru, the golden mountain at the center of the Hindu and Buddhist universe.

By all accounts, King Bhumibol’s death and funeral have profoundly affected the Thai people, many of whom have known no other king. Many citizens and government officials reportedly have worn black for months. According to The Guardian, in the days leading up to the funeral, the Thai government even ordered TV channels to reduce their color saturation, to strike a more solemn tone.

Vajiralongkorn, Bhumibol’s successor, has not yet achieved his father’s level of public adoration. But he and the governing military junta, which took power in the 2014 coup, have legal tools at their disposal to garner public support. Thailand is notorious for its “lèse-majesté” laws, which make criticizing the monarchy a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail on each count.

Critics charge that these laws have stifled political expression within Thailand. Al Jazeera reports that more than a hundred people have been arrested in Thailand in recent years for running afoul of the laws. In December 2015, a man was arrested for insulting Bhumibol’s dog.