Princess grants audience as mourners overflow Grand Palace

princess1Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn granted an impromptu audience to one of the first groups of mourners among the general public admitted to pay respects to her late father King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Grand Palace where he lies in state, as the government tripled the daily quota of mourners admitted into the Palace in order to accommodate overflowing crowds.

Although massive crowds have gathered every day outside the compound containing the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, for the first two weeks only members of the royal family and high-ranking officials, such as members of the Privy Council, were able to enter the Throne Hall where the late king’s body lies inside a royal urn. Each day, members of the royal family perform merit-making ceremonies for King Bhumibol. The extended royal family numbers in the hundreds.

On Saturday evening, Princess Sirindhorn, in a gesture of solidarity with the people, allowed one of the first groups of mourners into the Throne Hall while she was performing a merit-making ceremony for her father. Of the King’s children, Princess Sirindhorn most often accompanied her father on his trips to rural villages to launch development projects. “She has a feel for the people,” King Bhumibol once said. The Princess been known to occasionally ride the Skytrain and shop in Bangkok malls with very little security, to the pleasant surprise of local people.

Officials had originally announced that 10,000 mourners a day would be permitted to enter the Grand Palace, but the numbers of people converging on the royal compound in Bangkok’s old quarter of Rattanakosin forced them to increase that quota to 30,000 a day. In addition, they have begun opening the Grand Palace gates at 5 a.m., several hours ahead of schedule, to allow for as many mourners as possible waiting in line.

Some mourners have traveled long distances from far-flung provinces to be able to show their devotion to the only monarch under whom most of them have ever lived. King Bhumibol ascended the throne in 1946 and had been the world’s longest-reigning monarch for several decades. Despite the expanded hours, the line of people waiting to enter the Grand Palace stretched for more than three miles.

Mourners are expected to visit the Grand Palace throughout the entire one-year mourning period for the late king, as numbers did not significantly decline during the several months the Princess Mother and the King’s sister Princess Galyani laid in state after their passings.

To prevent disappointment among those waiting many hours only to be turned away because of the quota, officials said they were considering a plan to allow mourners to make reservations online to visit the palace.

Narin Sanjornkhok, a 60-year-old man from Chaiyaphum, told The Nation newspaper he had to wait for two days to gain entrance to the palace. “Once inside the Throne Hall, I had mixed feelings. While I was glad I had the opportunity to pay my respects to him, I felt extremely sad too that he had to work so hard for his people. I felt my body shaking and tears running down,” Narin said