Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Thai funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Albanian funeral traditions and Cambodian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Before the Funeral
In Thailand when someone dies, the family typically keeps the body at home for one week before the cremation. Most Thai people choose cremation because of their Buddhist or Hindu beliefs. During this time, loved ones pray over the body, and monks may come to lead a prayer. Families may delay the cremation if they have distant relatives who need time to travel back home.
After someone dies, their family does a bathing ceremony. First, they pour a jug of water on everyone’s hands, including the deceased. Then, they tie a sacred white string blessed by a Buddhist monk to the deceased’s wrists and ankles. Thai people believe it provides good luck and protection for the deceased’s next life.
They place the deceased’s hands in a praying position and put a lotus flower and incense sticks in their hands. They also may put a coin in the deceased’s mouth.
Thai Funeral Service
Since Thailand is 93% Buddhist, per Pew Research Center’s 2010 Global Religious Landscape, a Thai funeral usually follows Buddhist traditions. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, the cycle of death and rebirth until you reach Nirvana. So a Thai funeral signifies rebirth into the next life.
A Thai funeral is more like a celebration, as there are barbeques, gambling, dancing, and traditional Thai music. The grieving should try not to cry and wear black or white, but no bright colors. The celebrations may last one week to a year depending on your closeness to the deceased. Those closest to the deceased may go to more celebrations and bring a funeral gift, such as a wreath. Family members decorate the casket with gifts, garlands, flowers, candles or incense sticks, and a photo of the deceased.
Family members lead the procession to the crematory, followed by monks holding the sacred white string attached to the casket. They must walk counterclockwise around the Thai temple three times, or clockwise for Buddhist holidays.
The casket sits on a high table covered with a black or white cloth and flowers, usually the deceased’s favorite. Everyone prays to prevent the deceased from becoming an evil spirit and to ask forgiveness for sins. A family member also may say a eulogy.
Everyone receives a flower made of wood shavings that they put in the tray under the casket. The cremation takes half an hour to an hour, so some people may stay while others may leave. Thai people believe the cremation releases the deceased’s spirit to begin their next life.