A royal garden grows
The millions of flowers being cultivated for the royal cremation are artificial, but the love is genuine
MILLIONS OF artificial flowers being assembled around the country will be the final expression of love and reverence for His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej when his remains are cremated in October.
Leaves from the corn plant are being folded and sculpted into the artificial flowers called dok mai chan, but they were traditionally made from the fragrant wood of kalamet trees (Mansonia gagei, locally known as mai chan hom).
The tree is now, however, protected under the Forestry Act – anyone can plant it, but cutting it down requires official permission. The only kalamet to be used for the late monarch’s funeral will appear sparingly in the crematorium structure itself.
Samart Chansoon, now retired from the Ministry of Culture, explained the history of the wood’s use on state occasions at a recent seminar, one of a series being hosted by Siam Commercial Bank at its Bangkok headquarters. Partici- pants in the seminars learn how to fashion the funeral flowers from corn leaves.
The appealing scent of kalamet and a light colour believed to signify purity long made it an obvious choice for use in royal funerals, Samart said, as did its utility as a timber for fires.
“But, following the cremations of Kings Rama V and Rama VI, it was clear that kalamet trees were becoming scarce, so the venerable Prince Damrong Rajanubhab decided they should be conserved and invented this artificial flower, dok mai chan.
“He had the kalamet wood shaved into thin slices so that it could be shaped into a ‘flower’ called dok mai chan. People would attach an incense stick and candle to the stalk for burning at funerals.”
At one time every woman of nobility knew how to make dok mai chan from kalamet, keeping a block of the wood in a box at home to maintain its fragrance. They would slice off just enough for each funeral they attended and store the rest for later.
Commoners were apt to use any kind of wood to cremate the remains of loved ones, but the idea of dok mai chan made with corn leaves became popular. Temples these days keep a stock of the artificial flowers ready for funerals, made from different types of materials. They can be single “blossoms” or whole bouquets.
“Corn leaves aren’t always easy to find either these days, especially at this time of year,” Samart said. “The best for dok mai chan is the pang species grown mainly in Kam- phaeng Phet. It’s good for crafts – smooth and fine in texture, with a creamy complexion.
“When I teach people how to make the flowers, I’ll use corn leaves in the morning and banana leaves in the afternoon. You can actually use any material, because it’s the flower itself that symbolises respect for the dead. The flowers give us our last chance to say goodbye to them.
“The idea of using fragrant wood was that, no matter where the deceased travelled in death, they would still smell lovely – an echo of the Buddhist belief that, even in death, our goodness survives.”
The process of making dok mai chan is not difficult, and many businesses and agencies are hosting classes ahead of the royal funeral (see information box).
The flowers can be any of seven types – daffodil, lily, orchid, rose, cotton rose, Chinese rose or petit Chinese rose.
The daffodil (dararat in Thai – dara for “star” and rat for “jewel”) was one of the late King’s favourite flowers. He often made a gift of them to Her Majesty the Queen while they were living in Switzerland. It’s customarily a flower given to a loved one with nothing expected in return, and also symbolises honour, |bravery and hope.
Samart explained that the rose represents the “pure love” of the Thai people for the late King and their loyalty to him. The cotton rose signifies stability and abundance and is auspicious to the Chinese because it changes colour three times a day, as if mimicking the human life cycle.
The lily and white rose represent pure love. The orchid stands for stability, love and grace, all attributes of the late monarch. The Chinese rose conveys impermanence and divinity, and small blossoms can be see to represent people’s hearts as they pay worldly tribute to the King for the final time.
Belief dictates that dok mai chan given to mourners at a funeral should not be taken away and used for another purpose, since it’s intended only for the deceased. Passing it on to a living person might bring him sadness.
Nor should you praise the funeral flower for its beauty, because doing so suggests you desire an object meant for the dead. It’s sufficient to say the flower is nicely crafted.
TENS of thousands of dok mai chan have already been made for the royal cremation in October, but millions will be needed, so volunteers are being sought to lend a hand. Look for workshops and demonstrations being held at shopping malls, government buildings and private businesses.
- Siam Commercial Bank is hosting a demonstration of “Wood Floral Arrangements” (actually corn leaves, not “wood”) for the late King at its Mahisorn Hall on Ratchayothin Road on May 25 and 26, and materials will be sent to its branches across the country.
- The Mall Group and its business partners have prepared materials for creating the artificial flowers and are rallying volunteers for craft sessions at every branch and at the Emporium, EmQuartier, Siam Paragon and Bluport Hua Hin through July. Call (02) 310 1527.
- The Central Group aims to contribute three million wooden flowers by holding “Dok Dararat Tan Jai Tawai Dare Poh” craft sessions at every Central Plaza and Central Department Store, Central World, Central Embassy and all 19 Robinson Lifestyle Malls through August.