12/17/2015, 00.00
THAILAND
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Bangkok, thousands in procession for cremation of Buddhist patriarch

by Weena Kowitwanij
Somdet Phra Yannasangwon was the 19th Supreme Patriarch of the country, on royal appointment. Renamed Charoen Suvaddhano - "one who has become great" - had died two years ago. His remains, according to tradition, were laid in state for 24 months to allow the faithful to pay their last respects. The pyre lit by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral and cremation of the 19th Buddhist Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, Somdet Phra Yannasangwon, who died two years ago. His funeral lasted three days, December 15 to 17, and ended with the lighting of the funeral pyre by the Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and the composition of his ashes.

Appointed to the office by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the religious leader was also known as Charoen Suvaddhano - "one who has become great." The Dalai Lama has repeatedly described him as "my brother".

Born October 3, 1913, Suvaddhano become the head of Thai Buddhism in 1989. He died on October 24 2013 from a blood infection: He is the only one of the patriarchs to have lived 100 years. His mortal remains are in Tamnak Phetch, the spiritual center of Bangkok’s Bavornives temple.

The funeral pyre was lit last night: the faithful prepared altars along a stretch of three kilometers for the funeral procession, and offered incense and flowers to the fire. This morning the prince presided over the composition of ashes and, on 19 December 2015 will enshrine the urn in the Bavornives temple. Here his followers will be able to pay their respects.

He was known for his extensive knowledge of languages ​​and for having been master to the current king during the 15 days that the king spent in the monastery, the Supreme Patriarch was also loved by the Buddhists of other traditions. Especially the followers of the "yellow sect 'of Tibetan Buddhism, who recognize a "union of spirits" between Thai patriarchs and the Dalai Lama.

95% of the approximately 69 million Thais follows Theravada Buddhism - or "path of the elders" – an Orthodox current that is characterized by rigid conservative line and for the Sangha - the community of monks - whose primary focus is the study of mnemonic sacred texts and the passage of this tradition to posterity.

The figure of the Supreme Patriarch (in Thai language "phrasangkharat" or "king of the Sangha") was created in 1872 by Rama I, the first king of the ruling dynasty. As head of Buddhism in Thailand, the Supreme Patriarch promotes religion and leads the Supreme Council of the Sangha, whose official task is to supervise the monks (about 200 thousand) and novices (about 70 thousand) of all Buddhist sects in the country, making sure that they follow the teachings of the Buddha, or rather they observe the prescribed rituals and do not violate the rules established by the Council.

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