BANGKOK (AP) — Enduring the tropical heat of the day and torrents of rain at night, thousands of mourners dressed entirely in black are filling the royal quarter of Thailand's capital for the elaborate funeral of a monarch adored as a unifying symbol throughout his seven-decade reign.
Some had waited for a day or two to enter the cordoned-off area that will be the focal point for five days of solemn ceremony including King Bhumibol Adulyadej's (POO-mee-pon AH-dun-yaa-det) cremation on Thursday evening within a spectacular golden edifice that represents mystical Mount Meru where Buddhist and Hindu gods are believed to dwell.
About 250,000 people are expected to line streets to witness elaborate gilded processions that will be broadcast live. The funeral officially begins midafternoon Wednesday with a Buddhist merit-making ceremony in the throne room of the Dusit palace.
Mourner Banterng Saeuong said the funeral is the most important event in his lifetime. "I am happy to stand in the rain or sit under the sun," said the 55-year-old.
Bhumibol's death at age 88 on Oct. 13 last year sparked a national outpouring of grief and a year of mourning. More than 12 million people, which represents nearly a fifth of Thailand's population, visited the palace throne hall where the king's body has been kept for the past year.
The reverence Bhumibol inspired was in part the result of decades of work by palace officials to rebuild the prestige of the monarchy, which lost its mystique and power after a 1932 coup ended centuries of absolute rule by Thai kings.
That effort built an aura of divinity around Bhumibol, who was also protected from criticism by draconian lese majeste laws, but the king was also respected for his charitable work, personal modesty and as a symbol of stability in a nation frequently rocked by political turmoil and surrounded by Southeast Asian neighbors beset by colonial and revolutionary strife.
The funeral will be an intensely somber event but also rich in history and cultural and spiritual tradition. Mourners are allowed to prostrate when royal processions pass but must not shout out "Long Live The King" or hold up mobile phones to take photos or selfies.
Yuwadee Tyler said she had come from Hobart in Australia where she has lived for more than a decade.
"When I know my king is passed away, my heart is broken," she said. "I am so glad to be here."
Police are trying to calm occasional flare-ups of tension among mourners.
There have been accusations of queue jumping and sharp exchanges between some who've waited hours or traveled from far away.
Volunteers handed out water to offset the tropical heat as the crowded slowly moved through security checks into the historic royal quarter. Portraits of King Bhumibol were held by many in the crowd, and some wore plastic raincoats during the heaviest rains overnight — the only bits of color breaking up the sea of black as the crowds grew.