In 1926, the remains of Siam's last absolute monarch were cremated on Bangkok's royal parade grounds, Sanam Luang, in a highly decorated ceremonial pyre known as the phra merumat or phra men. Modeled on Mount Meru, the center of the Vedic and Buddhist cosmos, ephemeral structures like this drew on the Traiphum phra ruang, a fourteenth-century text that elaborated the hierarchical structure of the universe and the exalted place of royalty within it. After the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the sanctity of Sanam Luang was challenged when a controversial crematorium for commoners who died defending Siam's nascent constitution was built in the area once reserved for royalty. Together, the two crematoria played an important role in representing new forms of national belonging in the twentieth century that were consistent with older conceptions of social hierarchy. In A Tale of Two Crematoria: Funeral Architecture and the Politics of Representation in Mid-Twentieth-Century Bangkok, Lawrence Chua examines literary, pictorial, and architectural representations of the monumental crematoria from which powerful, meritorious people were historically dispatched to the upper echelons of the cosmos. As seen in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century temple murals and literature, the phra men was historically depicted as a space in which diverse social groups were brought together but hierarchically segregated. By the twentieth century, the above-noted crematoria for king and commoners—although radically different in appearance and ideology—could be understood as complementary structures that allowed older spatial and political approaches not only to survive but also to flourish in an era of turbulent social upheaval. Key to this continuity was the deployment of new modes of architectural representation such as the plan and section. Associated with Siam's nascent architectural profession and the rational representation of space, these tools depicted a modern form of political community and premodern social hierarchy while underscoring the shared fate of citizens and the state.

You do not currently have access to this content.