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The funeral proceedings to bid farewell to HRH Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda have begun with thousands taking part. The princess was the only child of former king, Rama VI, and a cousin of Thailand’s present monarch, HM Bhumibol Adulayadej (Rama IX). The princess died last July at the age of 85. When such prominent people pass away in Thailand it isn’t unusual for the cremation to take place a long time after the actual death. This allows time for appropriate arrangements to be made, an auspicious date and time to be chosen and for the various merit-making ceremonies which, in Buddhist belief, help the deceased in their next life. Since her death, the princess has been lying in state at the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall which is located within the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok. The last major royal funeral ceremony in Thailand was for the king’s sister, HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, which took place in November 2008.

The day will begin at 7am when the royal urn is carried from Dusit Maha Prasart Hall atop the royal golden palanquin to an area in front of Wat Phra Chetupon, or Wat Pho.

There, the urn will be transferred to the Phra Maha Pichai Ratcharot, or royal chariot, for the one-and-a-half-hour procession to Sanam Luang.

The chariot was built from gilded teak wood during the reign of King Rama I, and was used for the funeral of Her Royal Highness The Princess Mother and Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana. It weighs around 13 tonnes and requires 216 men to pull.

The chariot will set off along Sanam Chai Road towards Ratchadamnoen Avenue.

When it arrives at Sanam Luang, the urn will be returned to the palanquin for the third and final procession.

The palanquin will circumnavigate the phra meru, or royal funeral pyre, three times, with each lap covering 260 metres, before the urn is placed on the pyre.

Members of the public wishing to pay their respects may leave paper and sandalwood flowers for the cremation at 4pm at five points around Sanam Luang and at 46 temples in Bangkok.

The ceremonial cremation will go ahead at 4:30pm, followed by the more private official cremation at 10pm and a programme of cultural events for the public through the night.

The funeral is the culmination of about eight months of work by the Fine Arts Department and Religious Affairs Department, which allocated a budget of 218.1 million baht for the preparations and ceremony.

Princess Bejaratana was the only child of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, and Phra Nang Chao (Queen) Suvadhana.

Her royal father, seriously ill at the time, passed away just one day after the princess was born, and it was her grandmother, Queen Savang Vadhana, who took the baby princess under her wing.

The princess spent much of her formative years in the United Kingdom after the 1932 revolution which toppled the absolute monarchy and led to the abdication of her uncle, King Prajadhipok. By the time she returned to Thailand in 1959, her cousin, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was on the throne.

She spent the rest of her life at Ruenrudi Villa, working on behalf of various charitable organisations and projects that were established and initiated by her royal father as well as her grandmother, Queen Savang Vadhana, with her mother constantly by her side.

Chinese New Year (also called the Lunar New Year) occurs in the early months of our calendar year, typically January or February and this year falls on January 23rd. This is the first of 15 days of celebration and the start of the Year of the Dragon.

Year of the Dragon
In Chinese tradition, each year is dedicated to a specific animal. The Dragon, Horse, Monkey, Rat, Boar, Rabbit, Dog, Rooster, Ox, Tiger, Snake, and Ram are the twelve animals that are part of this tradition. In 2012, the Dragon is welcomed back after the 2011 year of the Rabbit. Each of these animals are thought to bestow their characteristics to the people born in their year.

While the Year of the Rabbit was characterized by calm and tranquility, the Year of the Dragon will be marked by excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity. The Rabbit imbues people with a sense of cautious optimism, but people respond to the spirit of the Dragon with energy, vitality and unbridled enthusiasm, often throwing all caution to the wind – which can be an unwise move: The Dragon is all about drama but if you take unnecessary risks, you may find yourself starring in your own personal tragedy.

The Dragon’s Personality
People born under the Dragon are passionate, brave and self-assured. At their best they are pioneering spirits; at their worst, they epitomize the old adage: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Dragons are generous with their resources, a tendency that at its most negative can reflect a foolhardy attitude towards money. But Dragons in general are blessed with good fortune. They are smart, enterprising and have a wicked sense of humor. They have a natural flair for fashion and are the people to consult if you want to catch up on the latest trends.

This Chinese New Year 2012 ushers in the Water Dragon. Water exerts a calming influence on the Dragon’s innate fire. Water Dragons are more open to other people’s opinions than other Dragons which gives them the ability to channel their personal charisma into real leadership qualities.

Famous celebrities born in under the Dragon include John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Al Pacino, Marlene Dietrich and Matt Dillon. The Dragon’s lucky color is yellow.

The Dragon and Love
Dragons are passionate. They fall in love quickly – and out of love just as quickly. Their charisma and charm is an immense draw to people of the opposite sex whose attention and admiration they crave. Though they have a tendency to treat love like a game, they can settle down when they meet the right partner, someone who’s strong enough not to be bowled over by the Dragon’s flamboyant, independent and stubborn personality.

The Dragon’s ideal partners are the Rat, the Monkey, and the Rooster: The Rat is practical, observant and resourceful, able to help the Dragon when extravagant promises have backed the Dragon into a corner. The Monkey is just as popular as the Dragon, curious, intellectual and fun-loving, one of the few personalities the Dragon doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with. The Rooster can give the Dragon a run for the money on the fashion-forward front; attractive, well-groomed, fiercely loyal and committed to honesty, the Rooster serves as the Dragon’s reality check, keeping the Dragon from making promises that he or she can’t keep.

The Dragon and Wealth
Dragon years are lucky for anyone thinking of starting a business or initiating a new project of any sort because money is easier to come by for everyone, whether it’s earned, borrowed or received as a gift. Consequently we can expect the economic downturn to ease up a bit in the coming year. Fortunes can be made but they can also be lost: Keep in mind like all good things, the Year of the Dragon will come to an end and you will be held accountable for unreasonable extravagances.

Dragons do well in professions that give them the ability to function somewhat autonomously. They make excellent sales people, publicists, political campaigners, lawyers, real estate brokers, actors and politicians.

Chinese New Year is a lively celebration in Thailand, with dragon dances, fireworks, and banquets prepared on the streets for the benefit of ancestral spirits particularly in Samphanthawong District, the largest China Town in Thailand. Well–known for its streets of goldsmiths and numerous restaurants serving tasty Chinese cuisine, Bangkok’s Chinatown “Yaowarat” is filled with people who still preserve a distinctly Chinese way of life, including both tradition and culture. That’s why the Chinese New Year celebration in this area is a major festival and is well organized every year.

In China Town and elsewhere throughout the kingdom, lion and dragon dances are performed to ward off evil spirits, martial arts demonstrations are staged at various venues, Chinese street operas are staged along major thoroughfares and finally, fireworks are lit to mark the end of the new years celebration.