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101 cremations: the rise of Bangkok's Buddhist pet funerals

Sippachai Kunnuwong

Agence France-Presse

Bangkok, Thailand | Sun, December 3, 2017 | 05:32 pm
101 cremations: the rise of Bangkok's Buddhist pet funerals

This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows Pimrachaya Worakijmanotham saying goodbye to Dollar, her six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

Buddhist monks chant next to a pink coffin where Dollar's small body is nestled amongst flowers -- a $600 final farewell for the Shih Tzu at a Bangkok temple that administers elaborate pet funerals.

Dollar's owner, Pimrachaya Worakijmanotham, fights back tears as she takes a last fond look at her six-year-old pet dog, whose tousled grey-white body rests under jasmine garlands.

This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows a Buddhist monk blessing the body of Dollar, a six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.
This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows a Buddhist monk blessing the body of Dollar, a six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

"This is the last time I can be with her... so I want Dollar to receive good things," Pimrachaya, dressed in black and wearing sunglasses, told AFP, a framed photo of "her child" Dollar behind her.

Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys.

In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.

According to Buddhist belief, merit garnered in each life eventually leads to nirvana -– the state of non-suffering.

This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows Dollar, a six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, inside a coffin with flower garlands and gold joss paper during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows Dollar, a six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, inside a coffin with flower garlands and gold joss paper during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

"In this life, she (Dollar) couldn't go to the temples to make merit for herself. This is the only thing we can do for her," Pimrachaya, who is a banker, said.

The trend is not unique to Thailand -- Japan is particularly fond of lavish goodbyes to its pets.

But in Bangkok it is catching on fast as Thais increasingly see pets as family members.

Read also: Activists condemn visitors who gave alcohol to Taman Safari animals

This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows an undertaker placing the coffin of Dollar, a six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, inside the crematorium during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.This photo taken on September 14, 2017 shows an undertaker placing the coffin of Dollar, a six-year-old Shih Tzu dog, inside the crematorium during the pet's funeral at Wat Krathum Suea Pla Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

200 a month

At least three temples offer daily services, including a monk-led ceremony, cremation and sprinkling of ashes in rivers -– the symbolic ritual of returning earthly remains to nature. 

Theerawat Sae-Han, the founder of Pet Funeral Thailand, says his company cremates more than 200 animals each month, from cats and dogs, to monitor lizards, snakes and baboons.

"Successful or famous animals like fighting cocks who won the awards will also be brought for cremation," said Theerawat, a former pet salon owner who jumped into the "good" business of full-blown pet cremation four years ago. 

This photo taken on November 5, 2017 shows the bones and ashes of a pet dog being covered in flowers, before being released in the Chaopraya river in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.This photo taken on November 5, 2017 shows the bones and ashes of a pet dog being covered in flowers, before being released in the Chaopraya river in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

Surging demand for his service also reflects the shrinking public spaces in the bustling Thai capital. 

"Before, we buried them in authorised parks or backyards but now it's rare to find ones in Bangkok," said Phrakru Samu Jumpol, a monk at Wat Krathum Suea Pla.  

His temple has partnered with Theerawat's company and now has a ceremonial compound and cremation chambers.  

While it makes for a good business -- starting prices are around 3,000 baht (around $91) but the most extravagant services cost up to 100,000 baht -- the monk says the funerals have brought people closer to religion.

This photo taken on November 5, 2017 shows mourners praying for their pets before releasing their bones and ashes in the Chaopraya river in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.This photo taken on November 5, 2017 shows mourners praying for their pets before releasing their bones and ashes in the Chaopraya river in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

"Some people might not have a chance to come to the temple at all. When their pets die, they come here," said Phrakru Samu Jumpol, adding the pet-lovers will be taught the Buddhist lesson that "all things are temporary." 

So far, the temple has not faced criticism for its business links.

Thailand's junta is examining temple finances across the country as it seeks to improve the image of a religion which has been hit by a stream of financial scandals in recent years.

For pet lovers, the service provides spiritual succour at a time of great pain. 

This photo taken on November 5, 2017 shows a family of mourners releasing flowers with the bones and ashes of their beloved pet dog into the Chaopraya river in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being.
This photo taken on November 5, 2017 shows a family of mourners releasing flowers with the bones and ashes of their beloved pet dog into the Chaopraya river in Bangkok. Pet cremations, complete with Buddhist rituals, are popping up across Bangkok for dogs, cats and even monkeys. In a devout Buddhist kingdom where religion and superstitious beliefs entwine, some pet owners believe the monk-led send off will boost their pets' chances of being reincarnated as a higher being. (AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

At the end of a ceremony to spread the ashes of her Siberian husky Maprang in November, teary-eyed Tipaporn Ounsiri found cause for optimism.

"If the next life exists, please come back and be my daughter, don't be born as a pet anymore," she said.

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