Demand for worship items soars

A man heads home with his new portrait of His Majesty the King. Similarly, portraits of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn continue to fly off the shop shelves along with numerous other items used in ritual worship. (Reuters photo)

As the country mourns the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, demand for items used in ritual worship has risen dramatically.

In the most popular areas selling religious supplies — Bamrung Muang Road, Din So Road and Siri Phong Road, which is adjacent to the famous Giant Swing or Sao Chingcha — portraits of His Late Majesty dominate the landscape and are in high demand.

A sales assistant, who called herself Nong, at Lai Thai, a religious supplies wholesale shop on Bamrung Muang Road, said there are four to five times more customers than normal looking for the essential ritual set comprising Phan Phum, the pair of handicraft flowers or leaves made from gold and silver fabric, and Kreung Thong Noi, a set of three tiny handicraft flowers specially used in paying homage to Buddha and the King.

In accordance with traditional Thai custom, these flowers are displayed together in front of the portrait of the late monarch, whereby members of the household can regularly pay their respects.

Pong, who works at Itthipol, another shop in the same area, said that some clients are looking to arrange the set of altar tables at their homes, while others are looking to set up tables at their offices for their employees to pay their respects to His Majesty.

But the majority of the customers have been retailers looking for goods to sell at their own shops.

Mr Pong said these items are used in many ceremonies and for ritual worship, so demand is always stable. But with the passing of His Majesty, who is universally revered throughout the country, demand has skyrocketed, with many items selling out immediately.

Some clients have complained of vendors raising prices to take advantage of people during this time of grief.

But Ms Nong said it is unfair to blame them for higher than usual prices, as stores have been forced to push artisans to speed up delivery of their handcrafted goods.

“No one keeps [such large] stocks of these items, and no one expected we would lose the King so soon,” she said. “Since we want to meet demand, we have to pay craft workers more. I hope clients will understand our situation too.”

Ms Nong said she had no idea how much prices have been set at for the same items in other parts of the city, but said she did not believe they could be cheaper than in her area, which is the biggest wholesaler of religious supplies in Bangkok.

Most of the shops where she operates sell religious items at similar prices, ranging between 2,000 and 5,000 baht a set, depending on size.

Apart from the Phan Phum and Kreung Thong Noi, other best-selling items include condolence books, flags, printed portraits of His Majesty and white- and black-coloured drapery fabric used in the funeral rites.

Most of the shop owners at Sao Chingcha said the sudden passing of the King had overshadowed the annual celebration of Thais after the conclusion of Buddhist Lent, with an often festive atmosphere now turning to a period of mourning for the nation.

“I don’t think any Thais would think about the end of Buddhist Lent,” said Janya Srisongkram, the owner of Buddha Sangthum shop. “Most of us are now looking for items that we can buy to place in front of statues and pictures of the King to show him due reverence.”

She said demand for Kreung Thong Noi has jumped by 100% as most government organisations, private companies and universities have sought sets in order to pay homage to His Majesty.

Bune Patanawanich, another shop owner in the area, said demand for some items has skyrocketed. “I would say I sell around 10 sets of Kreung Thong Noi each year, but orders have risen to 40 sets within five days after the His Majesty passed away.”

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