The flowers, traditionally made from the fragrant wood of the auspicious kalamet tree (mai chan hom) which has been used for royal funeral urns and cremations pyres since the time of King Naresuan in the 17th century, are symbolic of love and respect for the deceased.
Millions of dok mai jan will be produced across the Kingdom in the lead up to the Royal Funeral in October.
Ajarn Wanpen Seegaewkiaw was trained in the art of making dok mai jan as a young student and has quietly retained the skill for decades.
She has now been invited by the Phuket Skill Development Centre to pass on her knowledge to volunteers across Phuket so they can craft thousands of symbolic flowers in time for the late King’s funeral in October.
The Phuket News spoke to Ajarn Wanpen during a dok mai jan workshop held at the Limelight Avenue shopping centre in Phuket Town on May 27, where a large group of volunteers were busy making flowers using white paper.
“I like to think of us as like mother hens, we have formally trained in the art of making them, so we can pass it on to others when needed,” says Ajarn Wanpen.
“It shows love to the person who has died. It is an offering. It represents love, that is ultimately why we do it.”
Still commonly used in Buddhist cremations, the small white flowers – each requiring about 20 minutes to craft – have been a funerary custom in Thailand for centuries, but as is often the case, the tradition has adjusted to changing circumstances.
“At first it was made from mai jan hom (kalamet tree wood), but now that is very rare and expensive. So these days they are made more commonly from corn leaves, banana leaves, anything that is natural and doesn’t cause environmental harm,” she says.
“It doesn’t have to be paper, but with many months until the funeral we cannot use natural materials like leaves, as they would begin to go brown. But for the stem of the dok mai jan we are using mai jan wood,” says Ajarn Wanpen. “However, the main rule is to not use materials derived from plastics,” she adds.
The handmade flowers are normally placed on the coffin to be cremated with the deceased, but due to the national magnitude of the Royal Funeral, each province will have designated locations for burning dok mai jan to express their love and reverence for the late King Bhumibol.
Phuket will have three locations for the ceremonial burning of dok mai jan: one at Saphan Hin, one at Wat Ket Ho in Kathu and one at Wat Manit in Thalang, Ajarn Wanpen explains.
“Over the next few months we are recruiting any interested volunteers to contribute – including tourists. Other organisations around Phuket, such as hotels and even the prison, are also holding seminars to teach people how to make them.
“Today we have two teachers here at Limelight teaching about 100 volunteers over three days how to make dok mai jan in the shape of daffodils. The end aim is to collect about 2,000 flowers as a result of the three days here.
“The total aim across Phuket is to make around 500,000,” Ajarn Wanpen says. “Although several million flowers are expected to me made across the Kingdom in time for the Royal Cremation in October,” she adds.
“All over the country they are making seven kinds of flowers: daffodils, orchids, roses, lilies, cotton roses, Chinese roses and miniature Chinese roses. Here in Phuket, for the King’s funeral, we are making daffodils, as daffodils were one of the King’s favourite flowers during his time spent studying abroad.”
Volunteers must be careful not to compliment the beauty of the flowers – they should not be called “beautiful”, as doing so may suggest you desire an object meant for the dead.
“They can, however, be called ‘elegant’ (ngarm),” notes Ajarn Wanpen.
“They also cannot be given to any living person or used for any purpose other than the funeral. It can only be given from the maker to the deceased,” she added.
“Also, they should not be brought inside houses,” she pointed out.
“It is considered bad manners to do these things."