to a modern Kingship
aware of the changing nature of life, the monarchy in
Thailand is constantly adapting itself to ensure that it
fits in with the modern world and is able to respond to
the needs of the people and society.
Thai monarchy has a unique quality, and that is its adaptability
to change, which has enabled it to flourish to this day. It has
always shown exceptional compassion, relevance and vitality,
particularly in the contemporary world.
The first Thai kings ruled over ,
the first integrated Thai kingdom founded almost 800 years ago.
It was during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great
[1275-1317] that the ideal of a paternalistic ruler
originated. Markedly different from the concept of divine right
practised by the Khmers of that time, the ideal implies that the
ruler be alert to the needs of his people and aware of the fact
that this duty was to guide them.
paternalistic ideal was at times lost during the long
period, when Khmer influence regarding kingship reappeared and
the monarch became a lofty, inaccessible figure, rarely seen by
most citizens. Nevertheless, the four-century era witnessed the
reigns of some remarkable rulers, whose achievements were far-reaching.
the founding of , in 1782, and the establishment
of Bangkok as the capital, kingship was based primarily on
adherence to the
concept of virtue. The Bangkok period produced a succession of
unusually able rulers, capable of meeting a variety of
challenges both to the country and to the monarchy itself.
it had lasted longer than most others in the world, largely due
to wise rule by Chakri kings, the country's absolute monarchy
finally came to an end on June 24, 1932, when a small group of
civil servants and military officers staged a bloodless coup and
demanded a constitution. , who in any case was already thinking
along such lines himself and had already drafted a constitution
which had been debated in the Supreme Council of State, agreed
an d thus became the first constitutional monarch. Three years
later, unhappy with some of the results, he decided to abdicate;
his nephew , then a 10-year-old student in
Switzerland, was chosen to f ollow him as eighth in the Chakri
man who has reigned longer than any previous Thai monarch and
has earned such remarkable devotion from his subjects seemed far
from the throne at the time of his birth in 1927 in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. King Prajadhipok still ruled at the time, and any
children he might have would be first in succession. There was
also his father, Prince Mahidol of Songkla, then studying
medicine at Harvard University, as well as his older brother
Prince Ananda Mahidol. The future King Bhumibol Adulyadej appea
red likely to spend a more or less ordinary life, no doubt
influenced by his father's strong determination to use his
education and social position to improve public welfare, but
doing so in relative obscurity.
however, determined otherwise. Prince Mahidol died in 1929, and
the abdication of King Prajadhipok followed in 1935. For the
first 11 years of his rule, the young King Ananda Mahidol
remained mostly in Switzerland with his mother, sister, and y
ounger brother, pursuing his studies while effectively cut off
from his homeland by the World War. In 1946 he died in the Grand
Palace while on a visit, and , then 19 years old, suddenly found
himself the ninth Chakri King. He subsequently returned to
Luzern to complete his education, changing from science to
political science and law in recognition of his new role.
years later, while on a visit to Fontainebleau, he met the
beautiful young Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of
the Thai ambassador to France, HRH Prince Nakkhatrmongkol
Kitiyakara, Krommamun Chandapuri Suranath, and in 1948 their
engagem ent was announced by the Government.
were married in Bangkok on April 28, 1950, and seven days later
His Majesty was crowned in ancient ceremonies held at the
splendid Grand Palace from which his ancestors had ruled the
kingdom. He himself, characteristically, has chosen to take as
his official Bangkok residence the more modest Chitralada Villa,
while steadfastly adhering to the momentous Oath of Succession
to the Throne pledged during the coronation:
will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of
the Siamese people."
a man, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has displayed a remarkable range
of talents. He is a gifted musician and composer, particularly
in the field of jazz; one of his songs was featured in a
Broadway musical in the early 1950's and his skills have been a
cknowledged by such masters as Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton.
He was an enthusiastic sailor in the early years of his rule and
won the Southeast Asia Peninsula Games gold medal in 1967. In
addition, he can point to impressive achievements in the fiel ds
of painting, photography, and engineering. Thanks to his
international education and upbringing, he is fluent in three
European languages and at ease in a variety of cultures.
Undoubtedly, though, posterity will remember him most for his
accomplishm ents as leader of Thai nation during a critical
period in its history.
Forging of a Modern Monarchy
the panoply of time-honoured ritual that attended his coronation
and the reverence felt by all Thais for the monarchy as an
institution-scarcely dimmed even after the 1932 Revolution-King
Bhumibol Adulyadej was actually confronted by an unprecedented
challenge at the time he began his rule: how to fashion a
concept of kingship that met the needs of a repidly changing
society, at once traditional and creatively modern. It was a
challenge as urgent as any faced by Chakri kings of the past,
and the manner in which he has met it has truly defined his
greatness as a ruler.
the most important step taken by His Majesty in the process was
his decision to bring the monarchy into direct contact with the
provincial population. Despite the efforts of previous rulers,
this had not been really feasible in the past, largely due to
difficulties of travel outside the central region. It was not
until 1927, after opening of the northern railway line, that the
people of Chiang Mai saw their monarch for the first time, and
only a few towns along the southern coast had been honoured with
a royal visit. Following the abdication of King Prajadhipok,
there was a period of nearly 20 years when the King was a remote
personage to the vast majority of Thais, a face in a photograph
or a name on an official proclamation. Many of them went about
their daily lives in almost total isolation, little affected by
events in far-off Bangkok and as a result, often feeling ignored
by those in power.
regarded as a milestone in altering this situation is the trip
made by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1955, when he became the
first ruler to visit the northeastern provinces, traditionally
the poorest and most neglected in the country, with poor roads
and hamlets that became all but inaccessible in the rainy season.
Together with Queen Sirikit, he spent 22 arduous days touring
the region, observing at first hand the problems of the people
and talking with the enthusiastic crowds who walked for miles
from obscure villages just to catch a glimpse of their king. The
warmth of their greeting was unmistakable; so, too, was the
extent of their needs as revealed in the conversations His
Majesty had with those he met.
method of personal encounter, particularly in rural areas,
has become one of the major hallmarks of King Bhumibol
Adulyadej's reign. Today he and members of his family
spend almost seven months of the year in one or another of
the royal residences which have been built outside of
Bangkok: at Chiang Mai in , Sakon Nakhon in the ,
Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand, and Narathiwat in the .
From these, defying discomforts and inconveniences, His
Majesty has managed to visit every one of Thailand' s 76
provinces, going to even the most remote villages by
helicoptor, jeep, train, boat, or, on occasion, by foot,
to ascertain for himself local conditions. In the process
he has become not only the most travelled monarch in Thai
history but also the best informed about a wide range of
rural difficulties, some of them peculiar to a certain
locality and others common to an entire region. Moreover,
he has become a father-like figure to millions of his
subjects, who are no longer amazed to find him suddenly in
their village squares, available for consultation about
matters both trivial and serious.
before such a visit the consults maps, aerial photographs and
remote sensing to acquaint himself as thoroughly as possible
with the topographical and social features of the general area.
Once there he talks with resident monks and farmers, as well as
government officials, soliciting first-hand information on
community needs and aspirations. By comparison with the
ceremonial atmosphere that surrounds royal appearances in Ban
gkok, these are remarkably informal sessions, with much of the
initial are felt by villagers soon diminishing in actual contact
with a ruler who clearly both listens and cares about their
assisted by other members of the Royal Family, the King takes
careful notes and later initiates steps to provide assistance,
always working through the appropriate government agencies but
sometimes using his own funds in the early stages to help a
project get off the ground. He later established the Chai
Pattana Foundation to help provide initial or emergency
financial support for subsequent development projects. He never
simply issues a directive: the impe tus comes from the local
population, who must agree with the proposal and cooperate to
see that it is successfully implemented.
1,000 small-scale "royally-suggested" projects have
been started in this way, covering the whole spectrum of rural
problems in Thailand, from the introduction of new crops to
water conservation, from swamp drainage to the preservation of
national forests. In all, the aim has been sustainable
development, serving not only immediate needs but also those of
future generations by conserving the present environment and
seeking to restore areas that have already suffered from misuse.
Some of these projects, notably those involving crop
substitution, have proved so successful that the United Nations
hopes to emulate them in other countries facing similar problems.
of the earliest and most innovative was His Majesty's Hilltribe
Development Project in the North, now known as the Royal Project
and encompassing lowland areas as well. The migratory tribal
people who live in the mountainous region that forms Thailand's
borders with Laos and Myanmar had been an increasing problem to
the government, partly due to their slash-and-burn technique of
clearing land, thus leading to widespread destruction of the
native forest, and partly to their traditional cultivation of
opium poppy, base material for heroin production. The Royal
Project sought to address these problems and also to improve the
lives of the tribal groups, who actually derived a bare
subsistence income from their role in the international dr ug
programme has introduced a wide variety of crops-among them such
temperate-zone plants as coffee, peaches, apricots, strawberries,
lychees, apples, and chrysanthemums - which bring larger profits
than opium and provided assistance in both methods of growing
and marketing; in addition, it has brought educational and
medical facilities to permanent settlements. The results can be
seen clearly not only in tribal communities who have joined the
project but also in the supermarkets of Bangkok and in the
numerous new export products.
recognition of the Royal Project's effectiveness has come in
many forms, including financial grants and expert assistance by
several foreign governments. In 1988, it was awarded the Ramon
Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in the
area of international understanding.
the Northeast, where drought is a perennial problem, reserviors
and other water-storage facilities were built and alternative
crops tested to increase the income of farmers. Swamp drainage
has been a concern of royal initiated projects in southern
Thailand, together with land reclamation and preservation of
mangrove forests. In a number of experimental centres set up at
His Majesty's initiative near the Gulf of Thailand, various
agencies are demonstrating ways that surrounding villagers can
improve crop yields in the sandy soil; important new sources of
income like the breeding of fresh-water prawns in ponds have
also been introduced with notable results.
recent decades an alarming proportion of Thailand's native
forest cover has been lost, through both indiscriminate logging
operations and the need for more
land by an expanding population. Among the harmful results are
increased erosion and a decrease of watershed resources, as well
as destruction of the natural habitat of many wildlife species.
Several of His Majesty's projects are seeking to relieve this
situation through reafforestation, impro vement of existing
farmlands, the planting of commercial fruit orchards, and
programmes aimed at educating the public on the importance of
preserving those forests that remain. Their Majesties have also
spearheaded efforts to raise certain endangered species of
wildlife in captivity and then release them in protected areas
in the hope of saving them from extinction.
much-publicized undertaking to help Thai farmers, one made
possible through His Majesty's support in its early stages, has
been the Royal Rain-Making Project. Through years of
experimentation, 14 different chemical formulae have been
devised for varying conditions of weather, location, and
topography; specially-equipped planes use these to seed clouds
in areas suffering from lack of rain, with results so successful
that several neighbouring countries have called on Thai experts
to he lp them with similar problems.
projects have not only brought enormous benefits to Thailand's
rural population but have also given the monarchy a new image,
more intimately with the lives of ordinary Thais than ever
before. The King is not merely a symbolic figure, reigning from
a distant capital; he is a trusted ally working closely with
them in the ancient struggle for a better life. The pictures of
him and other members of the Royal Family that are displayed in
homes and business establishments all over the country are thus
signs of deep affection as well as reverence for an institution.
Bhumibol Aduyadej's agricultural interests are evident even at
his residence in Bangkok. On the grounds of Chitralada Villa--within
plain view of passers-by--are fields of experimental rice, a
herd of dairy cattle, and a plant to manufacture powdered milk.
As long ago as 1952, His Majesty had large fish ponds dug in the
compound, which he stocked with a fast-breeding variety known as
tilapia nilotica obtained from Japan. When these proved
adaptable to Thai conditions, spec imens were presented to
villagers throughout the kingdom, thus providing a significant
new addition to the provincial diet. In 1965, Japanese Crown
Prince Akihito gave His Majesty 50 fish of a different type and
these, too, were bred in Chitralada ponds. Given the Thai name
pla nil by the King, they were distributed through the
Department of Fisheries and have proved extremely popular with
farmers. Today, some 16 countrywide fishery stations rear over
10 million pla nil annually.
in Bangkok, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has provided the impetus for
clearing and improving the Makkasan Swamp, a large body of water
formerly clogged with water hyacinth in the centre of the
capital. At the King's suggestion the swamp is being dredged,
provided with exit channels, and transformed into a useful part
of the city's flood control system.
taken from Sawasdee Magazine.
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