Reflecting on a life well lived. 26 Facts About Thailand’s Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

A man carries an infant as he walks past a collage of pictures of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej during an exhibition held in his honour at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) in Bangkok, Thailand, November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Thailand. – It’s never too late to show respect for a great man lost.

Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, passed away on 13 October 2016 after 70 years as head of state, leaving behind a nation in mourning. The 88-year-old king was widely revered and had been in poor health in recent years, making few public appearances. He leaves behind a deep sense of loss.

As news broke, friends and families gathered on the streets to mourn and pray for him. In Bangkok, the normal bustle of the streets was replaced with tuk-tuk drivers in tears and shop-keepers, market stalls, bars and restaurants slowly shutting up shop. A year of mourning has been announced.

We take a chronological look at his significant life.

1. Prince Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on the 5th December 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Prince Mahidol of Songkla, half-brother and heir of the last absolute monarch of Thailand, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and the younger son of King Chulachomklao (Rama V, reigned 1868-1910).

2. The Chakri dynasty into which he was born dates back to 1782. Prince Bhumibol’s great-grandfather King Mongkut’s reign splendidly, if rather inaccurately, brought to life in Anna and the King of Siam and, later in The King and I.

3. Prince Bhumibol’s father, Prince Mahidol, had married a Siamese commoner and studied to be a doctor. At the time of the birth of Prince Bhumibol, he was studying public health and medicine at Harvard and his wife was studying nursing and economics at Simmons College nearby.

4. Prince Bhumibol was the youngest of the family’s three children, with an elder brother and sister.

5. At the time of his birth Prince Bhumibol was several steps away from succession to the Thai throne. His brother Prince Ananda held precedence.

6. Prince Mahidol died in 1928, when his son was only a year old and the family returned to Thailand where, as a young boy, Prince Bhumibol briefly attended School. But in 1933, following a military coup, King Prajadhipok ordered the family to move to Lausanne, Switzerland. There the Prince continued his education.

7. While the family was living in Switzerland, political changes in Thailand started the chain of events that would eventually elevate the young Prince Bhumibol to the throne.

8. In 1932, following the coup, King Prajadhipok agreed a new constitution that would replace Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional one, and in 1935 he abdicated the throne in favour of his nephew, Prince Ananda, then 10 years old. The two young princes visited Thailand briefly in 1938-39.

9. During the greater part of the Second World War Thailand was controlled by a pro-Japanese puppet government, and Princes Ananda and Bhumibol did not return there until late 1945, when Prince Ananda went to Bangkok for his coronation.

10. As a result there was no sitting king until the family returned after World War Two in 1945 and it was not clear then what kind of monarchy might be re-established.

11. Following the tragic shooting to death of King Ananda on 9 June 1946, this task fell to the 18 year-old Bhumibol.

12. Two months later, after the legislature had appointed a two-man regency council to rule pending his coming of age, Prince Bhumibol returned to Switzerland to complete his education.

13. The young King had planned to become an architect and had enrolled at the University of Lausanne to study Engineering. Following his brother’s death, however, he changed his course to Law and Political Science.

14. In October 1948, King Bhumibol was seriously injured in a motor accident in Lausanne, which left him blind in one eye and paralysed part of his face. Both the cremation of his brother and the coronation had to be postponed.

15. By the time of his coronation, the King had married Princess Mom Rachawong Sirikit Kitiyakara, a great-granddaughter of a former king and in so, a distant cousin. She was at the time described as one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world.

16. King Bhumipol had first met Princess Sirikit in Paris, where her father was serving as ambassador. She was 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist. While in hospital recovering from the motor accident, King Bhumibol asked to see her and they soon became engaged.

17. Their wedding was on the 28th April 1950, and is remembered as a modest affair.

18. A week later, on 5th May 5 1950, the formal coronation rites took place in the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall in the Grand Palace. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy. The date of his coronation is celebrated each 5thMay in Thailand as Coronation Day, a public holiday.

19. The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin beach in southern Thailand before they returned to Switzerland, where the King completed his studies. They settled in Thailand in 1951.

20. In 1956 King Bhumibol followed Thailand’s spiritual tradition of entering the Buddhist monkhood of Sangkha for 15 days to practice meditation and was ordained by the Supreme Patriarch on 22nd October at the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace.

21. King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit had one son and three daughters. The successor to the throne King Maha Vajiralongkorn, born 28 July 1952, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, born 5 April 1951, her son Bhumi Jensen was tragically killed in the 2004 tsunami. HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, born 2 April 1955 and HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, born 4 July 1957.

22. King Bhumibol was also a writer and musician. He translated several works of literature into Thai.

23. The King had been a keen sportsman that excelled at skiing, tennis and diving. A skilled sailor, he once sailed a dinghy single-handed across the dangerous Gulf of Thailand; in 1967 he won a gold medal in dinghy sailing for Thailand at the fourth South-East Asia Peninsula Games.

24. He developed an extraordinary rapport with ordinary Thais, and would spend most of every year travelling between a series of palaces around the country. From these he would lead convoys down dusty roads deep into the countryside meeting local people, visiting rural projects or entertaining local dignitaries.

25. On 5th December 2007 the country celebrated King Bhumibol’s 80th birthday.

26. The announcement came on 13 October 2016 – “His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, born December 5 1927, had passed away at Siriraj Hospital peacefully.”

King Bhumibol transformed Thailand over the course of 70 years and became a father figure and much-loved beacon of stability who will always be held close in the Thai people’s heart.

Since 1946 the status of the monarchy in Thailand succeeded largely because of this young man who was caring yet restrained, a renaissance king keen on arts, music and crafts, a religious king steeped in Buddhist ritual.

As one of the mourners wrote at the time of his passing – ”We aren’t the best country in the world, but we were the country with the best King in the world.“ Some may argue that indeed, Thailand can proudly hold claim to both.

Read the blog posts on my visits to Amazing Thailand here, and connect with Thailand South Africa on their blog at http://blog-thailandsa.co.za/ to learn more abut this wonderful country.

 Above pic provided.

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Dawn JorgensenDawn Jorgensen
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