Born on the 5th December 1927 and dying on the 13th October 2016, Bhumibol Adulyadej grew to become arguably the greatest king in Thailand’s history. His name means “Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power” in Sanskrit.
The youngest son of the Prince of Songkhla, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, Bhumibol was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, due to his father attending Harvard University at the time. The following year, 1928, Bhumipol came to Thailand after his father, having already received a Certificate in Public Health, received his Masters Degree with Honours from Harvard.
Unfortunately, his father was to pass away the following year from kidney failure. His successor was Bhumipol’s uncle, Somdet Chaofa Prajadhipok Sakdidej.
Following much political turmoil and upheaval in Thailand during the 1930s, the childless king abdicated, which saw Bhumipol’s older brother, Prince Ananda Mahidol, ascend the throne in 1935.
The previous year, 1934, Bhumibol was given his first camera, which sparked a lifelong enthusiasm for all things photographic. His brand of choice, at least in later years, was Canon.
Never one for garish displays of wealth, even though he was one of the richest monarchs in the world, often his camera was the most affordable, low budget, entry level camera. Being a true monarch for the people may have had a lot to do with that. By choosing a camera affordable to the everyday Thai, this invariably made him a man his subjects could relate to.
In 1942, Bhumibol became a jazz enthusiast, learning to play saxophone, which launched another passion – music; a passion that he maintained to his dying day. Due to this passion, one can readily see His Majesty’s influence on Jazz in Thailand.
He was no slouch on the saxophone either, having had a two hour jam session with legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman and drummer Gene Krupa in 1960.
American jazz great, Lionel Hampton, described His Majesty as “simply the coolest king in the land” after seeing his talent on the saxophone. As well as saxophone he also played clarinet, trumpet and the piano, and had put together his own palace band.
Often visiting France from Lausanne in Switzerland, it was in Paris that he first met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the then Thai ambassador to France. She was also a great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn – Rama V; making her a cousin to Bhumibol. At 15 years of age, she was then studying to be a concert pianist at the music academy in Paris. They were engaged in July 1949 and married a week before Bhumipol’s coronation.
In 1946, after the mysterious death by gunshot of his older brother, King Ananda Mahidol, Bhumipol ascended the throne to become Rama IX. The official coronation did not take place until the 5th May 1950, due to many delays and complications with both the required ritual cremation of his older brother and also the injury to Bhumipol in a car accident in Switzerland, for which he lost the use of his right eye. In his place, his uncle Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, ruled as Prince Regent from 1946 until the coronation.
As Bhumipol recited the words, few knew how prophetic the traditional Oath of Accession would really be; “We shall reign with righteousness for the benefits and happiness of the Siamese people.”
We shall reign with righteousness, for the benefits and happiness of the Siamese people.
Having been educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, for much of his life, studying science and technology, law and political science, and inspired by the example of his parents who worked steadily to improve the lives of the Thai people, the new king turned his mind to the betterment of his people’s living conditions, their needs and concerns. This sparked the initiatives known as the Royal Development Projects (RDP).
Having gained vast insights from visiting countless rural areas, the (RDP) were a direct result of his findings. He also had the foresight to realise that if he wanted to truly improve the lives of those people, he must also count as paramount, the protection of the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources.
With Royal residences in Bangkok and Hua Hin, Chiang Mai to the North, Narathiwat to the South and Sakon Nakhon in the NorthEast, his majesty was able to visit the entire Kingdom to research these projects. In the 65 years since the first project was initiated, His Majesty has launched over 4,000 projects to assist his people. He has been awarded some of the highest honours possible from Unesco and many other organisations and countries of the world. Those honours include awards for peace, the environment and conservation, health, drug control, meteorology and hydrology, culminating in the Unesco Philae Medal, recognising His Majesty’s devotion to rural development and his people’s wellbeing.
A list of the awards presented to His Majesty King Bhumipol can be seen here.
In 2006, in recognition of His Majesty the King’s numerous royal projects and his unwavering commitment to improving the lives of his people, the United Nations chose the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his reign to award His Majesty the United Nations Development Programme’s first-ever Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award. Personally presented by UN Secretary-General H.E. Kofi Annan on May 26, 2006; this distinction brings global recognition to His Majesty’s extraordinary achievements, dedication and compassion.
His Royal Development Projects have tackled everything from cloud seeding with the Royal Rain Project, to replenishing groundwater with the Moisture Retention Dams and the building of a bridge across the Chao Phraya river to alleviate traffic congestion in Bangkok. He gave the Northern hill tribes something more beneficial to grow other than the Opium poppy. During a visit to Doi Pui in 1969, the King learned of a variety of peach tree that could provide the local farmers with a higher income than the Opium poppy. His Majesty realised that alternative agriculture, including fruit trees as a major component, could be used to replace Opium and would generate higher incomes, solving the problems of poverty, Opium production and deforestation at the same time.
The list of successful projects is endless. Here was a man that gave of himself and worked tirelessly to make the lot of his people better than it had been.
He is a man most befitting the title “Father of the Nation”