William J. Klausner

A senior  fellow of Institute of Security and International studies, Faculty of Political  Science, Chulalongkorn University

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej: An Appreciation

I first heard of Thailand’s monarchy and its long list of illustrious Kings in the early 1950s while studying at Yale Graduate School in the field of Southeast Asia Studies. We were instructed in the various conceptions of Thai Kingship: the Phracao Maha Sommutti Khatiyarat, King of Righteousness, the Great Elect; the Cakavatti, World Conqueror, World Turning Monarch; the Dkammaraja, the just, virtuous and wise King, possessing the ten kingly virtues and ruled by the Dharma. We learned of the coronation and assumption to the Throne of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, on May 5, 1950 and of his being conceived of as the nation’s soul and its symbol of unity. However, no amount of academic research and study could prepare me for the actual reality of the Thai monarchy and the dynamic role it plays as a central pillar of the Thai body politic. I came to a greater appreciation and understanding of that reality when I arrived in Siam in mid 1955 to undertake ethnographic research in a small northeastern Thai village, some sixteen kilometers from the provincial capital, Ubol. In every village house there were pictures of their Majesties. While politicians in the capital often questioned the allegiance of the Isan pleasantry to the Thai nation, the villagers themselves had no such doubts. Though they spoke proudly of their Lao cultural heritage, their political antennae were turned, not towards Laos, but towards their King, Rama IX. Their patriotism found meaning and expression in their unquestioned loyalty and allegiance to their grounds of the Ubol Provincial Hall that I felt the full emotional, as well as intellectual, impact of the citizenry’s reverential devotion to their King. In the late 1955, the King accompanied by the Queen, visited Ubol in the first of What were to be countless up-country royal visits to the remote regions of the Kingdom. I was seated amongst a crowd of thousands who had patiently waited hours, oblivious to the heat and dust, for Their Majesties’ arrival. I could not help but share in crowd’s indefinable frisson of awe as His Majesty slowly walked up a path lined with his devoted subjects. He graciously accepted their gifts of local fruits and handicrafts, talked with them and stepped on the white handkerchiefs laid beneath his feet. These bits of cloth, now imbued with his sacred presence, were then reverentially displayed in a place of honor in their homes. This visit dramatically affirmed, if such a testament was needed, His Majesty’s preeminence in the hearts and mind of all his subjects throughout the land.

Over the next four and a half decades, I have observed Prime Ministers come and go; innumerable constitutions promulgated and abolished; Thai culture and society in the throes of an often dizzying transition. But, in the midst of all this change, there has been one constant and that has been the King and the continuing reverence, loyalty and devotion of the Thai public that I first observed in Ubol some forty-five years ago. Over the years, Thai society has often been said to be in state of “controlled chaos”. It has been His Majesty who have so artfully and tirelessly provided the “control” in this socio-political ambiance of crises, tensions and conflicts. It has been the Siamese monarchy, embodied in the august personage of the King, which may be perceived as safeguarding, enabling and energizing the body politic until the political system of parliamentary democracy is sufficiently mature to do so itself. It has been his Majesty who, over recent decades, has single-handedly interceded to defuse armed confrontation between democratic and authoritarian groups and encouraged the peaceful resolution of the conflicts and the consequent resumption of some semblance of social and political stability. Western scholars have marveled at the ability of His Majesty to retain a seemingly inexhaustible and undiminished charismatic balance, so necessary to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, even though he must momentarily descend from the lofty heights where he stands as a symbol of unity beyond the fray below. By his finely tuned and timely interventions, he has effectively provided parliamentary democracy with the political time and space to develop and ultimately affirm its own political bona fides and credentials and hopefully reach its full potential.

His Majesty has further promoted the progressive development of the Thai nation through his advice, counsel, constructive criticism and exhortations, given both publicly and privately, relating to a variety problem areas affecting the livelihood and quality of life of his subjects eg. in the fields of irrigation, flood control, alternative cropping, farm management, conservation of national resources, primary health care, traffic, environmental pollution etc. In more than 2000 innovative government funded Royal projects in the above fields which he has initiated and with which he is closely identified, His Majesty has provided community development models for all to emulate and follow.

The Thai citizenry knows His Majesty will never waver in his protection, encouragement and support. However, all must also heed His Majesty’s injunction for his subjects to come to their own decisions, to persevere and, through a subsistence economy, to prosper both materially and spiritually. If they do so and if community and national interests come before personal interests, then His Majesty’s vision will be realized.


Note: His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej: An Appreciation, Transforming Thai Culture, 5th ed. Bangkok: Amarin Printing and Publishing Public Company Limited. pp. 17-20.

Keywords : King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thai monarchy, William J. Klausner
Aug 11, 06   

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