By Jeff Petry © 2012
Friday, April 6, 2012 commemorates 230 years of the current Chakri Dynasty, of which the present monarch, King Bhumibol the Great, is the ninth king, or Rama IX. He is the longest ruling monarch in the world, having ascended to the throne in 1946, 66 years ago. He is also undoubtedly one of the most beloved monarchs ever to have ruled, viewed by many of his subjects as far more than merely a mortal man.
This Thai national holiday is celebrated with great fanfare, especially in the capital Bangkok, as this was also the day that Bangkok was declared the capital of what was then known as Siam in the year 1782. On this day, the King, accompanied by members of the Royal Family, perform religious ceremonies to pay respect to the former rulers of Thailand.
The entire dynasty is honored first by the King at the Royal Chapel, then at the Royal Pantheon followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of King Rama I, the first Chakri King and founder of the Dynasty, at the Memorial Bridge.
Thai government officials, the Prime Minister, Ministers, high ranking officers, students, public and private organizations and people from all walks of life join together at the statue amid great celebration to honor and express their appreciation for all the accomplishments, peace, and stability that this revered Dynasty has provided the country for so many generations.
The Chakri Dynasty was founded by Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, or Rama I, born March 20, 1737 with the name Thong Duang; he ascended to the throne on April 6, 1782, and ruled for 28 years, consolidating the Kingdom like never before, as well as providing protection from Siam’s historical enemies, particularly the Burmese who had sacked Ayuttaya 14 years before.
Rama I has long been hailed as a devout Buddhist, a great leader, an inspired statesman, a brilliant lawmaker, and a poet. He also chose Bangkok’s present location as a highly defensible position and established Krung Thep, or the “City of Angels” in Thai, as the capital. He built the awe-inspiring Grand Palace, home of the Emerald Buddha, and passed on from his much accomplished life at the auspicious age of 72.
A succession of 8 Kings has since ruled Thailand, each contributing in their own way, according to their own abilities and affinities: Rama II and III oversaw a Golden Age of Literature and Arts in Thailand, not seen since the time of King Narai in Ayuttaya’s prime; Rama IV & V ruled wisely at a time of colonization of Thailand’s neighbors, negotiating Thailand’s position as an uncolonized “buffer state” between the British in Burma and the French in Indochina: Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
This was also the time of the introduction of Western science, technology, and increasing modernization to Thailand, as well as growing official relations with many nations. This was even more the case under the great, beloved, and benevolent King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V.
Change and reform were the order of the day under Rama V, and a modern system of administration was introduced to Thailand for the first time. Education reform spread throughout Thailand during Rama V’s 42-year reign, and the financial system was revised and set upon a firm footing. He remains many Thais most beloved historical monarch, and is honored in many households throughout the land.
His successor, King Vajiravudh, or Rama VI, further consolidated the great changes precipitated by his forebears. He was known for contributing greatly to the Thai language and Thai literature, so much so that he was referred to as the poet who was also a king. Many treaties between Thailand and world powers were signed during his reign and he replaced the old red flag with a white elephant with the modern tricolor Thai flag.
King Vajiravudh’s younger brother King Prachadhipok, Rama VII, became King upon the death of Rama VI in 1925. On June 24, 1932, a revolution took place and Rama VII accepted the proposal of a constitutional regime, thus becoming the last absolute monarch of Thailand. On March 24, 1934, he turned the throne over to his nephew King Ananda Mahidol, who ruled Thailand for 11 years.
This brings us back to the illustrious Rama IX the Great, our current King who presently performs the ceremonies on Chakri Memorial Day. In fact the whole nation participates in celebrating this grand and accomplished Dynasty with the King, proudly flying the Thai flag, offering flowers and garlands at the many statues of these Kings, and generally honoring these nine men who gave their powers and lives to make the House of Chakri the grand legend it has become.