He was born on the 5th December 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and his name was written only as ‘Baby Songkla‘ on his US birth certificate as his parents had to await for an auspicious name from King Rajadhipok (Rama VII). Eventually, a name was given – Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power (Bhumibol Adulyadej).
King Bhumibol became the world’s longest serving monarch by chance. King Rajadhipok abdicated in 1935 making Bhumibol’s brother Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) the King of Thailand at the age of nine. The throne was thrusted upon him when Ananda was found dead with a gunshot wound in the Grand Palace in 1946.
Under military rule, Bhumibol was nothing more than just a constitutional monarch with very little role to play. That changed in August 1957 when Sarit Thanarat and the Royalists seized power from Plaek Phibunsongkhram. From then on, Bhumibol strived to make the Royal family relevant to the people of Thailand once again and Sarit assisted in making Bhumibol the ‘Development King‘. Bhumibol embarked in rural development projects especially in areas then controlled by the Thai Communist Party. He was always seen with his second daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who would help take down notes during visits to the rural areas.
Although his subjects are required to not stand or walk any taller than the King, even prostrating at official occasions, Bhumibol would always sit on the same level with the peasants he visited – a gesture that allowed his subjects to open up to him about their problems. It is such gesture that not only made him most revered by the Thais, but made the Royal institution relevant in the eyes of the people too.
In later years, Bhumibol’s role would slowly be taken over by Princess Sirindhorn making her the more favourable heir to the Chakri throne than her elder brother, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Vajiralongkorn may well be succeeding Bhumibol but whether he would have the same touch as his father had with the subjects remains to be seen. He must now shine on his own and not be overshadowed by the legacy created by his father and sister Sirindhorn. The Thais would now be looking up to him as Rama 10.
And for the Thais, they have lost the only King they have ever known in their lifetime, and an excellent one too – a gift from God, they say.
Rest well, King Bhumipol Adulyadej. Rao rak Nai Luang.