5 December 2004
By Peter Cummins
Photos: Courtesy of the Bureau of the Royal Household
Almost on the eve of his 77th birthday, King Bhumibol
Adulyadej, observing the violence in three of Thailand’s southern
provinces - Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat - warned that the country “might
fall into ruin” unless the army and police can end violence in the
Muslim-majority south, where officials blame a separatist insurgency for
more than 540 deaths this year.
The King who usually only intervenes during acute
national crises, urged soldiers and police officers to cooperate to deal
with the region’s turmoil.
Muslim leaders in Thailand’s southern provinces have
complained that rifts between the military and police, along with their
hard-line tactics, have made the situation worse.
Following an uproar over the recent killings, many dying
after being crammed into trucks and suffocating, the King told the
government to take the “gentle approach” to curbing the violence.
The King expressed dismay that the region’s violence
continued even during HM the Queen’s two-month visit to the Southern
Provinces. “This violence”, admonished the King, addressing top military
and police officers “should not have happened,” adding that “the Queen
has just witnessed the unrest and disorder.”
November 2003 His Majesty the King grants an audience at Piamsuk Villa of
Klai Kangwol Palace, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, to Her Royal Highness
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and members of the International Award
Committee of the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation, on the occasion of their
visit to Thailand in order to attend the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation
Committee Meeting for the year 2003.
“But if the military and police strongly, seriously
cooperate in handling the situation, peace would be restored. If not, the
nation might fall into ruin, meaning the people will live without peace and
happiness, the people will have no security,” He cautioned.
For her part, HM the Queen was appalled at the
“needless killing of ordinary people, by elements she did not know”,
even after regular visits to these areas for more than 30 years.
Born on Monday, the fifth of December 1927 at the Mount
Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the
third - and youngest - child of their Royal Highnesses, Prince and Princess
Mahidol of Songkhla. His birth certificate registered the future King as,
simply, “Baby Songkhla”. There is now a square in Cambridge named after
King Bhumibol, dedicated in honour of the royal birth.
As yellow is the Thai colour for Monday, it is little
wonder then that “Monday’s Child” adopted yellow as the official
colour for the Royal Household insignia.
His Majesty reaches his seventy-seventh birthday on
Sunday, December, 5, 2004 and, as the Thai people celebrate the anniversary
of the birth of the world’s longest-reigning monarch, the Chiangmai
Mail presents this supplement, prepared by special correspondent Peter
Cummins, as a “Happy Birthday” tribute to our beloved King.
There will inevitably be some familiar material in parts
in this story, for the King’s development projects have been ongoing for
more than 50 years and there is, of course, a historical perspective which
has been encapsulated.
H.M. the King:
A gold-medal sailor
Thirty-seven years ago, on December 16, 1967, world
sporting history was established down in Pattaya and it was an occasion that
probably will never be equalled. At the National Stadium in Bangkok on that
day, His Majesty the King and his eldest daughter, Princess Ubolratana
mounted the winners’ podium to receive a gold medal from Her Majesty Queen
It was the Awards Ceremony of the Fourth South East Asia
Peninsular Games (now known as the South East Asian (SEA) Games). King
Bhumibol, racing OK dinghy number 27, and Princess Ubolratana, sailing OK
18, finished equal first in the OK Dinghy Division of those games.
It was only in the last race where the Princess, trailing
father, with the late Dr Rachot Kanjanavanit in the lead, made some quick
manoeuvres on the last beat to the finishing line. Although the petite
Princess was over-whelmed by the strong north-easterly prevailing in Pattaya
Bay, she used guile and wits, far in excess of her tender years and, by
tacking on wind-shifts, the Princess crossed the fleet to finish first and
equal on points with the King, who still trailed Rachot, in third place.
When a father and daughter finish equal first in an
international yachting competition, it is history. But, when the equal
winners are a King and his daughter, a Princess, it is immortal. That day,
December 16, thirty-seven years ago, has now been enshrined as Thailand’s
National Sports Day, in honour of the occasion.
It was actually M.C. Bhisadej Rajani who introduced the
King to sailing - perhaps by default. In early 1963, the King was rowing off
the Klai Kangwol Palace, when he passed Prince Bhisadej sailing along - very
Upon arriving back at the beach, the King examined M.C.
Bhisadej’s boat and thought there must be a way of sailing faster.
That started the interest and together they built a
number of boats in a room at the Chitralada Palace in Bangkok, using the
palace ‘moat’ to test some of the dinghies.
The King and Prince Bhisadej built and sailed the
King’s Enterprise, “Rajpatan” and, later, in April 1966, in the
single-handed OK dinghies they had also built, they sailed across the Gulf
from Klai Kangwol to Toey Harbour, Sattahip. This gruelling crossing -
recognized at the time as the longest open-dinghy voyage out of sight of
land - has been commemorated each year as the “Vega Rudder” race, so
named after the King presented the dinghy’s rudder as a perpetual trophy.
During the 1960s, the Royal Family often went to sail at
the newly-formed Varuna Marine Club at South Pattaya and many there,
including such visiting Royalty as UK’s Prince Philip and the then Danish
Princess - now Queen Margrethe II - enjoyed the hospitality and camaraderie
of the Thai Royal Family.
In recognition of the King’s prowess as a dinghy sailor
- and his great contributions to sport, particularly - at the time of his
fifth cycle, 60th birthday in 1987, the International Olympic Committee
bestowed the Olympic Order Gold upon the King, the only reigning Monarch to
receive such an honour.
Royal Development Projects
In his Coronation Oath, promulgated on the fifth of May
1950, the newly-crowned Rama the Ninth vowed that “We will reign with
righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people” and
during the almost-55 years which have passed since that auspicious day, the
concept of “righteousness” has dominated his reign.
In fact, the King has, throughout his rule, constantly
revered the age-old Buddhist concept of ‘Kingship’ as defined in the
“Sutta Pitaka” of the “Tripitaka” in which a King is defined as
“Mahasammata” - a King of Righteousness. The Buddhist scriptures also
define the genesis of the universe and the progression of evils which befall
mankind: greed, stealing and lying and the inevitable repercussions of
censure and punishment.
Our King has steadfastly reigned by these principles,
embodying good kingship in his own life and often speaking out against the
affliction of the evils so clearly spelled out in the Buddhist philosophy -
evils and afflictions which seem to have become progressively worse in the
It was in 1969 when the King, greatly concerned about the
cultivation of and addiction to opium among the hilltribes, initiated the
Royal Development Project, establishing it with his own personal funds. Not
only was the poppy cultivation a destructive force but the slash-and-burn
farming practiced by the hilltribes was destroying vast areas of forest and
devastating the watersheds of the northern areas.
October 2003 His Majesty the King presents the Annual Kathin Robes to the
congregation of monks at Wat Bavornives, Bangkok.
The King then established the Royal Project Foundation,
appointing Prince Bhisadej Rajani, life-long friend, advisor and confidante,
as director and, in the more than three decades of Bhisadej’s dynamic
leadership, the Royal Projects have incorporated five development centres
around the Kingdom.
A typical example of the King’s ongoing concern for the
people and the environment in which they live, was a field trip he undertook
in 2001 to Prachuap Khiri Khan Province to visit the Royal Rainmaking
Research and Development Institute. But he did not go alone; rather, he took
a group of students from the Klai Kangwol School with him to inspect the
project. The King patiently explained the mechanisms and complexities of the
system to the students.
“Such a project as this helps alleviate drought and
water shortages - often critical in such dry provinces as Prachuab Khiri
Khan and many other rural areas,” the King pointed out to the youngsters.
His Majesty’s ‘outing’ with these school children again underlined his
concern about the efficacy of his numerous development projects in reaching
out to even the least of his subjects.
The King established five other Royal Development Study
Centres - or, as they are better known - “Living Museums” - situated in
the roughest terrain in their respective regions. These centres are the
locale for experiments in re-forestation, irrigation, land development and
farm technology which are conducted to find practical applications within
the constraints of local conditions, geography and topography. His
Majesty’s aim in all these centres is to restore the natural balance to
enable people to become self-supporting.
The first centre organized was that of Khao Hin Son in
the rocky area of Chachoengsao’s Phanom Sarakam District. Here, the centre
studies how to turn the barren soil, caused by de-forestation, back into
fertile land again.
Other centres are located at strategic places around the
Kingdom. The Pikul Thong Centre at Narathiwat studies the swampy, acidic
land of the southern-most region.
The Phu Phan Centre in Sakhon Nakhon studies soil
salinization and irrigation in the country’s biggest region, the Northeast
which suffers from endemic drought.
The Krung Kraben Bay Centre in Chantaburi examines the
rehabilitation of mangrove forests and coastal areas following massive
The Huay Sai Centre in Petchaburi studies the
rehabilitation of degraded forests and shows villagers, in their turn, how
to protect the forests.
Perhaps applying the “self-sufficiency” philosophy to
his own approach, the King would fly over a particular area, armed with
aerial photographs and maps of the terrain, noting features as they passed
beneath the plane. Being a capable photographer himself, he would shoot his
own pictures and later superimpose them over the charts to obtain a detailed
image of the area of his concern. This greatly helped in his planning of
specific development projects.
Throughout the more than five decades that the King has
ruled Thailand, not only Thais, but people around the world have become
accustomed to seeing His Majesty travelling to remote areas of the country.
He works with - and brings rational development to - even the poorest and
most disadvantage groups.
He has often been filmed leading officials, farmers and
many diverse groups up rough mountain trails, over bridges, punting along in
small sampans, to initiate sustainable projects and ideas, aimed at helping
the many who have been forgotten or left behind in the development process.
His Majesty’s insightful approach to local prevailing
conditions has enabled him to improvise new theories for agricultural
development, to provide guidelines for educating farmers on
self-sufficiency, and to solve problems of goitre by feeing iodine into salt
roads at strategic points.
In all these initiatives, His Majesty has promoted a
simple approach using environmentally-friendly techniques and utilizing
moderate amounts of locally available resources. For example, before
environmentalism became a major force in the development equation, His
Majesty was using vetiver grass to prevent erosion, controlling ground water
levels to reduce soil acidity, and seeding clouds with simple materials such
as dry ice, to produce rain.
A simple - yet holistic - approach
His Majesty works on a nation-wide basis, not just in
rural Thailand, but all over the Kingdom. Among his most significant
contributions have been bringing different people and agencies together to
work more cooperatively than previously on urban problems. He has
coordinated activities between different interest groups and agencies in
Bangkok to deal with water purity and flood control in simple, natural ways.
The King’s lifetime dedication to natural development
as a means of improving the lives of his people inspired the Royal
Development Projects Board to make better known the vast range of the Royal
Projects, especially to the more marginalized echelons of society who are
the ultimate beneficiaries of the King’s wisdom.
Ultimately, the Department of Technical and Economic
Cooperation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) joined
forces to help further the Royal initiatives. For some 50 years, these two
organizations have focused attention on His Majesty’s devotion to
sustainable social progress, better standards of living, as well as unity in
development and the quest for peace and security.
The UNDP, particularly, as the world’s largest source
of technical assistance aid, has been actively supporting many of the
King’s initiatives, benefiting from his example and joining his efforts to
improve human capacity, sustain livelihoods and, especially, to help
regenerate the environment.
Nevertheless, the King’s philosophy to development
problems has been to “keep it simple” - relying on an intimate knowledge
of nature and her immutable law, such as using fresh water to flush out
polluted water or dilute it through utilization of normal tidal
fluctuations. The ubiquitous water hyacinth, too, can be ‘harnessed’ to
The results of any development, the King asserts, must
reach the people directly, as a means of overcoming immediate problems,
translating into “enough to live, enough to eat”, while looking at a
longer-term result of “living well and eating well.”
His Majesty compares this to using “adharma” (evil)
to fight evil, observing that both pollution and the water weed are a
menace, but they can be used to counteract each other, thus lessening the
damage to the environment.
The King himself practices this “simple approach” and
brings a down-to-earth approach to which the people can readily relate. He
studies and deliberates exhaustively on the particular project and then
reveals his thinking in short, easy-to-grasp titles. The very simplicity
belies the profundity of the philosophy, for each title reflects a much
deeper insight into a given problem and often, at the same time, hints at
the mode of operation to be employed.
The Royal Development Projects Board, under the Office of
the Prime Minister, also serves as the secretariat for the Chai Pattana
Foundation which is directly responsible for the work related to the Royal
Now, more than three decades later, the results can be
seen in the new life which has come to many of the mountain villages.
Greenery has returned to once-denuded forest areas and barren hills and the
opium cultivation, a cause of extreme national concern, is virtually a past
“The key to the success of the Project lies in His
Majesty’s guidelines,” explains Royal Projects Director HSH Prince
Bhisadej Rajani. “They focus on obtaining knowledge, through research,
avoiding bureaucratic entanglements and swift action to respond to the
villagers’ needs, while promoting self-reliance,” he adds.
The effectiveness of this approach has been applauded
internationally. For example, in 1998 the Royal Projects won both the
“Magsaysay Award for International Understanding” and the “Thai Expo
Award” for attaining the highest quality standards of Thai Goods for
The King’s own views are that development must respect
different regions’ geography and peoples’ way of life. “We cannot
impose our ideas on the people - only suggest. We must meet them, ascertain
their needs and then propose what can be done to meet their expectations,”
the King pointed out recently.
The King’s ideas are in direct contrast to the
bureaucracy’s wish to impose standards from the top down, with the
inflexibility inherent therein. “Don’t be glued to the textbook,” he
admonishes developers “who,” he said, “must compromise and come to
terms with the natural and social environment of the community.”
The ‘Complete’ Sportsman
Inaugurated seventeen years ago to honour His Majesty the
King on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, the Phuket King’s Cup
Regatta, which has been held every year since then, with this year’s 18th
regatta, celebrating - and opening on Sunday, 05 December, the day of the
Monarch’s 77th birthday.
October 2003 Their Majesties the King and Queen receive the APEC leaders who
came to attend the 11th APEC Economic Leader’s Meeting hosted by Thailand,
in audience, at the Chakri Throne Hall, the Grand Palace.
The King has consistently encouraged all sportsmen
and women everywhere, to “Put the sporting spirit first, strive for
victory - and friendship.”
His own example has always been a great source of
inspiration to athletes everywhere and his Gold Medal award as a dinghy
sailor 37 years ago is equalled by a land-based record, being the only
person to have lit the torch opening the Asian Games on four occasions, the
last being in Bangkok in 1998.
His Majesty is also well known as being
highly-knowledgeable about many sports having, at various times,
participated himself in skiing, motor racing, ice-skating, badminton,
tennis, swimming and even a little golf.
In recognition of the King’s prowess as a dinghy sailor
- and his great contributions to sport, particularly - at the time of his
fifth cycle, 60th birthday in 1987, the International Olympic Committee
bestowed the ‘Insignia of the Olympic Order’ upon the King, the only
reigning Monarch to receive such and honour.
As the then-president of the Thailand Olympic Committee,
the late Air Chief Marshal Dawee Chullasapya emphasized when presenting the
King with this highly-prestigious honour at the Rajanives Hall, Chitralada
palace, in December, 1987: “The King is not just a world-class yachtsman,
but he has also participated in - and encouraged - many other sports.”
“The Olympic award was made not only to recognize the
King’s prowess as a dinghy sailor,” said ACM Dawee, “but also to
acknowledge the leading role he has played in promoting all sports - in
Thailand, in the region and internationally - always displaying a firm grasp
on the history and the finer points of a multitude of sports,” Dawee
Another Olympic honour was bestowed upon His Majesty in
2001, when the International Olympic Committee presented him with the
IOC’s “Lalounis Cup”.
The King’s musical talents - from scores and
compositions ranging from jazz to classical - are well known. In fact,
earlier this year, at a concert given by the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra, in honour of Her Majesty’s 72nd, Sixth Cycle birthday, the
orchestra paid tribute to His Majesty’s musical abilities, playing
highlights during the concert intermission, from the King’s own
composition “Kam Warn” (Sweet Words), arranged by Thai conductor and
musician “par extraordinaire”, Rear Admiral Usni Pramoj.
His Majesty’s formative musical life was influenced by
the culture and history of Europe. His predilection towards jazz saw him
excel there too, playing with some of the best contemporary jazz bands.
It is apt to record here that during Their Majesties’
state visit to Austria in 1946, a number of the King’s compositions were
aired at the Concert Hall of Vienna’s Msikverein, home of the Vienna
Philharmonic. Two days later, on the fifth of October, 1946, His Majesty was
installed as an Honorary Member of “Die Akademie fur Musik und
Darstellende Kunst in Wien” (the Vienna Academy of Music and Dramatic
Arts) - indeed a rare honour for His Majesty and Thailand.
Last year, the King was awarded a Doctorate in Music by
the University of North Texas, to acknowledge his competence with several
instruments, including piano, saxophone, clarinet, guitar and violin and his
compositions in English and French.
Earlier this year, the University’s 25-member “One
O’clock Jazz Band” came to Thailand to perform before His Majesty.
Thus, through the illustrious decades of his rule, the
King has been the very embodiment of his “Oath of Accession” that “We
will reign with Righteousness for the Benefit and Happiness of the Siamese
2003 His Majesty the King grants an audience at Klai Kangwol Palace,
Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, to members of the Development and Construction
Committee of the Royally Sponsored Robot Doctor and party, who came to
demonstrate the Robot Doctor to His Majesty and to receive royal advice as
guidelines for future construction.
The King, greatly disturbed by the violence in the South,
furthermore, has been troubled by the corruption which he pointed out would
“surely destroy the country”, the governance of which should be based on
“the five Buddhist Precepts”.
The King counselled Thais to unite, seek peace and to
lead a modest life and be satisfied with what they have, as a way to prevent
corruption, surmising that “the wealthier a person becomes, the more
corrupted one becomes.” The King gave an example of the high-scale
corruption emanating from this concept, citing the greed of employees of
such companies as Enron and WorldCom in the United States.
The King also urged his subjects, “To take an active
role in the national effort to eliminate the illicit drug trade - the
scourge of Thai society.”
This, then, is our Chiangmai Mail tribute to our
Beloved Monarch, on the day celebrating his seventy-seventh birthday. We
know that he will continue to be - as he has been for more than a
half-century of his just reign - “The light of his land, the pride of his
people and a shining example to all peoples of an increasingly-troubled
Long Live the King! Happy Birthday, Your Majesty.