His Majesty King
Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great
Thailand’s Compassionate Monarch
By Peter Cummins
Photos: Courtesy of the Bureau of the Royal Household
As His Majesty reaches his 78th
birthday this day, the Thai Nation celebrates again, in a thousand different
ways, with every person from the youngest to the oldest renewing the pledge
of loyalty and devotion to the beloved King who, during this year,
celebrated his 55th year of
marriage to Queen Sirikit.
Next year will inaugurate a year-long celebration of the
60th anniversary of His
Majesty’s accession to the Thai Throne, on 9 June 1946, as the Ninth King
of the Rama Dynasty, the world’s longest-reigning – and, serving –
A vast number of festivities are being planned and the
Office of the Royal Development Projects Board is organizing a “60 years
of Reign for the benefit of the people” exhibition to celebrate this
One of the main aims is to gather information and present
a progress report of the myriad Royal Development Projects Kingdom-wide.
Other activities will include the establishment of a learning centre to
educate the people using examples and information gleaned from past and
The Board anticipates an “Exhibition on Tour” and
will also organize exhibitions all over the Kingdom so people can learn
first-hand of the all-encompassing benefits disbursed by the Royal Projects.
Majesty the King during a visit to a Royally Initiated Development Project
in the area of Nong Yai, Mueang Chumphon District, Chumphon Province. 20
Inevitably, there will be some familiar parts in this
dedication to His Majesty on the occasion of his 78th
birthday, 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. However, there are still many aspects of the King’s
development theories, philosophy, and processes which have not been widely
exposed and which, in a short article like this, it is not feasible to try
to incorporate. They are the material for a large research publication which
the Chiangmai Mail will undertake some time in the future.
Born on Monday, the fifth of December 1927, at the Mount
Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej was
named “Baby Songkhla” by the hospital staff, for there was not an
official name for the future King.
The Chiangmai Mail presents this supplement,
prepared by special correspondent Peter Cummins, as a “Happy Birthday”
tribute to our beloved King.
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, in
the 55 years which have passed since that auspicious day, the concept of
“righteousness” has dominated his reign. In fact, the King has
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.
Majesties the King and Queen inspecting the operation control centre of the
Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand in the Huai Khwang area, during a
visit to preside over the Opening Ceremony of the Mass Rapid Transit Chaloem
Ratchamongkhon Line (Hua Lamphong Bang Sue Section) of the Mass Rapid
Transit Authority of Thailand, at Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Bangkok. 3
Our King has steadfastly reigned by these principles,
embodying good kingship in his own life and example 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 past tumultuous year.
For The People
Some three years ago, His Majesty went to the Hua Hin
airfield in 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 with him, to inspect the royally-initiated rainmaking
project. The King patiently explained the mechanisms and complexities of the
system to the youngsters from the Klai Kangwol School.
Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri
Sirindhorn, planting vetiver grass during a visit to Huai Sai Agricultural
Research and Development Centre under the Royal Initiative of His Majesty
the King, Cha-am District, Phetchaburi Province. 14 July 1998
“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 enthralled
His Majesty’s ‘outing’ with these schoolchildren
again underscored his concern about the efficacy of his numerous development
projects in reaching out to even the least of his subjects. This occasion
was a little reminiscent of an event four years earlier. Then, the King was
so intent upon his dedication to the people through his “middle way” -
the Buddhist philosophy of balance, inter-relatedness and self-reliance -
that he escorted a group of journalists to visit the Huay Hong Krai Centre
which acts as a model for catchment area conservation for the north.
The fact that it was His Majesty’s only press trip for
many years - and has not been repeated since - indicated the importance that
he attached, in that case, to the sites where the farmers can observe the
ongoing research, and choose whatever is most suitable for their needs and
According to the observations of one member of the media
accompanying the King at that time, “While international development
literature devotes much space to formulating projects aimed at ‘people
participation’ and beneficial end-results for the intended recipients, His
Majesty had been working according to these guidelines - before the
development community even thought of embracing them.
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 reforestation, 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 is to restore the natural balance, to enable people to
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 deforestation, back into
fertile land again. Other centres are located at strategic places around the
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 salinity 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 destruction. The Huay Sai Centre in
Petchaburi studies the rehabilitation of degraded forests and shows
villagers, in their turn, how to protect the forests.
When he was in doubt, the King would fly over a
particular area, armed with aerial photographs and maps of the terrain,
noting features as they passed underneath. And, being a good photographer
himself, he also took His own pictures, later to juxtapose them on area
charts to obtain a complete and detailed image of the specifics which helped
his planning of various development projects.
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 feeding iodine into
salt roads at strategic points.
In all these works, 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 level to reduce
soil acidity, and seeding clouds with simple materials such as dry ice, to
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 absorb pollutants.
Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri
Sirindhorn, presiding over the Opening Ceremony of “Thailand Science-Tech
2004” at Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani, Pak Kret District, Nonthaburi
Province. 19 October 2004
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 King undertook the establishment of the Royal
Development Projects in 1969, primarily as a means of arresting the opium
growing and deforestation caused by the Hilltribes’ slash and burn
agriculture and to improve their standard of living. The first was
established at a Hmong village on Doi Pui in Chiang Mai Province and now has
spread to Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son. Over the years, the Projects
have been instrumental in the conversion of the poppy fields being turned
into groves of temperate fruits and vegetables.
Under the dynamic direction of the King’s close
colleague, Prince Bhisadej Rajani, who is the Director of the Projects,
operating from his base at the Chiang Mai University, there are currently
four research stations and 35 Royal Project Development Centres which
incorporate some 300 villages, comprising 14,000 households and
approximately 90,000 farmers.
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
development projects. 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 Prince Bhisadej. “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 Project won
both the “Magsaysay Award for International Understanding” and the Thai
Expo Award for attaining the quality standard of Thai Goods for Export.
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 King sees no need to spare any sensitivities - if there are any -
because he feels that the government approach is costly and authoritarian
which is why it has “failed miserably to address the country’s
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 People.”
The world’s longest-reigning Monarch,
this week celebrating his seventy-eighth birthday, continues
to be, as he has been for the half-century of his just reign,
“the light of his land, the pride of his people and a
shining example to all peoples of a troubled world”.
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