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Cover story : 10 Sep 2004
Vol. 21 No. 11
Mahidol Day
By Rachawadi / Photos by royal courtesy
 
Prince Mahidol of Songkhla was the son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and the father of both King Rama VIII (1935-1946) and King Rama IX (1946-).

On his 100th birthday anniversary in 1991, the late Prince was nominated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a great personality of the world in the field of culture. After that, the Thai government designated the date of the Prince's death, 24 September, as Mahidol Day, in commemoration of this extraordinary man, his contributions to the development of medical education in Thailand and whose selfless devotion to the well-being of the whole nation will be briefly described below.
 
HRH Prince Mahidol as a child
 
The Prince was born in the Grand Palace in Bangkok in 1891 as the 69th of 76 royal children of King Chulalongkorn. At the age of 13 he was ordained as a novice at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and spent nearly four months at Wat Bovoranivet Vihara in Bangkok, before returning to the palace to continue his study. The next year, he was sent to Harrow, England, to study English. In 1907, he was enrolled in the Royal Prussian Military College at Potsdam and then transferred to the Imperial German Naval College at Flensburg, where he graduated in 1911 with the second highest marks in the final examination and the honour of winning a submarine design contest.

In 1917, he went to the United States to attend a pre-medicine course at Harvard. After an interruption in 1920 when he came back to Bangkok to attend the royal cremation of Queen Phatcharin, he received his certificate in Public Health in 1921. Five years later, he went back to Harvard to study medicine and was awarded an M.D. degree in 1928 at the age of 37.
 
 
The prince was married to Miss Sangwan, a commoner adopted by Queen Savang Vadhana as a daughter, whom he first met in the United States, in a royal ceremony in Bangkok in 1920. The princess gave birth to three children -- Princess Galyani Vadhana in London in 1923, Prince Ananda Mahidol in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1925, and Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej in Massachusetts, U.S.A. in 1927.
 
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Her late Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra with her three royal children (from left): Prince Ananda Mahidol (King Rama VIII), Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX) and Princess Galyani Vadhana
 
When he returned home after receiving his C.P.H. In 1921, he was appointed Director General of University Affairs. In this capacity, he was able to pursue the implementation of an agreement which he had negotiated and concluded with the Rockefeller Foundation on assistance in medical and nursing education. With the assistance and the donations made by the Prince himself and other members of the Royal Family, Thailand's first medical college, Siriraj School of Medicine, was established.

After completing his medical study at Harvard, he came home again in 1928 to start working tirelessly for Siriraj. However, much to his disappointment, he was not allowed to serve as an intern at the hospital attached to the college because of his noble status as a Prince of First Rank who was high on the line of succession to the throne.
As the Prince was firm in his conviction of the principle of human rights and his determination to work for the health of the people, especially the poor, he went to the North in April 1929 to work as a resident doctor at McCormick Hospital, an American missionary hospital in Chiang Mai. There he took care of needy patients day and night, and even donated his blood for them. Thus finally he was able to carry out his mission in life to help poor people.
 
A commemorative stamp issued in 1994 on centenary of the birth of HRH Prince Mahidol
 
Unfortunately, Prince Mahidol did not live long to continue his much-needed service. After working in Chiang Mai for less than a month, he came back to Bangkok to attend the funeral of a senior member of the Royal Family. Then he fell gravely ill and never was he able to go to the North again. After several months' confinement to bed, the Prince passed away on 24 September 1929 at the young age of 38 years and 8 months.
 
His late Royal Highness Prince Mahidol with Prince Bhumibol
 
Today Prince Mahidol is remembered as the Father of Modern Medicine of Thailand. A statue has been erected to his memory at Siriraj Hospital. A memorial ceremony is held here on Mahidol Day every year in addition to other commemorating activities.
 
 

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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