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The Beloved Great King & the Heavenly Royal Mother By Ninnart
 

October is an important month for us Thais because it reminds us about Her late Royal Highness the Princess Mother and the beloved great King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910). It is the month of birth of the former and the month of death of the latter. And they have something in common.

They both have been awarded the prestigious title of World Leader by UNESCO. Thaiways would like to commemorate their countless contributions towards the country, of which we always feel grateful to, by summarizing their biographies and meritorious services here.

 

THE HEAVENLY
ROYAL MOTHER :
THE LATE PRINCESS MOTHER

 
Her late Royal Highness, whose full title is Somdej Phra Sri Nakarindra Boromarajajonnani, is popularly called Somdej Ya, meaning the Royal Grandma, and especially by the northern hilltribes, Mae Fa Luang, meaning the Heavenly Royal Mother.
She was born on 21 October 1900 as Miss Sangwan into a goldsmith's family in Nonthaburi province. As she lost both her parents at the age of nine, she was taken care of by a lady-in-waiting at the
Palace and then was adopted by Queen Sawang Vadhana of King Rama V as a daughter. She received her elementary education and training as a nurse in Thailand. At the age of 17, she was sent to the USA to study English at Emerson School, in Berkeley, California.
One year later, she went to Hartford, Connecticut, to further her study at the Northwest School, where she met her future husband Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, a son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). The couple came back to Bangkok together and got married in 1920.
After that, they got three children: Princess Galyani Vadhana, Prince Ananda Mahidol and Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej. They had to move from place to place (both domestic and foreign) due to the Prince's duties as a doctor. Unfortunately, during his stay at McCormic Hospital in Chiang Mai province, the Prince became ill because of overwork. He had to come back to Bangkok for a treatment and passed away on 24 September 1929.
 
 
Later, the Princess took her children to Lausanne, Switzerland, where she settled down to bring up her children. After King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) abdicated without an heir in 1935, Prince Ananda Mahidol became King at the age of 10. However, he died unexpectedly in 1946. His brother Prince Bhumibol succeeded him at the age of 19. And at present, he is the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, having been on the throne for 56 years. Throughout his reign, he has proved to be a diligent, benevolent and wise King and probably the hardest-working monarch in the world, too.
This has been largely due to the strong influence exerted by the Princess Mother during the King's childhood, which made him a man of industry, austerity, self-sacrifice, compassion and high sense of duty.
The Princess Mother passed away on 18 July 1995, making the whole Thai nation deeply grieved.
 
 
On 16 November 1999, UNESCO honoured Somdej Ya as a "World Leader" in public service in the fields of education, applied science, and human, social and environmental development. The Princess Mother was the first Thai woman to receive such an acknowledgement.
 
Her work for the welfare of the poor
The Princess Mother's deep sympathy for the poor was shown by her frequent visits to remote border areas and the three major foundations set up under her royal patronage:
1. The Princess Mother's Medical Volunteer Foundation (PMMV) provides the largest volunteer medical service ever operated in Thailand. Established in 1969, the Foundation pioneered the development of free medical care for people in distant areas. At present, the Foundation has a network of medical teams operating in more than 50 provinces of the country.
2. The Princess Mother had also been concerned for the welfare of those serving in the Border Patrol Police units and their families. She set up the Foundation for the Welfare of Border Patrol Police in 1967, giving out of her own personal funds the equivalent of US$ 57,800 as an initial working fund. The fund has grown substantially due to public contributions and has played an important role in the family lives of those in the patrol units.
3. The Mae Fa Luang (The Heavenly Royal Mother) Foundation was set up in 1972 under the patronage of the Princess Mother. Its objectives are to promote the handicraft skills of the hilltribes and to provide market outlets for their products. As a result, the living conditions of these people are better than ever before.
In addition, the Doi Tung Development Project is also a major activity under her patronage. After six years of the project (1988-1993), about 80% of the forest areas were improved into a better condition. Opium was no longer grown in the Doi Tung area. The substitution of fruit trees and economic crops not only improved the environment, but also replaced the seasonal opium production and eliminated shifting cultivation.
 
All the hilltribes and people in the rural areas owe the betterment of their well-being and their future to the Princess Mother for her vision and initiation of the Project, and the vital role of the Foundations mentioned above.
 
THE BELOVED GREAT KING :
KING CHULALONGKORN
(RAMA V, 1868-1910
)
 
On 2 November 2001 UNESCO honoured HM King Chulalongkorn as a "World Leader" in the fields of education, culture, sociology, anthropology, social development and communication.
King Chulalongkorn was the grandfather of HM the present King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He is one of the seven Thai monarchs who have been honoured as Maharat, meaning Great King. He was not a warrior like most of his predecessors, but was a sagacious statesman, a skilful diplomat, an enlightened reformer and above all, a benevolent ruler.
He was born on 20 September 1853 as the first son of King Mongkut (Rama IV). As a child, from 1862 to 1867, he studied English with Anna H. Leonowens, whose name became well known through her book Anna and the King of Siam, and later with John H. Chandler and Francis George Patterson.
 
 
On the death of his father on 1 October 1868, King Chulalongkorn came to the throne as a minor of 15. The kingdom was then governed by a regent, affording the young King opportunities to make observation and study tours of Singapore, Java and India. He also entered the monkhood for fifteen days before performing a second coronation in 1873.
 
His contributions to his country
When he ascended the throne, Thailand, like other nations in Asia, had begun to suffer from the expansionism of Western colonial powers. King Chulalongkorn reacted to the external threat by implementing a series of extensive reforms, leading this country onto the road of modernization. For example, the central administrative structure was revamped by setting up the first Council of State to assist the King. The first school was set up in the Grand Palace in 1871, which was followed by many others in the capital and other provinces. They gradually replaced the Buddhist monasteries as venues of education.
The King also built hospitals, roads and railways, started the construction of a water supply system in Bangkok, set up the postal and telegraph services, improved the army and the navy, founded modern courts of law, and promoted rice cultivation by reducing taxes and implementing irrigation projects.

The greatest service which King Chulalongkorn did for his country was the preservation of Thailand's independence at a time when she was surrounded by covetous imperialists. By cultivating personal friendship with Emperor William II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and by keeping an equilibrium between the contending colonial powers Britain and France, King Chulalongkorn succeeded in preventing Thailand from falling prey to either, though not without sacrifices of territory, including what are today Cambodia, and Loas, and the four northern states of Malaya, all of which had been under Thai suzerainty for over a century.

King Chulalongkorn is also remembered for his benevolence, as was shown by his abolition of slavery. On his enthronement he issued a royal decree declaring that all the people born in his reign should be free. Yet he took no drastic steps to enforce the liberation of all the existing slaves at once, as President Lincoln of the United States had done before him at the cost of a civil war. He had not taken the last step until 1905, when the number of slaves in the country had greatly reduced. Thus the slaves won their freedom without causing bloodshed or any social upheaval.
Though an autocratic monarch, Chulalongkorn did not want to be separated from his subjects by placing himself high above the people. Instead, he made himself easy to approach by travelling extensively throughout the country, often in public but sometimes incognito. He mixed and conversed informally with his people in order to understand their conditions and aspirations.

 
 
The King passed away on 23 October 1910. However, he has remained one of the most honoured and remembered kings of Thailand. The anniversary of his death has been declared a national holiday, on which college students, government officials and people from all walks of life assemble at his equestrian statue in front of the old National Assembly building in Bangkok to pay homage to the Piya Maharat-the Beloved Great King.
No matter for how many years the Beloved Great King and the Princess Mother have passed away, their immense contributions will remain in the hearts of all Thais forever.


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

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