On the Passing of Rama IX

                                 This photo of King Rama IX was borrowed from the net.

Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand was crowned Rama IX on 6 June, 1946. He was conferred with the added title of King Bhumibol the Great in 1987. In total, he reigned for 70 years and 126 days. As Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej was the ninth monarch of Thailand from the Chakri Dynasty, and the world’s longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. His full given title, often shortened to “Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophi” or “Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej”, was Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophit. The meaning of the names used in his title are as follows:

  • Phra — a third-person pronoun referring to the person with much higher status than the speaker, meaning “excellent” in general. The word “Phra” is from Sanskrit vara (“excellent”).
  • Bat — “foot”, from Sanskrit pāda.
  • Somdet — “lord”, from Khmer samdech (“excellency”).
  • Paraminthra — “the great”, from Sanskrit parama (“great”) plus indra (“leader”).
  • Maha — “great”, from Sanskrit maha.
  • Bhumibol — “Strength of the Land”, from Sanskrit bhūmi (“land”) plus bala (“strength”).
  • Adulyadej — “Incomparable power”, from Sanskrit atulya (“incomparable”) plus teja (“power”).
  • Mahitalathibet — “Son of Mahidol”.
  • Ramathibodi — “Rama, the Avatar of God Vishnu to become the great ruler”; from Sanskrit rāma plus adhi (“great”) plus patī (“president”).
  • Chakkrinaruebodin — “Leader of the People who is from the House of Chakri”, from Sanskrit cakrī plus naṛ (“men”) plus patī (“president”).
  • Sayamminthrathirat — “the Great King of Siam”, from Sanskrit Siam (former name of Thailand) plus indra (“leader”) plus adhi (“great”) plus rāja (“king”).
  • Borommanatthabophit — “the Royalty who is the Great Shelter”, from Sanskrit parama (“great”) plus nātha (“the one who others can depend on” or “Power/Right”) plus pavitra (“royalty”).

During his long reign Rama IX guided his country safely through many upheavals, swift social changes, and economic changes of some magnitude, and was otherwise involved in, and oversaw and guided, many social and economic development projects. The nature of the king’s involvement in these various developmental projects varied by political regime: During his reign Rama IX was served by a total of 30 prime ministers in total, beginning with Pridi Banomyong and ending with Prayut Chan-o-cha. On 26 May, 2006, during the 60th anniversary celebrations of the King’s accession to the throne, an anniversary which is also known in Thailand as the Diamond Jubilee, and tied in with the 60th anniversary celebrations, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented Bhumibol with the United Nations Development Programme’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award.

Everywhere we went in Thailand we saw pictures of King Rama IX and his beloved wife, Queen Sirikit, and pictures of their children.  As well, everywhere we went buildings and streets and various places we saw were bedecked with the King’s and Queen’s own colours–yellow and a pale, bright blue. In the Thai culture colours symbolise various virtues, and also Buddhist beliefs and traditions and symbolism, and also align to the days of the week, and to celebratory days.  In the Thai culture and belief system,  a different colour is assigned to each day of the week: Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pink, Wednesday is green, Thursday is orange, Friday is blue, Saturday is purple and Sunday is red. A person born on a Monday will not only have yellow as his or her birth color, but the serious demean that Thais associate with it – a characteristic that, according to Thai culture, is suitable for a career in medicine, or in the case of Rama IX, a king.  Hence, the King’s colours are those assigned to Monday, the day on which he was born–Monday, 5 December, 1927, in the USA–and likewise the colour blue for his beloved queen who was born in Thailand on Friday, 12 August, 1932.

Regardless of the fact that King Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej Bhumibol, Rama IX, was protected by Thailand’s traditional  lèse-majesté laws (which allow critics of the king to be jailed), he was truly held in great respect by the Thai people generally. From talking with many Thai people while I was in Thailand, I saw that these peoples, Rama IX’s people, genuinely revered and adored him, and felt deep connections to him.  In his earlier life, Rama IX spent some time serving as a Buddhist monk, and on another separate occasion was a scholar at Oxford University in England where he gained his Masters’ degree. As King, and in himself, Rama IX was a humble, wise, hard-working, deeply thinking, clever, bright, extremely well-educated, and a very talented, artistic, and creative, and deeply spiritual man. He was the Thai peoples own very beloved king, and was very much one of them and one with them. He met with and talked to them in person, he walked amongst them and visited, and always had a ready ear to listen to the individuals he met. The Thai people also met their king on a nightly basis “in person” through television. Every night Thai television channels showed the people their King living his life in as ordinary a way as a reigning monarch can. Every night his peoples watched and listened to him on television as he did the ordinary sorts of things they did–meditating, praying to Buddha, walking in the countryside and enjoying and taking note of nature, fishing, reading, and so on…

Sadly, Rama IX passed away on Thursday, 13 October, this year, 2016. That was two weeks to the day that Bob and I had returned home to Australia from Thailand. In Australia, television and media reports showed that the Thai people are in deep mourning and that public emotion in Thailand is running high.  Mass reaction is a deep, multi-faceted subject and one that is not easily grasped or explained in all its numerous aspects, but the emotional reaction of the masses in Thailand is very understandable, King Rama IX was greatly loved.  Similar scenes were shown by the media in Australia, and I presume throughout the western world, when various of the West’s  loved and admired leaders and royals passed: Public emotion peaked when President Kennedy of America was assassinated, and again, our people were grief-stricken and emotions ran high when our own beloved Princess Diana met an early death  in a motor accident, and I envisage that this will also be the case again when our own beloved Queen Elizabeth 11 eventually passes. In regards to coverage by the media: the media generally would probably argue (and are probably right in a way) that it is their perceived duty to help educate and enlighten their public audiences by reporting on world matters and on what is happening in other countries across the globe and amongst the peoples of the various nations, and, in particular, television media can be inclined to view itself as the eyes of the world and the eyes on the world; yet, I can’t help but think that the western television media can, on one level, also be a tad intrusive at times, especially when it comes to human grief.

Moving on now: When we were in Thailand recently, the king and his queen were both in hospital where, because of being old and frail and in ill-health and in need of special care, they had been living for a while. Everywhere we went, everyone I spoke to genuinely looked up to and revered their king, Rama IX.   The Thais are gently-spoken people in general, at all times: yet I could not help but notice how these people spoke of their king very fondly, with love, and with a marked additional softening in their voices, and demeanour.  I found it rather beautiful to watch, really. In Thailand, I breathed in the air and absorbed the atmosphere and talked deeply with a number of Thais on a personal and individual basis, and somehow gained a level of understanding, and, even though I am not Thai so can never actually know what it is to be Thai, I instinctively gained a sense of knowing. I mentioned this to Bob who said he felt the same. Later, we were talking about this with a close friend who has been to Thailand and who has familial ties there (one of her cousins resides with his Thai wife in Bangkok)–and our friend said that she too, had a similar experience and felt the same as us.

I would say that on one level,  this type of “knowing” possibly stems from sensitivity to atmosphere and from empathy with and respect for others, and from acceptance of others regardless of social and racial and geographical and cultural divides, and from listening deeply to others, to their story, and thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and with reflection but without judgment on the part of the listener. For all our research in modern times, human experience is still a bit of a mystery, and emotional phenomena and feelings are the least understood areas of human experience. But it seems to me that when conversing on deep levels with some other on an individual basis, you instinctively gain some understanding of another, a sense of what it means to be that other, which, in turn, creates within yourself a deeper, richer, understanding of life. As well, it seems to create some emotional tie, a closeness, a deep bond, between yourself and that other. This “meeting of souls” is a highly charged human experience, and an emotional phenomenon, and is therefore, by nature, not one that can be constantly maintained at an intense or peak emotional level, but one which nevertheless forms a lasting connection to whatever degree–either greater or lesser–depending on the people concerned, and which, in like souls, can give birth to a genuine friendship that is not confined by time, or by social, racial, cultural, or geographical divides. As my friend said to me, “It’s wonderful how, when you ‘connect’ with someone, even though you might not see each other for weeks, months, years, the moment you meet back up again, the conversation picks up smoothly as if you only saw each other yesterday.”

Along with many, many thousands of others I too feel with our Thai friends in their sadness. Thailand’s Rama IX was indeed a great king, a good king, and one who is truly mourned and will be sorely missed by his peoples. Rama IX was a rare soul, and he loved his people, and life and nature, and his kingdom.

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