Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (born 5 December 1927) also known as Rama IX acceded to the throne on 9 June 1946 after his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, died in a still unexplained shooting accident at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father was studying, and he was later educated in Switzerland. He returned there to finish his studies before returning to Thailand where he was crowned in May 1950.
In his early years King Bhumibol was overshadowed by a series of powerful military leaders. But with the support of other royal princes and sympathetic generals he rebuilt the monarchy’s profile, making a series of tours to outlying provinces, and through numerous royal projects that established his lifelong concern with agricultural development.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Thai Muslim community
Much has been written about the love that Thai people have towards His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who during His 70-year reign had dedicated Himself to improving His people’s lives. His Majesty stood by the oath which He gave during the coronation ceremony, that “We shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people.” Nevertheless, little did anyone know of the close relationship between His Majesty King Bhumibol and the ThaiMuslim community living near Thailand’s southern borders that made up part of the country’s overall population.
According to the late Thanpuying Samorn Bhuminarong, a prominent leader of Thailand’s Muslim community, a strong bond had been maintained between His Majesty the King and the ThaiMuslim community during His reign. For many Muslims in Thailand, the King was and continues to be a source of inspiration, guidance and support. The King tirelessly worked to promote religious and cultural diversity in Thailand, constantly stressing the importance of peaceful coexistence among the country’s different religious, cultural and ethnic groups.
His Majesty’s and the Royal Family’s uniquely special, deep-rooted bond with the Thai Muslim community was the product of not just support and guidance, but rather His Majesty’s actions that reflected a genuine respect and interest in the religion and most importantly the will to promote acceptance and enhance tolerance throughout the country. The late King Bhumibol, known to be fond of languages, was a key force behind the publication of a Thai edition of the Al-Quran. His Majesty’s fascination of Islam’s holy scripture of the faith was initially sparked in 1962 when He was presented by the Consul of Saudi Arabia with a copy of the English edition of the Quran. After studying the text, His Majesty expressed a desire to commission a Thai edition. The King proceeded to ask Thailand’s Islamic spiritual leader, the Sheikhul Islam (Chularajmontri), to prepare a direct Thai translation of the original Arabic version so that copies can be distributed to all parts of the Kingdom.
In 1968, Their Majesties the King and Queen presided over the ceremony to commemorate the 1,400th anniversary of Quran, despite that Thailand is not a majority-Muslim country. On this occasion, the first Thai edition of the Quran was published and copies were royally conferred to masjids across the country. His Majesty also explained the importance and benefits of translating the holy Islamic scripture into Thai, as it will allow Thai Muslims with limited or no knowledge of Arabic to study and gain a deeper understanding about the principle teachings and practices of Islam.
His Majesty had openly developed a keen yet genuine interest in Islamic culture and history. Every year, the King or a member of the Royal Family, as His Majesty’s representative, participates in the ceremony commemorating Mawlid al-Nabi, known as the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. His Majesty and the Thai Royal Family engaged in steps to acknowledge and prioritise the concerns and needs of minority Thai-Muslim communities that often perceived themselves as neglected. To increase Their presence, Their Majesties the King and the Queen travelled to the South to reside in the royal palace located in the province of Narathiwat. The palace was built with the intention of enabling Their Majesties to be closer in proximity to the Thai Muslim communities.
Having a residence in the south enabled Their Majesties to conveniently meet with local communities in order to best understand their concerns and needs. Such knowledge had then eventually formed the basis of various royal development projects aimed at improving the lives and welfare of Thai-Muslims in Thailand. The late King Bhumibol’s work approach was based on the principles of “Understand, Access, and Develop”, which stressed that all parties concerned, including government officials and local communities, must be on the same page in understanding the issues. This would enable issues to be resolved more efficiently and pave way for development. In practice, it is an approach that focuses on citizens’ participation.
For example, some areas in the Southern provinces faced challenges such as drought and soil conditions of high salinity and acidity content. His Majesty’s solution was to provide specific species of plants and animals that were suitable for breeding in drought and poor soil conditions. This enabled agricultural workers to be able to feed themselves and have regular sources of income.
The worldly King’s public embrace of minority cultures and values sets a strong example for all Thais to respect cultural and religious differences. This ultimately propelled the nation towards greater tolerance and pluralism.
His Majesty had recognised the importance of forging personal ties with local representatives in the South. The most famous example was his friendship with Uncle Wahdeng PuTeh or “PohDeng”, known as the “Friend from Saiburi.” Uncle Wahdeng was a local fruit farmer whom His Majesty first met during a trip to the Saiburi district in Pattani Province in 1992. His Majesty was impressed with Uncle Wahdeng’s humility, honesty and local knowledge, and asked Uncle Wahdeng to show Him around the area, asking him about the needs of the local communities.
During subsequent visits to the Southern Provinces over the years, His Majesty would always request to meet with “PohDeng”, and “PohDeng” would often send the best produces from his fruit orchards as gifts to His Majesty. Their friendship continued until Uncle Wahdeng passed away peacefully in 2012 at the age of 96. His Majesty visited local religious schools and masjids across the country and made personal contributions from His own funds to support their activities and causes. The King also provided medical supplies and sent royal doctors to visit and treat ill patients.
His Majesty encouraged the Thai Government to build a Central Masjid in each of the Southern Border Provinces and then personally attended the opening of each Central Masjid. In 1990, when His Majesty went to reside at His seaside palace in Hua Hin, He visited a local Muslim community in an area that had a small masjid, the Masjid Nurul Ehsan, which was built on a very small plot of land. Upon being made aware of the needs of the local community, His Majesty granted additional land to the community for the masjid. Subsequently in 1996, His Majesty made contributions from His own funds for the construction of a new Masjid Nurul Ehsan on the same site, which was completed in 1999.
Last but not least, His Majesty saw great importance in improving the education system for Thai Muslims. His Majesty appealed to educators and relevant agencies to consider ways and means for providing a strong religious education with a methodical curriculum so that Thai Muslims can thrive in society.
The late King Bhumibol also initiated development projects to assist Thai Muslims in their career development. Development Centers were set up in various parts of the country, including the Phetchaburi and Narathiwat provinces, enabling the once impoverished populations to have an opportunity to become self-sustainable and improve their welfare.
The late King’s personal attention and care to the Thai Muslim community over the years, along with the support for the various Royal initiatives and projects for the community, were testament to His respect and support for Islam and devotion to all His subjects who practice the faith. Such was reflected by not only the reverence that Thai Muslims have towards His Majesty and the Thai Royal Family, but also the acknowledgement and respect from Islamic communities in other countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. The beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s passing on 13 October 2016 brought together in unity Thailand’s Muslim population and the rest of Thailand to embrace their common love by mourning their revered King, whose generosity, self-sacrifice, wisdom and grace had touched the hearts of all Thais.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and His Passion for Music
One of the most iconic portrayals of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the image of His Majesty playing His beloved saxophone. Here we see a man deeply concentrated as He blows into the wind instrument and places His fingers precisely on its keys. The essence of this image is found within the various melodies composed by King Bhumibol. Each of the compositions have its own unique charm and ability to create a range of emotions. Whether performed live or played on tape, whether heard for the first time or repeatedly, His Majesty’s soulful tunes have always left audience members and listeners deeply impressed by such an exceptional display of musical talent.
Music, especially Jazz and Blues, was a major part of His Majesty the King’s life. Not only did he perform- but also composed, conducted and instructed. It all started with a spark of passion for the 13 year old boy growing up in Switzerland, who was encouraged to learn how to play the saxophone and pursue musical theory by a certain Mr. Weybrecht, a native of Alsace.
From that point, it was not long until His Majesty the King began composing his own original pieces at age 18. His first piece, known in English as “Candle Light Blues”, contained subtle hints of the main influencers of His work: Berchet, Armstrong and Ellington. Yet, at the same time, the piece expressed a certain depth of melancholy that stood out originally. This unique composition marked the birth of a musical career that ultimately brought about 48 compositions across a number of musical genres.
As the musical works continued to attract significant international recognition, His Majesty King Bhumibol eventually became the first Asian person ever to be granted an Honorary Membership of the Institute of Music and Arts of Vienna in 1964. In 1980, UNESCO named His Majesty’s composition “Falling Rain” as the “Song of Asia”.
Today, the legacy of the jazz-loving King’s musical compositions has found its way back to the origins of classical music. In Europe, performances of the King’s works by renowned Thai orchestras on tour, including the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, Siam Symphonic Band, Bangkok Pro Musica, Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and the Siam Sinfonietta, have taken place at historical landmark venues such as the Musikverein in Vienna, the Berlin Philharmonie, Französischer Dom in Berlin, Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich, Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski in Dresden, the Schönbrunn Palace, the concert hall in The Hague, and many others. The Royal Guards March generally known as ” March Rajawallop” always receives a big round of applause whenever this piece of His Majesty’s composition is performed on international stage.
Although music was a personal passion of the talented King, He always displayed an eagerness to share the pleasure with others. Initially, this came in the form of teaching His children to play musical instruments. Then, His Majesty took on a number of students from His own entourage which led to the formation of the “Sahai Pattana” band, consisting of a group of friends and students who would play and produce music alongside the Monarch.
Another effective way of encouraging others to join in His love for music was through establishing the “Aw Saw” Radio Station in 1952- the year in which His Majesty returned to live in Thailand permanently. The purpose of this station was to broadcast to the general public compositions played by the musical King and to communicate His ideas and words in order to break down pre-existing barriers that prevented communication between a monarch and his people.
However, for the extraordinary King, music was not merely a pleasurable pastime. His Majesty believed it had the power to inspire, unify and bestow strength to the people. This is reflected in His music’s repertoire composed to remind soldiers, civil servants and citizens of their values and to inspire them in the performances of their duties to the country. Perhaps the most touching piece within this category is the song “Yim Su” (“Smiles”) which was composed in 1952 in order to give hope to students at a school for the blind and to encourage them to make the most out of their lives in spite of their misfortune.
A moving story about the inspirational effect of His Majesty’s music could perhaps illustrate the relationship between the King and His subjects. His Majesty the King once strived to teach a blind student to play an instrument. Although it was a challenging task for the pupil who was unable to see the movements required to play, His Majesty patiently persisted until his pupil understood. As soon as the pupil was able to play the first correct note of the melody, his face lit up with pride and joy. For the blind pupil, the sound of a correct note was more than just pleasure to his ears; it was an inspiration to his soul.
The same is true when the King’s people listen to His Majesty King Bhumibol’ s songs. Their faces, too, light up with pride and inspiration. For when they hear His music and are reminded of His legacy, they unite in the common realisation that they are indeed one truly blessed nation.
King Rama V and King Rama IX
Upon a close examination of the history of Thailand’s monarchy, two of the Kingdom’s monarchs truly stand out as being difference makers in their noble efforts to serve the Thai nation and people: King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and King Bhumibol (Rama IX).
Although the two monarchs ruled the nation during different periods and under different circumstances, Their Majesties’ reigns shared many common features, particularly in their efforts to modernize the country. The importance of a quality education was instilled in King Chulalongkorn by His father, King Mongkut (Rama IV). King Chulalongkorn shared this ideal with His son, H.R.H. Prince Mahidol, who in turn passed it on to His son – King Bhumibol. Both grandfather and grandson embraced the value of education and proceeded to pursue further studies in science and political science.
King Chulalongkorn and King Bhumibol both inherited the throne at relatively young ages – 17 and 18 years old, respectively. However, instead of immediately acceding to the throne, both took time to travel overseas to learn about Western civilization, modern technologies and systems of governance – information which they believed will enable them to not just carry out their duties as Head of State effectively, but will also contribute to the greater good of the country in the long run. Adopting the vast knowledge and expertise accumulated from their travels, King Chulalongkorn and King Bhumibol were determined to modernize the nation in order to keep up with the global standards of their respective eras. Their Majesties shared a common ultimate goal of improving the people’s lives by enabling the country to become self-sufficient, sustainable and prosperous.
Before the reign of King Chulalongkorn, themost common modes oftransportation used throughout the Kingdom were simple river boats or ‘beasts of burden’. King Chulalongkorn recognized the limitations of this and sought to ease the inconvenience by rapidly developing the country’s railway system. This significant improvement in the country’s transport infrastructure helped prepared the nation to face the challenges of the early twentieth century.
When King Bhumibol took the throne, the country’s infrastructure was growing rapidly within the central region and in major cities throughout the Kingdom. However, as with most developing economies, much of the benefits of the economic growth failed to reach the nation’s rural grassroots population. In the country’s most remote zones, access to these people was virtually impossible. Yet, King Bhumibol made it His personal mission to travel to all regions within the Kingdom in order to reach His loyal subjects regardless of their location. Throughout His travels His Majesty initiated projects to build roadways to the country’s most remote and isolated regions.
To improve the quality of life for His subjects, King Chulalongkorn built the country’s first hospital, which was based upon medical institutions and practices He had witnessed during His travels to Europe. King Bhumibol then went on to create the Kingdom’s first medical school and established a national education system.
Similarly, King Bhumibol also understood the importance of achieving a higher quality of life for His subjects. To help improve their lives, His Majesty established a vast number of royal projects that helped to expand knowledge and innovation in areas as diverse as health, welfare, and agriculture. The late King Bhumibol was also involved in setting up numerous scholarship programs, including the Ananda Mahidol Scholarship Foundation, which was supported directly by the King’s private funds. Since its inception, the foundation’s scholarship program has expanded significantly. Originally focused on the field of medicine, the program now covers eight fields of study: medicine, science, dentistry, agriculture, law, veterinary science, art and engineering. As well as enhancing the country’s infrastructure and improving the well-being of the Thai people, both King Chulalongkorn and King Bhumibol used their wisdom and diplomatic skills to protect the country’s sovereignty from negative external influences.
During the late 1800s, the major European powers were aggressively colonizing Southeast Asia and most of Thailand’s neighbors had already been colonized. King Chulalongkorn was very careful in His dealings with foreign countries. While He understood the importance of the innovations and technologies these countries could offer the Kingdom, King Chulalongkorn was very careful in terms of how much influence He would allow each of them in relation to any projects undertaken. It is fair to say that King Chulalongkorn’s knowledge, diplomacy and negotiation skills ensured that the country avoided any form of colonization by foreign powers during that period of history.
Likewise, King Bhumibol faced challenges posed by the spread of communism in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. King Bhumibol paid several state visits abroad and established stronger relations with several key countries. His Majesty helped to see Thailand through this difficult period, enabling the country to reemerge stronger with its constitutional monarchy still intact. There is no doubt to the fact that King Chulalongkorn and King Bhumibol Adulyadej epitomize great leadership by demonstrating actively how benevolent but powerful heads of state can contribute to the betterment of their country and people.
Honoring a Down to Earth King on World Soil Day
He sat at the pinnacle of His society, but constitutional ruler King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand was a monarch and a man who was down to earth. For much of His 70 years on the throne – the longest reign of any monarch at the time of His passing – King Bhumibol traveled to the poorest and most remote corners of His Kingdom, sitting on the ground with farmers and villagers, listening to their problems and responding with over 4,000 sustainable development projects to better their lives. Many dealt with improving water, agriculture, livelihoods and health. As one of His closest aides said, however, “we were always confronted with soil issues.”
Those issues could be vexing. But the late King’s innovative solutions to soil problems earned him the first Humanitarian Soil Scientist award from the International Union of Soil Science in 2012. In 2014 the United Nations designated His Majesty’s birthday on December 5th as the annual World Soil Day and the year 2015 as the International Year of Soils, with events held in New York, Rome, Bangkok and cities around the world. In a message to the UN, the late King said that in order to ensure “viable, long-term food security and a sustainable ecosystem, [soil] issues must be addressed as an urgent priority.’’
Most people take soils for granted. Soils, however, are as essential to life as the air and water. Healthy soils support food production. The forests and fields they nourish host one quarter of the world’s species, and are a source of fuels, medicines, fibers and animal feed. Soils store and filter water, and play a crucial role in preventing and mitigating climate change by absorbing and storing massive amounts of carbon. Healthy soils are essential for a sustainable future.
But soils are a finite resource. Just 22 percent of the earth’s land surface can be used for producing 95 percent of our food. One third of that has been degraded by erosion, contamination and desertification, with much of it damaged in the last half century. “The world status of soils is quite scary,” said Claire Chenu, a soil scientist at AgroParisTech. As Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization noted, it can take up to one thousand years to form one centimeter of soil. “And this same centimeter can be destroyed in only a few minutes.”
That type of destruction was evident to King Bhumibol when He visited the community of Huai Sai in the province of Petchaburi in 1983. The late King looked out at a former forest reserve and saw a dry and barren landscape – except for rows of pineapple plants. “This place will become a desert,’’ He predicted. In their desire to earn more income, farmers had plunged into monocropping – planting a single crop while eliminating all other vegetation and as of 7 Dec 2016 upsetting the natural balance of the ecosystem. The soil had been sapped of its vital nutrients, and chemical fertilizers could restore them for only a limited period. It was a problem plaguing farmers in many parts of the world.
King Bhumibol initiated a holistic program to restore the area. Today, Huai Sai is a mixture of thick forests with abundant wildlife, family farms and gardens, along with agricultural, environmental and community projects. The late King’s approach encompassed principles He would later crystalize in His theory of Sufficiency Economy in 1998. Rooted in the Buddhist ethos of moderation and balance, the Sufficiency Economy is a set of principles designed to minimize risk and build resilience to internal and external shocks. Its principles can be applied not only to family farms, but also to national economies and other professions.
In 2007, the United Nations Development Programme wrote the “Sufficiency Economy has great global relevance during these times of economic uncertainties, global warming and unsustainable use of natural resources. It places humanity at the center, focuses on well-being rather than wealth, makes sustainability the very core of the thinking.”
The approach advocates diversification. Farmers are urged to build ponds for fish breeding and irrigation. Instead of one cash crop, they grow and rotate several using natural, organic fertilizers and pest management. Diversification protects against fickle markets, and sustains soil health. “He always says ‘use nature to restore nature,’ ‘’ said Sumet Tantivejkul, who oversees the King’s projects at the Chaipattana Foundation, a non-governmental organization implementing developmental projects that are in line with royal initiatives.
In northern Thailand the late King planted rows of vetiver grass – dismissed by some as a weed – to prevent the erosion destroying vital watersheds. He would use it in the Northeast where vetiver’s deep roots and ability to draw nitrogen into the earth would hold the dry, sandy soil in place and enrich it, increasing yields for poor farmers. In the Deep South, He would use other innovative methods to turn tens of thousands of hectares of peat swamp into productive farmland.
Even though King Bhumibol is no longer with us, millions of Thais and others who appreciate His legacy turned out to honor and show their love for him at home and abroad. Many will commemorate His achievements in sustainable development, science and even the arts. And many will also realize the day is World Soil Day, when environmentalists and soil scientists in every corner of the earth pay tribute to the late King whose name, Bhumibol, means “Strength of the Land.”
- Bhumibol Adulyadej Biography and Profile