last of the world’s kings

POSTCARD#288: Chiang Mai: Thailand is in mourning today, the funeral ceremony for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Everywhere in the land, Buddhist ceremonies combined with Hindu and Animist beliefs are taking place, and TV coverage in all channels of the ceremony as it’s taking place in Bangkok.

A quote from Sir John Gielgud, narrator of the 1979 BBC documentary, ‘The Royal Family of Thailand’, describes the Thai king as, “the last of the kings of South East Asia” and, “one of the last of the world’s kings” – unknowingly descriptive of our time, 48 years further on, and the mourning day for the late king. There’s a new king of course, King Vajiralongkorn, the only son, but naturally there’s a feeling right now that with the old king, the lineage of historical kings has come to an end.

It’s this sense of ‘the end’, for me, a Western resident in Thailand since 1984; ‘the end’ is present in all our thoughts, bringing everything to a close. A sense of release and the sudden discovery that the death of the king is another teaching for the people who have followed him all their lives; a bridge from life to death for all of us and we knew it already, everyone and everything comes to an end; there is death and the passing on.

Another quote from Sir John Gielgud: “Thailand, one of the last countries in the world, still in touch with its past. Where ancient traditions can be adapted to suit the pressing needs of today’s world. A well-loved king, distinguished successor to ancient ancestors, who made use of his ritual sanctity, and his personal popularity to get things done to improve the people’s welfare.”

There’s no doubt in the minds of the population; the king lives on in the form of all of the projects he initiated. HM began the royal-initiated projects in 1950, and now there are thousands, all over the country, agriculture, water management, training, education. One of these is the artificial rain-making project for farming communities dependent on seasonal rain to grow crops, having to face severe drought conditions in the dry season. HM read research work on meteorology and weather modification and in 1955, HM used his own funds to launch the Royal Rainmaking Project.

Kukrit Pramoj “The monarchy is the soul of the Thai people. The king is more than a ceremonial head, he is the head of the clan; the father of a very big family of Thais. He is the source of Thai culture, everything emanates from him; behaviour, his way of life; the Buddhist religion seems to us, to emanate from the king and the monarchy.”

Ninety-five percent of Thais are practising Buddhists. “Thailand’s devout Buddhism is both a strength and a weakness. The weakness is that Buddhism encourages an acceptance of the status quo, for each person has many lives and the next one may be pleasanter. The strength is that there’s a moral and philosophical unity here that very few countries in the world now possess.” [Sir John Gielgud]

The night before, sleeping in the rain.
Cremation of the king

28 thoughts on “last of the world’s kings

      • The article is culturally insensitive at best…. I wonder what the reaction would be on the day of JFK’s funeral to publish an article about Marylin Monroe.
        Thanks for this post T. It brings the sense of the past and loss into being. 💛

      • Thanks Val
        We are watching the ceremony on Thai TV, there are thousands upon thousands of Thais attending the event. As you say, it really brings the sense of the past and loss into being.

  1. Hi Tiramit, it’s always good to read of your life in Chiang Mai. This national grief must be palpable and overwhelming, this collective emotion. In regards to the Times article, if it is as offensive as had been said, perhaps deleting the comment is warranted, or editing out the link? I chose not to open it given that. But maybe that’s as it should be. Wishing you good days and wellbeing, now and always.

    • Hi Sunny, the ceremony is taking place simultaneously at special sites all over the country and in Thai embassies all over the world. It means hundreds of thousands… more than that, I can’t picture a million people in one place just standing there, not overwhelmed but quietly in what we call their ‘grief’. The word I hear all the time here is ‘memory’ – holding the memory in mind. About the Times article, I didn’t intend it to be seen a topic of discussion. So maybe that can be forgotten, and it’s good to have you over here and thanks for the word ‘wellbeing’.

  2. “Holding memory in mind” is undoubtedly the best way to take leave of our beloved departed. Embracing the joys of this time, these lives we’ve shared in parallel.
    It speaks to reincarnation beliefs to a degree, in the calm with which we may treat the occasion. More a temporary parting than a permanent goodbye.
    Regardless of one’s beliefs, celebrating the life that was lived honors the deceased.
    I extend to the Thai people heartfelt sympathies for their sense of loss.

    Seek peace,


    • Holding the memory in mind, the word for it in Thai is ‘kit-ting’ and in many cases on TV, when interviewed, individuals were only able to say that word, and would just cry openly. The whole culture of death and rebirth means there’s this calm state in the midst of the mourning, maybe tears fall but let it happen, nobody is going to try to correct that because we’re all the same. Death is a temporary parting maybe but there’s the oneness that holds us all together. And yes, celebrating the life that was lived honors the deceased. Many thanks Paz and we appreciate your condolences…

  3. My condolences on the passing of what sounds like a great man. I’m this day and age this is a huge loss in the world arena. Thank you for sharing the memory of a true leader of the people. Brings to mind, although not comparable at all politically, the world mourning the death of Diana, “the people’s princess,” perhaps he was the “people’s king.”

    • Thank you Ellen
      We are still awake here in Chiang Mai watching cultural performances on TV because the cremation of the king and final ceremony is postponed until 11.30pm. The comparison with Diana is appropriate, he was most definitely the “people’s king.” The memory of a true leader of the people, your words throw light on the character of the king, and I understand something about him I’d not seen before.
      Sad day

    • Hi Ka, apologies for late reply.
      Thank you for the kind words and I’m glad you joined us here. The loss is a felt thing, black hanging drapes that have been placed over the windows and doorways of government buildings for a year, are now removed. The black mourning costumes the population have been wearing for one year exchanged for the first signs of colour.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.