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King of Thailand
Monarchy
Thai Garuda emblem.svg
Royal Coat of Arms of Thailand
Bhumibol 2003.jpg
Incumbent:
Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)

Style: His Majesty
Heir apparent: Maha Vajiralongkorn
First monarch: Sri Indraditya of Sukhothai
Formation: 1238

Thailand

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The Monarchy of Thailand (also referred to as the King of Thailand or historically as King of Siam) (Thai: พระมหากษัตริย์ไทย) refers to the constitutional monarchy and monarch of the Kingdom of Thailand (formerly Siam). The King of Thailand is the head of state and head of the ruling Royal House of Chakri. As a constitutional monarch the power of the king is limited to a symbolic figurehead, however the institution elicits huge amount of respect and reverence from the Thai people.[1]

The current monarch of Thailand is King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. Most of the king’s powers are exercised by his elected government in accordance with the constitution of the day. The king still retains many powers such as: being head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, the prerogative of royal assent and the power of pardon. He is also the defender of the Buddhist faith, which is the national religion of Thailand.

Despite the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the king in accordance with every constitution, is "enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated." The constitution however confers the king and his royal family with no legal rights, except for the exemption from legal actions. As a result the monarchy are then protected by a criminal law in a legal concept known in the West as lèse majesté, against any threat, physical violation and especially defamation.[2]

The king is assisted in his work and duties by the Private Secretary to the King of Thailand and the Privy Council of Thailand, and in consult with the head of the cabinet, the Prime Minister. In accordance with the constitution the king is no longer the origin of all laws in the kingdom, that prerogative is entrusted to the National Assembly of Thailand. All bills passed by the legislature however, require his royal assent to become law. The monarchy's household and finances are managed by the Bureau of the Royal Household and the Crown Property Bureau respectively, these agencies are not considered part of the Thai government and all personnel are appointed by the king alone.[3]

The heir apparent to the Thai monarchy is the Crown Prince of Thailand, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The succession to the throne is governed by the 1924 Palace Law of Succession, promulgated by King Vajiravudh. The rule of succession is male agnatic primogeniture, where only males are accepted and inheritance is between male lines, from father to son. However the last two Constitutions of Thailand included provisions to permit for the amendment of the Palace Law to allow females to succeed. This seemed unlikely with the birth of Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti in 2005.

The Thai monarchy has been in continuous existence since the founding of the Kingdom of Sukhothai in 1238. The institution reached its current constitutional form in 1932 after a revolution, which ended the absolute monarchy. The monarchy's official residence is the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. However the present king spends most of his time at the Chitralada Palace (also in Bangkok) and the Klai Kangwon Villa in Hua Hin.

Contents

History

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Origin

The current concept of Thai kingship has evolved through 800 years of absolute rule. The first king of a unified Thailand was the founder of the Kingdom of Sukhothai: King Sri Indraditya in 1238. The idea of this early kingship was based on two grand concepts based from Hinduism (which the Thais inherited from its previous rulers the Khmers) and Theravada Buddhist beliefs. The first concept is based on the Vedic-Hindu caste of: “Kshatriya” (Thai: กษัตริย์), or warrior-ruler, in which the king derives his powers from military might. The second is based on the Theravada Buddhist concept of “Dhammaraja” (Thai: ธรรมราชา), Buddhism having been introduced to Thailand somewhere around the sixth century A.D. The idea of the Dhammaraja (or kingship under Dharma), is that the king should rule his people in accordance with Dharma and the teachings of the Buddha.

These ideas were briefly replaced in 1279, when King Ramkhamhaeng came to the throne. Ramkhamhaeng departed from the Khmer tradition and created instead a concept of “paternal rule” (Thai: พ่อปกครองลูก), in which the King governs his people as a father would govern his children.[4] This idea is reinforced in the title and name of the King, as he is still known today, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng (Thai: พ่อขุนรามคำแหง) (“Pho” is Thai for Father). However this lasted only briefly, by the end of the kingdom the two old concepts had returned as symbolized by the change in the style of the kings; “Pho” was changed to “Phya” or Lord.

Kings of Ayutthaya

The Kingdom of Sukhothai was eventually supplanted by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, which was founded in 1351 by King Ramathibodhi I. During the Ayutthayan period the idea of kingship changed. Due to ancient Khmer tradition in the region, Hindu concept of kingship was applied for the status of the leader. Brahmins took charge in the royal coronation. The king was believed to be the reincarnation of Hindu gods. Ayutthaya historical documents show the official titles of the kings in great variation; Indra, Shiva and Vishnu, or Rama. Seemingly, Rama was the most popular, as in 'Ramathibodhi'. However, Buddhist influence was also evident as many times the king's title and 'unofficial' name related to Bodhisattava, Dhammaraja, or King of Dharma, and the 'sprout of Buddha'. The two former concepts were re-established, with a new third concept taking a more serious hold. This new concept was called “Dhevaraja” (Thai: เทวราชา) (or Divine-King), which was an ideal borrowed from Hinduism and especially the Brahmins. This concept centered on the idea that the king was an incarnation (Avatar) of the god Vishnu and that he was a Bodhisattva (enlightened one), therefore basing his power on his religious power, moral power and purity of blood.

The king as a semi-divine figure then became an object of worship and veneration for his people. From then on the monarchy was largely removed from the people, although they continued their absolute rule. Living in palaces designed after Mount Meru (Home of the gods in Hinduism). The kings turned themselves into a “Chakravartin” or literally from Sanskrit "whose wheels are moving", where the Kings became an absolute and universal lord of his realm. The kings demanded that the universe must revolve around them, expressing their powers through elaborate rituals and ceremonies. For four centuries these kings ruled Ayutthaya, presiding over some of the greatest period of cultural, economic and military growth in Thai History.

The kings of Ayutthaya; especially King Trailokanat created many institutions to support their rule such as the bureaucracy and a system of Sakna or Sakdina, usually translated as feudalism, and the creation of “Rachasap” (a special language reserved exclusively when addressing the king or talking about the king). The king’s power was absolute and sovereign: as the “Lord of the Land” (Phra Chao Phaendin) and Lord of Life (Chao Chevit). The king was also the chief administrator, chief legislator and chief judge. Therefore all laws, orders, verdict and punishments theoretically originated from his person. All of this came to an end in 1767 when a Burmese army under the Alaungpaya Dynasty invaded, sacked and burned the city of Ayutthaya.

Chakri Kings

King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke or Rama I, founder of the Chakri Dynasty.

After a brief interlude filled first by civil war then the short-lived Thonburi Kingdom under King Taksin. In 1782 a new kingdom was established by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (or Rama I) when he moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. King Rama I also founded the House of Chakri, the current ruling house of Thailand.

During the Rattanakosin Period the Chakri kings tried to continue the concepts of Ayutthayan kingship once again emphasizing the connection between the sovereign and his subjects. On the other hand they continued to not relinquish any authority of the throne. During this period (King Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV) tried to create the first semblance of a modern government, creating ministries and appointing chief ministers to help with the running of the government. Most notable of these was Somdet Chao Phraya Prayurawongse and Si Suriyawongse, who both acted as Chief Ministers for King Mongkut and (as regent until 1873) to King Chulalongkorn, respectively.

King Chulalongkorn (or Rama V) ascended the throne as king of Siam in 1868. King Chulalongkorn; himself educated by westerners, was intent on reforming the monarchy along western lines. First he abolished the practice of kneeling and crawling in front of the monarch and repealed many laws concerning the relationship between the monarch and his people. Instead he created a monarchy based on western lines of an ‘enlightened ruler’; absolute but enlightened. However he continued to preserve many ancient aspects and rituals of the old kingship, including his religious and feudal powers. In 1874 the King created a privy council, copied from the European tradition to help him rule his Kingdom. During his reign Siam was pressured to relinquished control of it old tributaries of Laos and northern Malaya to Western powers, Siam itself narrowly avoided being colonized. His son King Vajiravudh (or Rama VI) (succeeded in 1910) continued his father’s zeal for reform and brought the monarchy into the 20th century. He was succeeded by his brother King Prajadhipok (or Rama VII) in 1925.

Change

King Prajadhipok signing the Constitution of Siam on December 10, 1932.

In June 1932, a group of foreign educated students and military men called “the Promoters” carried out a bloodless Revolution, seizing power and demanded that King Prajadhipok, grant the people of Siam a constitution. The king agreed and in December 1932 the people were granted a constitution, ending almost exactly 150 years of absolute Chakri rule. From then on the role of the monarch was relegated to that of a symbolic head of state. His powers from then on was exercised by the Prime Minister and the National Assembly

In 1935 King Pradhipok abdicated the throne, following disagreements with the increasingly authoritarian government. Rama VII lived in exile in the United Kingdom until his death. The king was replaced by his young nephew Ananda Mahidol (or Rama VIII). The new king was only 10 years old and was living abroad in Switzerland at the time, a council of regents was appointed in his place. During this period the roles and powers of the King was entirely usurped by the fascist government of Pleak Phibulsonggram, who aligned Siam on the side of the Axis powers during the Second World War. By the end of the war Phibulsonggram was removed and the young King returned. During the War many of the King's relatives were part of the Free Thai movement, which provided resistance to foreign occupation during the war and helped rehabilitated Thailand after the war.

After the Rama VIII’s mysterious death in 1946 his brother, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX), aged 19 years old, became the new monarch, Rama IX. To date he is the world's longest serving Head of state and longest reigning monarch.

List of Kings

Royal Regalia

The present set of Royal Regalia of Thailand (Thai: เบญจราชกกุธภัณฑ์) and the Royal Utensils was created mostly during the reign of King Rama I and Rama IV, after the previous set was lost during the sack of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767. The Regalia is used mainly during the coronation ceremony of the king at the beginning of every reign. The Regalia is presently on display in the Museum of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.[5][6]

Coronation of King Bhumibol at the Grand Palace, 5 May 1950.
  • Royal Nine-Tiered Umbrella (พระมหาเศวตฉัตร)- the most important regalia; currently there are seven, distributed at various palaces.
  • Great Crown of Victory (พระมหาพิชัยมงกุฎ)- official headgear and the main symbol of kingship.
  • Sword of Victory (พระแสงขรรค์ชัยศรี)- found in Tonlé Sap in 1784, the sword represents military power.
  • Royal Staff (ธารพระกร)- symbol of justice
  • Royal Fan and Flywhisk (วาลวีชนี)- Royal Fan made of gold and the Royal Flywhisk made from the tail of a white elephant.
  • Royal Slippers (ฉลองพระบาท)- official footwear made of gold

The Thai Royal Utensils (Phra Khattiya Rajuprapoke) are also for the personal use of the monarch,[6] comprising:

  • the Betel Nut Set
  • the Water Urn
  • the Libation Vessel
  • the Receptacle.

These unique objects are always placed on either side of the king's throne or his seat during royal ceremonies.

Other Symbols of Kingship

Royal Ceremonies

The Royal Barge Procession in 2005.

His Majesty the King and other members of the royal family carry-out many royal ceremonies per year, some dating from the 13th century.

Royal Orders and Decorations

The king is sovereign of several Royal Orders and Decorations, the prerogative to appoint and remove any persons from these orders are at the king's discretion. However sometimes recommendations are made by the Cabinet of Thailand and the Prime Minister.

The Standard of the King of Thailand, see more at Royal Standard of Thailand.

See also

Chakri Monarchs
Emblem of the House of Chakri.svg
Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke
Buddha Loetla Nabhalai
Jessadabodindra
Mongkut
Chulalongkorn
Vajiravudh
Prajadhipok
Ananda Mahidol
Bhumibol Adulyadej

Bibliography

  • The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (2007), s:2007 Constitution of Thailand
  • Aryan, Gothan (September 15-September 16, 2004), Thai Monarchy, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Retrieved on 5 July 2006, presented in Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead, The Rise and Decline of Thai Absolutism, RoutledgeCurzon 2004

References

External links


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