December 1 is observed in Thailand as Damrong Rajanubhab Day (Wan Damrong Rachanuphap — วันดำรงราชานุภาพ) which commemorates the passing of Tisavarakumarn Damrong Rajanubhab (สมเด็จพระเจ้าบรมวงศ์เธอ พระองค์เจ้าดิศวรกุมาร กรมพระยาดำรงราชานุภาพ) in 1943. Prince Damrong was the founder of the modern Thai education system as well as the modern provincial administration. He was also an autodidact (self-taught) historian, and one of the most influential intellectuals of his time.
Born on June 21, 1862, as Phra Ong Chao Tisavarakumarn (พระองค์เจ้าดิศวรกุมาร; “Prince Tisavarakumarn”), the 57th child of King Mongkut and the only child of Consort Chum (เจ้าจอมมารดาชุ่ม; Chao Chom Manda Chum), a lesser royal wife. He initially learned Thai and Pali from private tutors, and English at the Royal School with Mr. Francis George Patterson. At the age of 14, he received his formal education in a special palace school created by his half-brother, King Chulalongkorn. He was given posts in the royal administration at an early age, becoming the commander of the Royal Guards Regiment in 1880 at age 18, and after several years working in building army schools as well as modernizing the army in general.
In 1887, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Army and was promoted to Major General. In 1889, by Royal Command, he left the military service for the civil service and was appointed Director of the Department of Public Instruction. The following year, he became Director General of the Department of Education.
Although he was Minister of Education for only three years, he initiated many reforms which formed the basis of the modern educational system in Thailand. He laid down regulations for the administration of both the department and the schools under his jurisdiction including the regular inspection and reporting on all schools. The prince also increased the number of schools by founding new schools within the precincts of temples which had always been regarded as traditional places for public education. The first public school was founded at Wat Mahannaparam and others quickly followed throughout Bangkok.
After he had developed the curriculum, related teaching techniques and had printed standard text books, he decreed for the founding of public schools throughout Siam in 1892. He also initiated the regular inspection and certification of the text books used in schools in order to maintain the standard of education.
When King Chulalongkorn began his administrative reform program in 1892, Prince Damrong was chosen to lead the Ministry of the North (Mahatthai), which was converted into the Ministry of the Interior in 1894. He held the position of Minister of the Interior until 1915.
In his time as minister, he completely overhauled the provincial administration. Many minor provinces were merged into larger ones, the provincial governors lost most of their autonomy when the post was converted into one appointed and salaried by the ministry, and a new administrative division — the monthon (circle) covering several provinces — was created. Also, the formal education of administrative staff was introduced. Prince Damrong was among the most important advisors of the king, and considered second only to him in power.
In 1899, the prince founded the Civil Service Training School; the name was changed to the Royal Page School in 1910 and eventually became Chulalongkorn University.
After the death of King Chulalongkorn in 1910, the relationship with his successor King Vajiravudh was less smooth. Prince Damrong finally resigned from his post at the ministry in 1915, officially due to health problems, since otherwise the resignation would have looked like an affront against the absolute monarch.
During the brief reign of King Prajadhipok, the prince proposed that the king founded the Royal Institute, mainly to look after the National Library and the museums. He became the first President of the Royal Institute of Thailand in 1925. Finally, in 1929, he was given the title Somdet Phra Chao Borommawong Thoe Krom Phraya Damrong Rajanubhab by King Prajadhipok in recognition to his works. This became the name by which he is generally known.
In the following years, Damrong worked as a self-educated historian as well as writing books on Thai literature, culture and arts. Out of his works grew the National Library, as well as the National Museum.
Being one of the main apologists of absolute monarchy, after the Siamese revolution of 1932 which introduced Constitutional monarchy in the kingdom, Damrong was exiled to Penang in British Malaysia. In 1942, after the old Establishment had substantially regained power from the 1932 reformists, he was allowed to return to Bangkok, where he died one year later.
Prince Damrong is credited as the father of Thai history, the education system, the health system (the Ministry of Health was originally a department of the Ministry of the Interior) and the provincial administration. He also had a major role in crafting Bangkok’s anti-democratic state ideology of “Thainess”.
On the centenary of his birth in 1962, Prince Damrong became the first Thai to be included in the UNESCO list of the world’s most distinguished persons. On November 28, 2001, to honor the remarkable contributions the prince made to the country, the government declared that 1 December would thereafter be known as “Damrong Rajanupab Day”.
Scott #2198 was issued by Thailand Post on October 12, 2005, marking the centennial of the National Library of Thailand (หอสมุดแห่งชาติ) which was created after the merger of the three existing royal libraries. Perforated 14½x14, the 3 baht stamp was printed on granite paper. The National Library operates under the jurisdiction of the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture in Bangkok and is the legal depositary and copyright library for Thailand. It aims to be a fully high-tech national intellectual property resource, serving all people and guided by professional staff. Collections include Thai manuscripts, stone inscriptions, palm leaves, Thai traditional books, and printed publications as well as audio-visual materials and digital resources.
In 1905, three libraries, the Mandira Dharma Library, the Vajirayanana Library, and the Buddhasasana Sangaha Library, were amalgamated at the command of King Chulalongkorn the Great and renamed the “Vajirayanana Library for the Capital City”. The library has remained under royal patronage since then. It was moved to the Thavaravathu Building, east of Wat Mahathat, in 1916. Printed material collections were housed in the Thavaravathu Building which was later renamed Vajiravudh Library by King Rama VII. All original ancient manuscripts and Thai gilded bookcases were transferred to Sivamokkabiman Hall and renamed the Vajirayanana Library.
In 1933, after the democratic reforms, the Fine Arts Department was established and assumed administration of the Vajirayanana Library by royal degree. Damrong Rajanubhab Memorial Library was founded in 1947 and later transferred to a new building in the Varadis Palace compound on Lan Luang Road. Vardis Palace was built in 1911 by German architect Karl Döhring and is the former residence of Prince Damrong. It was subsequently renamed the National Library. In 1966, the National Library was relocated to Samsen Road in Bangkok and is now administered by the Ministry of Culture. Between 1972 and 2009, sixteen provincial branches of the National Library were established.