On May 5, 1950, His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej became the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty amidst elaborate coronation ceremonies held in the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. The anniversary was celebrated throughout the Kingdom between 1951 and 2016 as Coronation Day (วันฉัตรมงคล — Wan Chat Mongkol), and observed at the Grand Palace by a series of religious rites lasting for three days starting each May 3. However, on April 16, 2017, it was announced that Coronation Day would be dropped as a holiday starting this year due to His Majesty’s death on October 13, 2016.
In early May, we still have a public holiday on May 1 for National Labour Day (วันแรงงานแห่งชาติ — Wan Raeng-ngan Haeng Chat) and Vesak Day (วันวิสาขบูชา — Wan Visakhabucha, a Buddhist observance commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha) falls on May 10 this year. In addition, 2017 will see observances of two new holidays: His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s Birthday (วันเฉลิมพระชนมพรรษาสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวมหาวชิราลงกรณ บดินทรเทพยวรางกูร — Wan Chaloem Phra Chonmaphansa Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Maha Wachiralongkon Bodinthrathepphayawarangkun) on July 28 (he was born in 1952) and October 13 will henceforth be commemorated as the “Anniversary for the Passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej” (วันคล้ายวันสวรรคตพระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช บรมนาถบพิตร — Wan Khlai Wan Sawankot Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paramin Maha Phumiphon Adunyadet Borommanat Bophit). Yes, we do have a lot of holidays in Thailand! (There were ELEVEN “holidays” in March and April, only two of which I wrote about on this blog this year…)
The tenth king of the Chakri Dynasty, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, will have his own coronation later this year. On April 21, 2017, it was announced that this event will occur sometime in December (a month already chock-full of holidays — Father’s Day, which was the late king’s birthday, Constitution Day, National Sports Day, and three to five days at New Year’s, among them). On April 26, it was finally announced that the funeral rites for the late king will occur from October 25 to 29 with the actual cremation on the 26th. Construction is ongoing for the huge funeral pyre. Thailand Post has indicated that there will be stamps issued for both kings’ events.
Bhumibol ascended the throne following the death by gunshot wound of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on June 9, 1946. Bhumibol succeeded his brother, but returned to Switzerland before the end of the 100-day mourning period. Despite his interest in science and technology, he changed his major and enrolled in law and political science to prepare for his duties as head of state. His uncle, Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, was appointed Prince Regent. In Bhumibol’s name, Prince Rangsit authorized a military coup that overthrew the government of Thamrongnawasawat in November 1947. The regent also signed the 1949 constitution, which returned to the monarchy many of the powers it had lost by the 1932 Revolution.
In December 1946, the Siamese government allocated several hundred thousand dollars for the ceremonial cremation of the remains of the late King Ananda, a necessary preliminary to the coronation of Bhumibol who was required by religious custom to light the funeral pyre. Unsettled conditions in 1947 following a coup d’état resulted in a postponement, and court astrologers determined that March 2, 1949, was the most auspicious date.
The first stamps to picture Bhumibol were a pair of definitives issued on November 15, 1947 (5 satang violet, Scott #264, and 20 satang chocolate, Scott # 266). These were printed by Waterlow & Company of London, engraved and perforated 12½. Interestingly, these were inscribed SIAM, as were all stamps released between 1947 and 1949, as were those from the first issues in August 1883. THAILAND was inscribed on stamps starting on May 13, 1941, and resumed with the Coronation issue of May 5, 1950, continuing until the present day. On December 5, 1947, a set of four stamps were released marking the new king’s coming of age (Scott #260-263). These were rather crudely lithographed by the Royal Thai Survey Department in Bangkok and issued both with and without gum. Additional definitives were ordered from Waterlow & Company and were issued November 1, 1948 (Scott #268-273) and January 3, 1949 (Scott #265 and 267).
While finishing his degree in Switzerland, Bhumibol visited Paris frequently. It was in Paris that he first met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France (Nakkhatra Mangala) and a great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn and thus a cousin of Bhumibol. She was then 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist.
On October 4, 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided with the rear of a braking truck 10 kilometers outside Lausanne. He injured his back, suffered paralysis in half of his face and incurred cuts on his face that cost him the sight of his right eye. Both the royal cremation and coronation had to be postponed once more.
While he was hospitalized in Lausanne, Sirikit visited him frequently. She met his mother, who asked her to continue her studies nearby so that Bhumibol could get to know her better. Bhumibol selected for her a boarding school in Lausanne, Riante Rive. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on July 19, 1949, and they were married on April 28, 1950, just a week before his coronation. Their wedding was described by The New York Times as “the shortest, simplest royal wedding ever held in the land of gilded elephants and white umbrellas”. The ceremony was performed by Bhumibol’s ageing grandmother, Savang Vadhana.
After presiding over the long-delayed, ceremonial cremation of his brother Ananda Mahidol, Bhumibol was crowned King of Thailand on May 5, 1950, in the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy. During the ceremony, he pledged that he would “reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people” (“เราจะครองแผ่นดินโดยธรรม เพื่อประโยชน์สุขแห่งมหาชนชาวสยาม”). Notable elements associated with the coronation included the Bahadrabith Throne beneath the Great White Umbrella of State; and he was presented with the royal regalia and utensils.
In 1950 on Coronation Day, Bhumibol’s consort was made Queen (Somdej Phra Boromarajini). The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin beach in southern Thailand before they returned to Switzerland, where the King completed his university studies. They returned to Thailand in 1951.
Thailand marked King Bhumibol’s coronation with a set of eight postage stamps issued on May 5, 1950, all bearing a portrait of the king as well as an image of the Grand Palace (Scott #275-282). The stamps were engraved and printed on unwatermarked paper, perforated 12½.
The first denomination (25 satang carmine) in a new definitive series was released on February 15, 1951 (Scott #286). Additional values in this design were released at periodic intervals between December 1951 and October 1956 with a final, 20-satang, stamp issued in 1960 (Scott #283-295). The two high values in this series — 10 baht black brown & violet and 20 baht gray & olive — are quite rare in unused condition, cataloging at USD $325 and $300 respectively in my 2009 edition of Scott.
The next set of stamps to bear the image of King Bhumibol were those of the 1961-1968 definitive series. In Thai stamp catalogs, the definitive series are numbered separately and referred to in order; hence, this set is the “King Bhumibol Rama IX (3rd Series)” (Scott #348-362A). They were recess-printed by Thomas de la Rue Ltd. of London with the first stamps, all baht denominations, appearing in 1961. Several satang denominations were issued in 1962, followed by a 25-satang stamp in 1963, 1.25 baht in 1965, and a 4-baht value in 1968.
The King Bhumibol Rama IX 4th Series of definitives were printed by the Government Printing Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Finance between 1963 and 1971, comprising 19 stamps in the set (Scott #397-411A). The king’s 36th birthday on December 5, 1963, was marked by a pair of stamps (Scott #419-420). This was the first time since 1947 that his birthday had been commemorated with a stamp issue and would be the last until his 48th birthday in 1975 (Scott #772-773). A two-stamp set commemorating the 15th wedding anniversary of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirkit was issued on April 28, 1965 (Scott #428-429).
Additional definitive stamps bearing the king’s portrait were released throughout the following decades; at the time of Bhumibol’s death, Thailand was in the midst of the 9th Series. His Majesty appeared on relatively few commemoratives during the 1970’s and most of the 1980’s. There were issues on his birthday in 1979 (portraying Thai royal orders) and 1987 (15 stamps marking Bhumibol’s 60th birthday). In July 1988, 12 stamps were released to commemorate the fact that King Bhumibol had become the longest reigning monarch in history. That December, eight additional stamps in the 1979 Thai royal orders design type were issued on the king’s birthday, as were five stamps and a souvenir sheet to commemorate the Buddha Monthon celebrations at Tambon Salaya. Although there was a stamp set released on December 5 in 1990, the king wouldn’t appear on another commemorative until his birthday in 1994, although the stamp marked the 125th anniversary of the Council of State. He appeared again, paired with King Vajiravudh on a stamp released January 1, 1995 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Bar Association.
King Bhumibol appeared on commemorative stamps much more frequently beginning with those issued on June 9, 1996, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his accession to the Thai throne. Each of the regular stamps in the first of three sets released that day (Scott #1663-1667) was accompanied by a matching souvenir sheet with extended design images from the May 5, 1950, coronation (Scott #1663a-1667a). Additionally, there was a beautiful gold embossed 100-baht stamp that I, unfortunately, have yet to add to my collection (Scott #1668). A further five stamps (Scott #1669-1673) plus a souvenir sheet (Scott #1673a) portrayed some of the king’s many development programs (the famous “Royal Projects”). The final set of stamps released on June 9, 1996, included three stamps (Scott #1674-1676) and a souvenir sheet (Scott #1676a) featuring the royal utensils. The king appeared next on a single stamp issued for National Communication Day on August 4, 1996 (Scott #1681). The year also saw the first of the 9th Series of definitives, a 2-baht carmine stamp released on December 5 (Scott #1702).
Birthday issues were released in 1997, 1998, and 1999 with the 1999 occasion (his 72nd) marked by four separate sets of stamps and souvenir sheets: Scott #1871-1874a released on May 5, Scott #1892-1900a on September 10, Scott #1906-1914a on October 21, and Scott #1915-1917a on December 5, 1999. That’s a total of 25 stamps and four souvenir sheets with the December issues being embossed with bronze, silver and gold foil for King Bhumibol’s 72nd birthday. A “quiet” period followed where the king did not appear on another commemorative stamp until December 5, 2005 (Scott #2209a-#2209b); a set of stamps had been released on his birthday in 2004 but these were to portray Bangkok as a “fashion city”.
The king’s 60th anniversary as monarch in 2006 was commemorated by several series of stamps. This was my first year as a full-time expatriate in Thailand, having complete the cross-Pacific move in April (just in time for the Songkran holiday!). I got caught-up in the celebrations in Bangkok and it turned me into the Royalist that I am today. The year also saw my return to stamp collecting for the first time in perhaps five years (I’d been travelling too much to spend much time with the hobby) and I remember the first Thai stamps I bought at the Phuket Philatelic Museum were the set of four plus one miniature sheet released on September 1, 2006, portraying King Bhumibol’s beloved dog, Khun Thongdang (Scott #2243-2246a). I bought a number of the souvenir pages produced for this, as well as earlier 2006 stamps, at the time. I haven’t missed too many since then.
The following year of 2007 saw a number of stamps released in commemoration of Bhumibol’s 8oth birthday in several series. The years since have had much fewer stamps honoring the king with most years seeing but a single commemorative on his birthday (which, I might mention, I do share). I was looking forward to next year’s 90th birthday issue but it’s not to be.
I was teaching a class of banking staff when word came the evening of October 13, 2016, that His Majesty had passed away. I believe the students learned of his death during our break but didn’t inform their teacher. I didn’t realize until I left the suite of classrooms in the shopping mall basement; as I entered the neighboring department store on my way to the motorbike taxi stand, I noticed the usual pop music played on the PA system had been switched to jazz. Not just any jazz music, however. It was “Hungry Man Blues”, one of many tunes composed by King Bhumibol. The lights outside were dark; the giant video screens at the nearby intersection showed black with a single flickering candle. That was probably when the realization that he was gone set in. I had the day off from work the following day (Friday) and watched the news most of that day. Saturday morning I returned to work for an early morning class with more banking staff. Everyone there was in absolute tears and I gave a little speech at the beginning of the lesson about my own feelings towards the royal family (I’ve met two of the princesses now — one is an avid stamp collector herself and often attends philatelic events in the Kingdom). I do plan to attend the cremation later this year and, possibly, the coronation of the new king as well.
One final stamp has been released to date bearing an image of King Bhumibol. This was designed to commemorate His Majesty’s 70th anniversary of accession and was originally scheduled for release on December 5, 2016. This was cancelled out of respect and I believe most collectors were surprised at the end of March when the announcement of “the world’s longest stamp” was made in a variety of media outlets. The 170 millimeter wide by 30 millimeter tall 9-baht stamp was released on April 1, 2017, in sheets of five. I have yet to obtain a copy as the local post office always seems to be sold-out whenever I try to buy one!
Thailand Post has also mentioned that there will be commemorative stamps issued later this year to mark the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death and the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn as well as the first definitive series of the latter.
Although Bhumibol was sometimes referred to as King Rama IX in English, Thais referred to him as Nai Luang or Phra Chao Yu Hua (ในหลวง or พระเจ้าอยู่หัว), which translated to “the King” and “Lord Upon our Heads”, respectively. He was also called Chao Chiwit (“Lord of Life”). Formally, he was referred to as Phrabat Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua (พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว) or, in legal documents, Phrabat Somdet Phra Paraminthara Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), and in English as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He signed his name as ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช ป.ร. (Bhumibol Adulyadej Por Ror; this is the Thai equivalent of Bhumibol Adulyadej R[ex]).
Prior to the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV), there were no coronation ceremonies in Siam; there were only private ceremonies held by high ranking officials to celebrate their royal regalia and positions in the sixth lunar month. A coronation, however, took place for the first time when Mongkut was crowned on May 15, 1851. King Mongkut thought that the coronation was an auspicious occasion but thought that it would be difficult to explain the meaning of the Coronation Day to his subjects in detail, he thus called this day as a “ceremony to commemorate the royal regalia” but was quite similar to that of a coronation. On that day (the 13th of the full moon in the sixth lunar month), monks chanted sutras at the Grand Palace. On the following day, they were invited to have a meal at the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall.
Each year since 1951 until 2016, May 5 was a public holiday in Thailand to mark King Bhumibol’s Coronation Day. It was observed by a series of religious rites lasting for three days. On the first day, May 3, there was a Buddhist ceremony at Amarindra Vinichai Hall in the Grand Palace dedicated to the ancestors of the Chakri House, in which scriptures were chanted and a sermon delivered by a high monk. On the second day, the ceremony consisted of two parts — a Brahmanic one and a Buddhist one. The third day was Coronation Day itself. A feast was given to Buddhist monks and the king was dressed in full regalia. At noon, the Royal Thai Army and the Royal Thai Navy each fired a salute of 21 guns. Later in the day, decorations were bestowed on officials and civilians who had done meritorious services to the state and society.
Until his death at age 88 of health-related complications on October 13, 2016, Bhumibol was the world’s longest ruling monarch. His reign surpassed that of Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrated her 91st birthday on April 21, 2017, and who has sat on the United Kingdom’s throne for 65 years. His death plunged Thailand into mourning, as tens of thousands of people converged on the Thai capital and stood in line for hours to grieve for and pay their respects to Bhumibol. Prime Minister Prayuth Chanocha announced a year of national mourning that will officially end on October 30, 2017.
The body of the late king is being kept at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which lies next to the site where a funeral pyre complex featuring intricate art pieces is being built as the centerpiece for the state funeral, which is expected to draw dignitaries and other attendees from across the globe. On Oct0ber 25, King Bhumibol’s body will be moved from the palace and placed on the pyre, where it will be cremated the next day. The king’s ashes will then be collected and placed in an urn housed in the Chakri Maha Prasart Throne Hall, and Buddhist monks will chant over them during a merit-making ceremony.
Bhumibol’s 64-year-old heir, his only son among four children, ascended to the throne on December 1, 2016. His coronation is set to occur sometime in December 2017.