Happy Birthday, Sirikit – Thai Mothers Day

Thailand #428 (1965)

Thailand #428 (1965)

August 12 is designated in Thailand as National Mother’s Day (วันแม่แห่งชาติ — Wan Mae Haeng Chat) which commemorates the birthday in 1932 of Sirikit (สิริกิติ์). the queen dowager of Thailand. Born as Mom Rajawongse (“The Honorable”) Sirikit Kitiyakara, she was the queen consort of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX) — the world’s longest-reigning head of state at the time of his death on October 13, 2016 — and is the mother of His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn (or Rama X). She met Bhumibol in Paris, where her father was Thai ambassador. They married on April 28, 1950, one week before Bhumibol’s coronation. Sirikit was appointed queen regent in 1956, when the King entered the Buddhist monkhood for a period of time. Sirikit had one son and three daughters with the late king. Sirikit suffered a stroke on July 21, 2012, and has since refrained from public appearances. On November 29, 2016, the palace announced that she had been discharged from the hospital and had returned to the Chitralada Royal Villa due to her recovery. First declared by the Thai government in 1976, the official name of the holiday celebrating the Queen’s birthday is Wan Chaloem Phra Chonmaphansa Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borom Rachininat Nai Ratchakan Thi Kao (วันเฉลิมพระชนมพรรษาสมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์ พระบรมราชินีนาถในรัชกาลที่ ๙).

Her formal name and title is Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat (สมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์ พระบรมราชินีนาถ, “Her Majesty Queen Regent Sirikit”). Her official title is Queen Sirikit. At present, the Queen ranks as Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet, and Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force, usually mentioned in official documents as Chom Phon Ying Chom Phon Ruea Ying Chom Phon Akat Ying Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat (จอมพลหญิง จอมพลเรือหญิง จอมพลอากาศหญิง สมเด็จพระนางเจ้าสิริกิติ์ พระบรมราชินีนาถ, “Her Majesty Queen Regent Sirikit, the Field Marshal, Admiral of the Fleet, and Marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force”). She holds ceremonial supreme power, after the late king who ranked as the Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, in the Royal Thai Army.

Her titles, and effective dates, have been:

  • August 12, 1932 – April 28, 1950: The Honorable (English style) or Mom Rajawongse (Thai style) Sirikit Kitiyakara
  • April 28, 1950 – October 22, 1956: Her Majesty The Queen
  • October 22, 1956 – November 5, 1956: Her Majesty The Queen and Regent of Thailand
  • November 5, 1956 – October 13, 2016: Her Majesty The Queen Regent
  • October 13, 2016 – Present: Her Majesty The Queen Dowager
Thai postcard portraying Queen Sirikit and King Bhumipol, circa 1955

Thai postcard portraying Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol, circa 1955

Sirikit was born on August 12, 1932, at the home of Lord Vongsanuprabhand, her maternal grandfather. She is the eldest daughter and the third child of Prince Nakkhatra Mangkala Kitiyakara, the son of Prince Kitiyakara Voralaksana, and Mom Luang Bua Snidvongs. Her name, which was given by King Prajadhipok, means “the greatness of Kitiyakara”.

She had three siblings, two elder brothers and a younger sister:

  • Prof. Mom Rajawongse Galyanakit Kitiyakara, M.D. (September 20, 1929 – May 15, 1987)
  • Mom Rajawongse Adulakit Kitiyakara (November 2, 1930 – May 5, 2004)
  • Mom Rajawongse Busba Kitiyakara (born August 2, 1934)

Sirikit was raised by her maternal grandparents for a year after her birth, since her father was United States working as the secretary of the Siamese Embassy at Washington, D.C. Her mother joined her husband three months later. When she was one year old, her parents returned to Thailand. Sirikit lived with her family in Deves Palace, near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.

As a child, Sirikit often visited her paternal grandmother. In 1933, she traveled with Princess Absornsaman Devakula following King Prajadhipok’s tour of Songkhla.

At age four, Sirikit attended the Kindergarten College at Rajini School (sometimes called the Queen’s College), where she studied at the primary level. During that time the Pacific War was being fought. Bangkok was bombed many times, especially the rail lines, making travel unsafe. She was therefore moved to Saint Francis Xavier Convent School, since it was near the palace. She studied at Saint Xavier from her second primary year through the early secondary level.

In 1946, with the war now over, her father moved to the United Kingdom as the ambassador to the Court of St James’s, taking his family with him. Sirikit was then 13 and completed her secondary education there. While in England, she learned to play the piano and became fluent in English and French. Because of her father’s work as a diplomatic, the family moved to other countries, including Denmark and France. While in France, she studied at a music academy in Paris.

In France, Sirikit met King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was related to her since both were descendants of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). At that time, Bhumibol had ascended to the throne and was studying in Switzerland. Bhumibol and Sirikit as well as a few other students stayed at the Thai Royal Embassy in Paris. Sirikit accompanied the king as he visited various tourist attractions and they found that they had much in common.

On October 4, 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided into the rear of a braking truck 10 kilometers outside of Lausanne. He injured his back and incurred cuts on his face that cost him most of the sight in one eye. He subsequently wore an ocular prosthetic. While he was hospitalized in Lausanne, Sirikit visited him frequently. She met his mother, the Princess Mother Sangwan, who asked her to continue her studies nearby so that the king could get to know her better. Bhumibol selected a boarding school for her in Lausanne, Riante Rive. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on July 19, 1949, and the couple married on April 28, 1950, just a week before his coronation.

The wedding took place at Srapathum Palace. Queen Sri Savarindira, the Queen Grandmother presided over the marriage ceremony. Both the king and Sirikit signed on line 11 of their certificate of marriage. As she was not yet 18, her parents also signed, on line 12 directly under her signature. She later received the Order of the Royal House of Chakri, and became queen. After the coronation ceremony on May 5, 1950, both went back to Switzerland to continue their studies, and returned to Bangkok in 1952.

Queen Sirikit gave birth to four children:

  • Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya (born April 5, 1951)
  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn (born July 28, 1952)
  • Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (born April 2, 1955)
  • Princess Chulabhorn Walailak (born July 4, 1957)

She currently has twelve grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

When King Bhumibol undertook the traditional period as a Buddhist monk in 1956, Queen Sirikit acted as regent. She performed her duties so well that she was officially named the Regent of Thailand and the King gave her the title Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat on his birthday, December 5, 1956. She became the second Siamese queen regent in Thai history. The first was Queen Saovabha Phongsri of Siam, who served as regent when her husband King Chulalongkorn traveled to Europe, and later became Queen Sri Patcharindra.

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit at the 2006 royal audience in Bangkok, 2006

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit at the 2006 royal audience in Bangkok, 2006

Queen Sirikit is well known for her charitable work, where she is the honorary president of the Thai Red Cross, a post she has held since 1956. She gained new prominence in this role in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in southern Thailand on December 26, 2004. She was also active in relief work for the many refugees from Cambodia and Burma in Thailand. Sirikit has also been active in promoting Thai culture and history, mainly through her initiative in the making of the Thai movie The Legend of Suriyothai, one of the most lavish and expensive Thai movies ever made.

The Queen is particularly revered in the more remote and traditional parts of the country, where the monarchy is regarded as semi-divine. Her work in promoting tolerance and understanding for the Muslim minorities in the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have made her especially popular amongst Thai Muslims. Queen Sirikit has a strong bond with southern Thailand, and she formerly spent months in the Muslim-majority provinces every year. She is considered to be one of the more quiet diplomats.

Sirikit has appeared on numerous stamps released by Thailand and other nations such as The Philippines and Pakistan. The first stamps to bear her image were a pair released by Thailand on April 28, 1965, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of her marriage of King Bhumibol (Scott #428-429). The centers of the stamps were multicolored, printed by photogravure, while the frames were brown on the 2-baht denomination and violet on the 5-baht value. Tbey were printed on paper with a watermark of zig-zag lines and were perforated 13½,

Royal Flag of Queen Sirikit

Royal Flag of Queen Sirikit

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