By; Nulacha Sutthinonthagul
23 October is the day each year when Thailand commemorates the passing of King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, in 1910. Just ten days earlier, on 13 October, the Kingdom marked the third anniversary of the passing of King Bumpiphol Adulyadej, or Rama IX.
Ascending the throne at the age of 15 in 1868, King Chulalongkorn, the fifth monarch of the Chakri dynasty, reigned for 42 years. He is revered as the king who modernized the Kingdom.
One of his first acts was to abolish prostration as he saw it as oppressive. Much later, the king abolished slavery. He has even been compared to President Abraham Lincoln for this righteous act, which could have been influenced by the bloody American Civil War that he did not want to see repeated in Siam, as Thailand was known at that time.
Rama V is also revered for his many social and political reforms as he introduced a modern, national administrative structure divided into provinces and districts. He also established 10 ministries: the Ministry of Interior initially to govern the provinces in the north, the Ministry of Defense, which governed provinces in the south and controlled the Thai Royal Army and Navy, the Ministry of Metropolitan Affairs, which commanded the peacekeepers, the Ministry of the Royal Household, the Ministry of the Treasury to manage foreign affairs and the Royal Treasury, and the Ministry of Agriculture to oversee the farms and rice fields of the Thai kingdom. These were later followed by the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Public Instruction and Ministry of Foreign Affairs..
King Chulalongkorn also saw the importance of education and founded the Royal Pages School at the Royal Palace. This then became the Civil Service College of King Chulalongkorn at the site of the Kingdom’s first national university, Chulalongkorn University, which was established by his son, King Rama VI in 1917.
As part of his modernization policy, Rama V also switched from the Thai lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar to be able to better integrate with the West. However, Thailand continues to use the Buddhist year, which is 543 years ahead according to the Christian era, making 2019 AD the year of 2562 BE. He also introduced the first postal service and railway route from Bangkok to Ayutthaya during his reign.
After having been taught about Western customs and the English language by a mix of Thai and European tutors, he was the first Thai monarch to visit Europe and used his influence to maintain Thailand’s independence at a time of increased European colonialism in the region.
Many books have been written about this great monarch. He is also mentioned in Anna and the King, a fictional account of life in the court of his fther, King Mongut, Rama IV, by Anna Leonowens, who served as the tutor to the king’s 58 children, one of whom was King Chulalongkorn.
A musical play and then movie, “The King and I” were produced based on this book, but they have never been allowed to be presented in Thailand because of dissatisfaction with the depictions. Another movie, “Anna and the King”, was released in 1999, but again this film has been banned. Because of his compassion and benevolence, King Chulalongkorn became known by his subjects as Phra Piya Maharat, which when translated means, the “Great Beloved King”.
There are also many memorials to Rama V, like the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn on horseback, which stands at the front of the Ananta Samakhom throne hall in the capital’s Dusit district. On Wan Piyamaharat, Chulalongkorn Day, many Thais will come here as well as go to memorials throughout the kingdom to offer garlands to the memory of King Rama V.