The Picture in Every Home

Visitors to Thailand are often struck by the number of portraits of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej — usually with Her Majesty Queen Sirikit alongside — that are prominently displayed in Thai homes, shops, businesses, restaurants, places of entertainment, bus stations and airports. Many assume that because these pictures are so ubiquitous, their display must be mandatory.

They soon discover that this is not the case at all. The pictures are displayed out of genuine respect and affection for Thailand’s monarch, and to honour the many services he has performed for his subjects out of compassion and benevolence.

During his 61-year reign, King Bhumibol has touched the lives of his people in a myriad of ways. Although he is often seen in regal splendour, gravely carrying out the arcane and ceremonial side of his duties, he is in a fact a working king in the most down-to-earth sense. Literally thousands of royal projects have been initiated during his reign, the vast majority in the countryside, with the aim of bringing progress and happiness to the lives of ordinary people on a bedrock of sustainability.

An ancient Siamese king was regarded by his subjects as a Chao Cheewit, or ‘Lord of Life.’ Even as a modern monarch, King Bhumibol retains titles that hint of this aura of omnipotence — Paternalistic King, Divine King, Lord of the Land, Man of Great Affairs, Giver of Law, Defender of the Faiths, Upholder of Religions. He is also revered as the font of wisdom, culture, education, health and medicine.

As the “Strength of the Land,” King Bhumibol personifies national qualities and aspirations, setting an example of steadfastness and self sacrifice. It is the fulfilment of a vow made at his coronation in May 1950: “We shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people.”

The royal family’s devotion to the wellbeing of the Thai nation is apparent each day. It is rewarded by a genuine reverence for the institution that is rarely seen elsewhere.

In early December and mid August, particularly large pictures of the King and Queen are always displayed outside major buildings and in public areas in celebration of their respective birthdays.

Pictures of King Bhumibol have been even more in evidence than usual in the last two years because of two major milestones — the 60th year of his reign and his 80th birthday.

In June of 2006, the kingdom celebrated the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol’s accession to the throne. One of the highlights of the occasion was a royal address to a huge crowd at Royal Plaza in the administrative heart of old Bangkok.

King Bhumibol’s speech and expression of gratitude to his subjects was instantly transmitted to the furthest reaches of his kingdom. Many in the packed crowd wept openly as they hung upon the words of the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, revealing a heartfelt bond between monarch and subject that is widespread but private, and often very hard to explain to outsiders.

Indeed, very few Thais today can recall the time before King Bhumibol acceded to the throne. This makes him one of the great constants in the daily life of the kingdom. Single-handedly, he has forged a remarkable and in many respects unique relationship with the people he promised to serve at his coronation.

As a mark of respect, many Thais have taken to wearing the royal colour, yellow, and other colours deemed to be auspicious for various members of the royal family. At major gatherings of royal significance, a sea of yellow prevails.

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