Bicycles and Buddhist offerings mark Queen’s birthday
Nearly 300,000 people across the Kingdom set a new world record by bicycling 26.7 miles each to honor Queen Sirikit Kittiyakara on her 83rd birthday August 12, the day that Thais celebrate as Mother’s Day because the Queen is regarded as the mother of the nation.
Tens of millions of Thais from peasants to top politicians engaged in religious ceremonies and visited family to show love, respect and devotion to their mothers and to the Queen. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, joined by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, were at the forefront of the cycling event, which kicked off at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok and that the government said was the largest bicycle parade in world history.
Praise for Queen Sirikit’s lifelong devotion to the Thai people poured in from friends around the world. United States Secretary of State John Kerry was among the well wishers, sending a letter that read: “On this special day, I honor your deep compassion for the Thai people and unflagging commitment to the development of your beautiful country. Your work has improved the livelihoods of numerous Thai people and inspired others in Thailand and beyond.”
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and wife led Cabinet ministers, their families and others in making offerings to 84 Buddhist monks at a fair near Government House called titled “Industries Creating Mother’s Day Gifts.” The Prime Minister signed a well-wisher’s book at Chitrlada Palace, as thousands of Thais waited on line to do the same. Nearly everyone was dressed in blue, the astrological color of the Queen’s day of birth.
In home across Thailand, people kneeled before their mothers and grandmothers in respect and gratitude and gently poured water over their elders’ hands in a Buddhist ritual of purification. Water is a symbol of life in Thai culture, and the ritual symbolizes thankfulness for the one who gave you life. Water is also closely associated with the royal family, as the King and Queen are known for their irrigation and rainmaking projects.
The celebrations cut across classes and all parts of the Kingdom. According to The Nation newspaper, in far-flung northeastern Roi Et province, 70-year-old villager Mul Meunhawong rode his bicycle on a 56-mile round trip from his home town to the provincial capital to sign the well-wishers’ book for the Queen.
Atthapol Srisantithorn, 31, a shoe-shop owner in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Phimai district, proudly displayed the 7,500 images of Queen Sirikit he has collected since 1999. In Khon Kaen province, Dr. Anant Sripanaskul gave free ultrasound tests and medicines to the public to honor the Queen, while in Kalasin province, the governor led throngs to release 500,083 fish into a lake.
The signature event, however, was the “Bike for Mom” campaign led by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. A total of 294, 863 people around the country, including nearly 40,000 in Bangkok, signed up to pedal 26.7 miles for the Queen. The government has invited the Guinness Book of World Records to certify the event as the largest bicycle parade. The government has been encouraging Thais to cycle more for their health and to save energy, and Queen Sirikit has been a strong supporter and advocate for improving public health. She was the first president of the Thai Red Cross.
Born to a Thai diplomat, Sirikit Kittiyakara met then Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej in Paris while her father served as ambassador to France. The coupled married in 1950 and have four children.
Queen Sirikit has been cited globally many times for her charitable work, receiving awards from UNICEF, the United Nations Fund for Women, The United Nations Environment Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Wildlife Fund, the Asia Society and the World Health Organization, among many others.
She is also held in high respect by many Muslims in the Deep South for promoting tolerance and peace among Thais of different faiths.
Thailand Focus August 17, 2015
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