Thais celebrate 70th anniversary of King Bhumibol’s reign

K4495871-23.182323Tens of millions of Thais in all corners of the country donned yellow clothing, made offerings to Buddhist monks, planted trees and prayed for the health of constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adjulyadej last Thursday on the 70th anniversary of the day he became the king of Thailand.

The 88-year-old king made no public appearance on the auspicious occasion as he was recovering from heart surgery at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. Thousands of Thais from all walks of life gathered outside Siriraj to pray for the only monarch most of them have ever known, and to sign books wishing him a speedy recovery.

Roads around the ornate Grand Palace in the old quarter of Bangkok were closed off to traffic as people thronged to give alms to 770 Buddhist monks chanting blessings for the king. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Cabinet, all dressed in yellow, also participated in the alms-giving ceremony.

“The relationship between Thais and the King is deep, more than one can actually begin to explain,” said Colonel Winthai Suvaree, a government spokesman. “He is father to the land.”

King Bhumibol, who became the ninth Rama, or king, of the Chakri Dynasty on June 9, 1946 following the tragic death of his older brother Ananda, is currently the longest reigning monarch in the world and among the longest-reigning monarchs in history. Arguably, only Louis XIV of France reigned longer over a nation, although others reigned longer over principalities and states.

But King Bhumibol is honored, loved and revered more for his decades of work and devotion to uplifting the welfare of his subjects than simply for his longevity. Known as “the Development King,” he spent a significant portion of his reign traveling to remote and poor villages for eight months of every year, and launched over 4,000 royal development projects to improve the lives of the least advantaged people and communities.

“The King travelled up and down the country and met the people. He heard and fixed our problems and that is why we love him,” Yaovapha Thaitae, a noodle vendor working near Siriraj Hospital, told The Nation newspaper.

“If I lived a hundred lifetimes, I would consider myself lucky to be born in His Majesty’s reign,” Somporn Maejai, a sanitation worker in Bangkok, told the paper.

Local media reported that, aside from the ceremonies at Buddhist temples, worshippers of other religions in Thailand such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism also held ceremonies to honor the king.

And communities of expatriate Thais from Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York to Europe and the Middle East donned yellow clothing, made offerings and sent well wishes to Siriraj Hospital to share their pride, devotion and love of the king they often refer to as “the Soul of the Nation.”