Every Tuesday night, hundreds of Thais gather around Bangkok’s Royal Plaza. Coming from all ranks of Thai society, they believe, on this night, the spirit of Prabat Somdech Phra Chulachomklao Chaoyuhua Maharach (พระบาทสมเด็็จพระจุลจอมเกล้้า เจ้าอยู่หัวมหาราช ) returns to Krungthep Maha Nakorn.
With offerings such as pink roses, red wine, black coffee and cigars, the Thais beseech their revered departed king for advice, blessings and prosperity. The Thais simply love Phra Chulalchomklao and can’t seem to have enough of Him.
Since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, more and more people, especially the Thai-middle class, have elevated Phra Chulachomklao Chaoyuhua or better known as King Rama V Chulalongkorn, to a near divine status.
His images, posters, statues, amulets, tie-pins and button badges can be found at every corner of the Thai universe. It is not strange that Chulalongkorn’s image gazes down proudly at nearly every government offices, shops and even the night clubs at Soi Thonglor.
His near-divine status also accords him a special position at Buddhist altars, standing slightly below then the Lord Buddha’s or Chao Meh Kuan Imm’s image.
Last Sunday (Oct 23), marks Chulalongkorn’s 95th death anniversary. His death anniversary is a public holiday in Thailand, and it is known in English as Chulalongkorn’s Day, or in Thai, วันปิยมหาราช (wan peyar maharach), which simply means the Day of the Great King.
Indeed, Chulalongkorn steered Thailand (then known as Siam) through various political and economic crises of 19th and 20th century. Through his diplomatic wisdom, Thailand evaded the clutches of the European, American and Japanese colonialists.
He was perhaps the first westernized monarch in Southeast Asia to embark on a self-reformation and self-modernization policy. His western-inspired Chakri Reformation (1868-1910) modernized public administration, freed the slaves and abolished the forced-labor (corvee) system. He also laid the modern infrastructure of Thailand such as telegraph, telephone, railway and road systems.
Interestingly, these days, Chulalongkorn is revered for His boon-giving powers. It is believed, Chulalongkorn still has the power to deliver promises and wishes to his subjects. He has become the eternal symbol of a Modern Thailand. Chaiyo!