Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for seven decades, finally succumbed to an illness on Thursday, October 13, at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, according to the announcement from the Royal Palace. He took the throne when he was 18. He has been absent from public life for several years due to poor health. A highly revered monarch in Thailand and an icon of Thai nationhood, he was considered history’s longest-reigning monarch. With his death, Queen Elizabeth II of England becomes the lone longest serving monarch in the world, having ruled England for 64 years. Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth has confirmed that the King’s only son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is the succeeding monarch. The Crown Prince requested that his appointment be delayed so he could properly mourn his father’s death together with his countrymen.
Security was tightened in Thailand after the Royal Palace announcement was read on state TV yesterday. As the country mourns, they begin preparations for the beloved king’s funeral.
Thailand’s unifying symbol
The country of Thailand was often a polarized nation, getting hit by multiple coups and several rounds of political turmoil. Through it all, King Bhumibol was the country’s stabilizing and unifying figure, weathering political instabilities since he came to power in 1946. While the military junta seized power via a coup in 2014, they still derived authority from the highly revered King.
King Bhumibol’s rise to the throne was accidental. He had to take the throne after the sudden death of his older brother, Ananda Mahidol. Despite his young age, the King fully espoused the role of the nation’s leader, preserving Thailand’s traditions of loyalty, deference and hierarchy.
Thais came to regard the King as a father figure who is always after their welfare. Their love for their king is shown almost everywhere. His portrait is displayed in homes, restaurants, shops and other places around Thailand. People are required to stand up when the royal anthem is played in cinemas, in the metro and at public parks.
The King preferred a life of simplicity. He loved black and white photography and was constantly seen with a camera slung around his neck. He was also a lover of jazz music and played the saxophone. He even had a jam session with clarinetist Benny Goodman and his band in New York when he visited the city in 1960.
The nation mourns
Most Thais regard King Bhumibol as semi-divine, a constant unifying presence amid a tumultuous nation. People gathered on the grounds of the Siriraj Hospital to pray for the king’s health, repetitively praying for the monarch. Many wore yellow, which is the color of the king, while more people wore pink, the color royal astrologers named as the most beneficial color for the king’s health. They burst into loud cries when the announcement was made.
World leaders started offering condolences as soon as the news broke out. U.S. President Barack Obama, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon were some of the leaders who’ve sent their condolences early.
An hour after the announcement, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said over state television that the country will have a one-year mourning period. Black clothes will be the official garb of civil servants for one year, beginning on Friday. Thai flags will be flown half-mast. While tourist arrival will not be curtailed, the entire country will have to tone down all entertainment functions, at least for one month. So if you’re thinking about taking a trip to Thailand, you may need a native Thai speaking interpreter to help you get around.