His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, was born 86 years ago on December 5, 1927. He ascended the throne on June 9, 1946. The King’s birthday is a national holiday
in Thailand, expanded in the tenure of Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda into a more inclusive Father’s Day. The usual observance of the King’s birthday is a culturally unique
event, conducted in thousands of locations around the country and simultaneously in Thai communities and embassies abroad.
Most of the time a portrait of the King is the center of attention. In front of that, on a traditional arrangement of 9 small tables are placed bouquets of flowers and “globes” of
silver and gold representing the tribute that used to be paid by loyal subjects and vassal princes. The final gift is an arrangement of candles and incense sticks with sacred flowers encased in plated banana leaves. The one presiding at the event removes the banana leaf lid ceremoniously and sometimes reads or chants a statement of homage and veneration, and often everyone lights candles if the event is being held at night. Then everyone will stand and sing the “King’s Anthem”, entitled “Sansoen Phra Barami”, which begins with the words, “Kha wora Buddha cao…” translated by somebody for Wikipedia as “We servants of His great Majesty prostrate our heart and head to pay respect to the Ruler, whose merits are boundless….” This anthem is typically played at the beginning or ending of most large public events, including movies in theaters and sporting events. Following the anthem a short medley of newer songs may be sung.
Most banners and posters marking the King’s birthday will have the words, “Song Phra Charoen” which is translated, following British custom, “Long Live the King”, but more literally is the prayerful wish that the King “Prosper!” If the birthday celebration is less formal, it may include a toast with glasses raised and the three-fold intonation of “Chai-yo, chai-yo, chai-yo” very much as in English we might say, “Hip,hip HOORAY” following a leader.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.