BANGKOK – Thailand’s monarchy on Thursday saw its continuity secured with the royal proclamation of Maha Vajiralongkorn, who will assume the regal name of Rama X following the death of his father, Rama IX.
The Thai concept of monarchy dates back to the 13th-century Kingdom of Sukhothai, according to the country’s foreign affairs ministry.
“The reign of King Ram Khamhaeng the Great saw the birth of the ideal of a paternal sovereign looking after the needs of his subjects and conscious of his duty to guide them,” the ministry said in a statement outlining the country’s official history.
It added that this was a very different vision from the concept of divine monarchy practiced by the Khmer in neighboring Cambodia.
Ram Khamhaeng, the third monarch of the Phra Ruang dynasty, ruled over Sukhothai from 1279 until his death in 1298, in an age when the kingdom reached its maximum splendor and dominated parts of present-day Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia.
This absolute, paternalistic and benevolent monarch, according to the official description, is credited with creating the Thai alphabet and establishing the Theravada school of Buddhism as the state’s religion.
The city of Sukhothai – located 365 kilometers (227 miles) to the north of Bangkok – functioned as the kingdom’s capital between 1238 and 1347, until the court was moved to Phitsanoluk – located 51 km to the southeast of Sukhothai – where it would remain until 1583.
The United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO declared Sukhothai and its “fine monuments, illustrating the beginnings of Thai architecture” a World Heritage site in 1991.
The Kingdom of Sukhothai bordered the Lan Na “Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields” to the north, which saw its apogee in the late 13th century during the rule of Mengrai the Great, the 25th Hiran monarch.
Mengrai established the Lan Na capital in Chiang Mai, currently located 575 km to the north of Bangkok, and erected a defensive wall that can still be admired today in the city’s center.
The so-called Rose of the North has since then become the main cultural and religious hub – sporting over 300 Buddhist temples – of Thailand’s northern half.
In the 14th century, King Ramathibodi I – known as Prince U-thong, or “Golden Cradle,” before ascending to the throne – became the first king of Ayutthaya, located 66 km to the north of Bangkok.
The Ayutthaya Kingdom lasted for 14 reigns and introduced the Dharmasastra legal code, which was based on Brahmanic tradition.
Its longest-reigning king was Boromma Trailokanat, who ruled for 40 years (1448-1488), while the monarch with the shortest reign was Chao Thong Lan, who barely ruled for seven days in 1388.
The capital was moved four times: From Ayutthaya (1351-1463) to Phitsanulok (1463-1488), then back to Ayutthaya (1488-1666); from there to Lopburi (1666-1688) and finally back to Ayutthaya again (1688-1767).
The official history sources cited acknowledge that the Ayutthaya period saw the decline of the paternal-figure ideal due to Khmer influence, making the monarch an “arrogant and inaccessible figure that was rarely glimpsed by the majority of citizens.”
“However, this period spanning four centuries was witness to the reigns of some notable monarchs and their transcendent achievements,” the statement said.
The Burmese army sacked and burned Ayutthaya to the ground in 1767.
From its ashes rose the Kingdom of Siam and the current Chakri dynasty, founded by Rama I (born Phutthayotfa Chulalok).
“With the establishment of the Chakri dynasty in 1782 and of Bangkok as its capital, the new monarchy was based above all on adherence to the Buddhist concept of virtue,” the statement added.
The absolute nature of the monarchy was abolished on June 24, 1932 – during the reign of King Prajadhipok, or Rama VII – limiting the king’s powers.
The seven decades Thailand has been under the stewardship of Rama IX (1946-2016) have helped re-establish the crown’s influence in state matters and strengthen the popular conception of the King as a paragon of virtue, unity and national identity.
This is the legacy inherited by Rama X, apart from the lèse majesté laws that punish with up to 15 years imprisonment any transgression against the royal family.