Bhumibol Adulyadej : The man behind the crown

A policeman stands next to an image of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok on October 25, 2017. ( AFP Photo/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

King Bhumibol Adulyadej – the man who held the world title of the longest-ruling monarch – helmed the crown for seven decades. He was venerated as a morally righteous and strong figurehead to the Thai people during tumultuous times and stood as a beacon of hope and sign of stability to his loyal subjects. His achievements as a monarch are well-known to his people, but he also had many personal passion projects that contributed to the love that they had for him.

Bhumibol grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland. That is where he was gifted his first camera – a coronet midget – at the age of eight. This camera sparked his love of photography – a lifelong passion that he became well-known for.

The king used to travel across Thailand with his camera strapped to his chest, carrying only a self-made map, a pencil and eraser, all to take photographs that would capture different facets of the country during its development. This was a project that Bhumibol was extremely attached to personally, and he was rarely seen without his camera which he strapped across his neck, even at official ceremonies, even when he was emerging from the hospital in a wheelchair.

Bhumibol was a prolific photographer who took pictures of his nation from land, sea, and air. He did this so he could document the urban development of Thailand and also plan various projects for the future. There is even a museum that exhibits all the photos that were taken by the monarch, of which include pictures of his family, various religious festivals and events that occur around Thailand, as well as landscapes of towns and villages.

The king also had a passion for jazz music, cultivated during his teenage years. The first instrument that he owned was a second-hand saxophone, which his mother, Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra Boromrajajonani, helped him purchase. He would bring this saxophone along to orchestrate jam sessions with other students while studying in Lausanne.

Bhumibol was enthralled with the composition and tonality of jazz. He composed his first piece titled “Candlelight Blues” at the age of 19, four years before he ascended to the throne, and went on to create 47 more compositions – which were influenced by his favourite jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong and Johnny Hughes of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. During his time as the Thai King, Bhumibol continued to perfect his musical skills with a 14-member band who used to play with him at the palace.

The king was also a formidable jazz performer and rubbed shoulders with jazz luminaries like Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter. There are several recordings of Bhumibol’s compositions recorded with Les Brown and His Band of Renown in 1996.

Interesting facts about King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

While he may be better known for his passion for photography, Bhumibol had many other pursuits. He was also an accomplished sailor who won the Gold Medal in the OK Dinghy class sailing competition during the 1967 South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) games, which is now known the SEA Games. The man was also a self-taught artist, a practising architect, a craftsman and a writer, best known for authoring “The Story of Mahajanaka” and “The Story of Tongdaeng”.

Though he had many praiseworthy talents, Bhumibol’s greatest quality may have been his humility. In an interview with the New York Times in 1989, King Bhumibol said, “if they want to write about me in a good way, they should write how I do things that are useful. If they want to criticise me, I don't care, I don't mind. But they must criticise me fairly. Usually the criticism is not fair. Or the praise, even the praise sometimes is not fair.”


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