As something of an ongoing service to the New Mandala-reading audience I have selected another useful extract from Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. This one turns back the clock to a time when my parents were teenagers. The Beatles were huge, or so I hear. The Americans had yet to put a man on the moon. All this was happening too. And King Bhumibol had already been on the throne for the best part of two decades.
By the mid-1960s, King Bhumibol’s prestige was greater than that of any king since Chulalongkorn. Without challenging the official constitutional, democratic basis of the country–and anyway in the mid-1960s there was still no constitution or elected parliament–the king was set out as an alternative leader, one with virtue and true insight, a Sukhothai-style dhammaraja. As an incipient bodhisattva, a handsome modern family man, an internationally recognized statesman, an artist and musician, a generous protector of his poorest subjects, a partner of industrialists and traders, and a pioneer of development, he became bigger than government, and the public became his real legitimizing force.
David Wyatt has described the 1960s as the period of the bourgeoisation of Thai monarchy. Charmed by royal culture and disgruntled by the dominance of corrupt generals and businessmen, Thais learned to look to the throne for respite, inspiration, and actual leadership…
…The new royalism was reinforced by snubbing and intimidating nonbelievers. The palace shunned anyone not expressing unqualified monarchism.