His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej (which is pronounced ‘Phumiphon Adunyadet’) is the ninth king of the Chakri dynasty (founded in 1782) and as of 1988 the longest reigning king in Thai history.
Born in the USA in 1927, where his father Prince Mahidol was studying medicine at Harvard University, and schooled in bangkok and Switzerland, King Bhumibol was a nephew of Rama VII as well as the younger brother of Rama VIII. His full name, including royal title, is Phrabaatsomdet Boramintaramahaphumiphonadunyadet.
His Majesty ascended the throne in 1946 following the death of Rama VIII, who had reigned as king for only one year. In 1996, Thailand celebrated the king’s 50th year of reign. His Majesty is the world’s longest reigning, living monarch. A Jazz composer and saxophonist, King Bhumibol wrote the royal anthem (the music that accompanies photos of the royal family shown before every film at cinemas throughout the country). He is fluent in English, French, German and Thai.
The King and Queen Sirikit have four children: princess Ubol Ratana (born 1951), Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (1952), Princess Chulabhorn (1957). A royal decree issued by King Trailok (1448-88) to standardise succession in a polygamous dynasty makes the king’s senior son or full brother his ‘uparaja’ or heir apparent. Thus Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was officially designated as crown prince and heir when he reached 20 years of age in 1972; if he were to decline the crown or be unable to ascend the throne due to incurable illness or death, the senior princess (Ubol Ratana) would be next in line.
Thailand’s political system is officially classified as a constitutional monarchy, but the Thai constitution stipulates that the king be enthroned in a position of revered worship and not be exposed ‘to any sort of accusation or action’. With or without legal writ, the vast majority of Thai citizens regards King Bhumibol as a sort of demigod, partly in deference to tradition but also because of his involvement in impressive public works. Along with nation and religion, the monarchy is very highly regarded in Thai society. Negative comment about the king or any member of the royal family is a social as well as legal taboo.