A WANDERING MONK TURN MONARCH KING RAMA-IV AND SIAM/THAILAND
He was a BUDDHIST MONK turned MONARCH . MONGKUT was the fourth MONARCH of the CHAKRI Dynasty of SIAM titled as RAMA-IV . He was born on 18th October 1804 at THONBURY palace BANGKOK , SIAM . He was the second son of Prince ISARASUNDHORN ( RAMA-II ) and his first wife Princess BUNROT (SURIENDRA) . He ruled SIAM from 1851 to 1868 . His spouses were SOMANASS WADDHANAWATHY (1834-1852) , DEBSIRINDRA (1851-1861) , PANNARAI (1861-1868) . SOMANASS WADDHANAWATHY was the first consort of MONGKUT ( RAMA-IV ) , the King of SIAM . She was the queen consort but only for nine months as she died on 10th October , 1852 at the age of 17 only . Queen DEBSIRINDRA was the second consort of of king MONGKUT and she was the mother of prince CHULALONGKORN who later on became king of SIAM under the title of RAMA-V . As per SIAMESE tradition men aged 20 should become a Monk for a time . So , MONGKUT became a BUDDHIST Monk in 1824 as per the prevailing tradition and named as VAJIRAYAN . Though his father RAMA-II died in the same year , yet as against the tradition more experienced and more influential prince NANGKLAO , the son of a royal concubine rather than a queen , was crowned as the next King under title RAMA-III than MONGKUT . VAJIRAYAN became one of the members of the royal family who devoted his life to BUDDHISM as such . He traveled far and wide in the country as a Monk . He met many of the SIAMESE BUDDHIST Monks . But he observed among them relaxation of the rules of PALI CANONS which he considered inappropriate being a BUDDHIST as such . Then he met a BUDDHIST Monk called BUDDHAWANGSO at PHETCHABURI in 1829 . He became satisfied to know that the Monk strictly followed the Monastic Rules of the BUDDHIST Discipline called the VINAYA . So he admired BUDDHWANGSO for his strict obedience to the VINAYA . And he was inspired from him to bring about religious reforms so far as BUDDHISM in SIAM was concerned .
VAJIRAYAN started a reform movement in 1835 reinforcing the VINAYA laws in SIAMESE BUDDHISM . As a result evolved the DHAMMAYUTTIKA NIKAYA , a sect also called as THAMMAYUT sect strong theme of which depicted ‘ ….. true BUDDHISM was supposed to refrain from worldly matters and confine itself to spiritual and moral affairs .’ As I have mentioned above VAJIRAYAN moved far and wide in SIAM . In this course he arrived at WAT BOWONNIWETVIHARA and lived there as an abbot . It was a major BUDDHIST temple in PHRA NAKHON district , BANGKOK , THAILAND . The temple was established in 1824 by MAHASAKTI POL SEP , the viceroy during the reign of RAMA-III . It was a center of the THAMMAYUT NIKAYA order of the THAI THERAVADA BUDDHISM as such . It was a major temple of patronage for the CHAKRI Dynasty Rulers where many royal princes studied and served their Monk hood . During this time VAJIRAYAN persuaded a western education . He leant Latin , English, Astronomy with missionaries and sailors . During his period inter-religion dialogue started at WAT BOWONNIWET VIHAR . He invited VICAR PALLEGOIX of the ROMAN Catholic Archdiocese of BANGKOK to WAT BOWONNIWET VIHARA to preach CHRISTIAN sermons . He praised VICAR and admired CHRISTIAN morals and sermons after listening to him (VICAR) . But later when he became king of SIAM , as per a historian like ROBERT BRUCE , he said , ‘What you teach people to do is admirable , but what you teach them to believe is foolish’.* When he became the king of SIAM , he had an excellent command over the English language .
After twenty seven years of Monastic life King MONGKUT ascended to the throne of SIAM under title RAMA-IV at the age of 47 in 1851 . He took the name as PHRA CHOM KLAO but for the foreigner like the BRITISH , he was king MONGKUT . SIR JAMES BROOKE , a BRITISH deligate to his court , addressed him as ‘ our own king ‘ of SIAM. He was the first SIAMESE monarch who spoke English fluently . So , he was now to set about building of the biggest Royal Family of the CHAKRI Dynasty . In his palace there were more than three thousands women mostly servants , guards , officials and maids . And MONGKUT ( RAMA-IV ) himself acquired 32 wives by the time he died on 1st October , 1868 at the age of 64 despite the fact that he married first at the age of 47 with SOMANASS after ascending to the throne . He had altogether 82 children by now . As a king he started two revolutionary changes in the SIAMESE society : 1. He fought for the people to embrace modern geography apart from other western sciences ; and 2. He sought for reform in BUDDHISM . Smelling possibility of an outbreak of war with the EUROPEAN powers he took many innovative activities like he ordered the nobility to wear shirts while attending the court just to show that SIAM was a modern state from the view points of the west . Similarly , he crowned his brother prince ISARET as King PINKLAO as the second King knowing his abilities in foreign languages as such . He also raised his supporter DIS BUNNAK to the highest rank of nobility called SOMDET CHAO PHRAYA and made his agent kingdom-wide . DIS BUNNAK’S brother TAT BUNNAK was appointed as his Regent in BANGKOK . Thus , it would not be wrong if one says that during MONGKUT’S reign power of SIAM rested largely with DIS and TAT . BOWRING treaty of 1855 between king MONGKUT and the BRITISH Governor of HONG KONG , JOHN BOWRING abolished the royal foreign trade monopoly . Import duties were abolished . BRITAIN was declared as a most favoured foreign nation . Thus , the BOWRING treaty simply meant integration of the SIAMESE economy into the world economy . Similar treatises were concluded with all the western powers in the years to come . This resulted into conversion of SIAM as a sales market for the western industrial goods as such and SIAMESE export was limited to only three products : 1. RICE ; 2. PEWTER ; and 3. TEAKWOOD .
* BRUCE , ROBERT : ‘KING MONGKUT OF SIAM AND HIS TREATY WITH BRITAIN’ (1968) , an article published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic ( HONG KONG BRANCH )
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