The life works of King Bhumibol Adulyadej mainly involve agricultural and irrigational projects that aim to develop and improve Thai people’s lives. These missions succeeded through His Majesty’s scientific prowess, but his true passions lay in the arts. Although he worked hard to ensure a better livelihood for his people, he also spent time nurturing his many hobbies. These reveal his ingenuity, and classify him as a ‘Renaissance Man’. His keen interest in sports, photography, visual arts, music, and writing have also become his long-lasting legacies that we, as Thais, love and cherish.
Through his camera lenses he photographed the landscapes and terrains of Thailand for his projects. He captured Queen Sirikit’s beauty and the royal family members’ private moments. He also painted. Most of his oil paintings are portraits of the Queen, his family members, and some people around him. His artistic styles range from realism to Expressionist, Cubist, and Abstract. His colour schemes are akin to the Fauvists’ with vivid shades and striking compositions.
Since his childhood, His Majesty had a natural aptitude for music. He began with the alto saxophone, but he learned to play other woodwind and brasswind instruments as well as the piano. He composed 48 songs altogether—their styles varying from old standards or New Orleans jazz, to blues and even some marching songs. After working all week, he rehearsed and played with a band of musicians on Fridays and Sundays. Sometimes they played into the wee hours of the night. That’s why he composed one song called “H.M. Blues,” in which H.M. stands for “Hungry Men.”
His musical virtuosity is well-known as he played and improvised with renowned jazz musicians such as Benny Goodman and Stan Getz. His classical style is exposed in his majestic piece, the Kinaree Suite, created for the Manohra ballet performance. This suite was performed at a concert hall in Vienna, with a rapturous reception, and the King was the first Asian to receive an honorary membership by the Academy for Music and Performing Arts, Austria’s leading conservatoire.
For most of these songs, he composed their melodies and only penned a few lyrics. Their words and interpretations are poetic and poignant, reflecting Buddhist philosophies, the beauty of Thai landscapes, and life’s vicissitudes. Within their melodies and meanings, these songs also portray his life. In his first song, “Candlelight Blues”—written in 1946 when he was still King Rama VIII’s younger brother—the bittersweet lyrics compare the ephemeral candlelight to human life.
The late King Bhumibol wrote songs for various purposes. During every New Year celebration you will hear a song called “New Year Blessing”, composed in 1951, while “Smiles” was written for the blind students and the society for the blind, of which he was the patron. “The Impossible Dream” was written to boost morale among the military and border patrols who protected the country in 1969, while “Maha Chulalongkorn”, “Yoong Thong”, and “Kasetsart” were written for the students of Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, and Kasetsart Universities respectively.
His Majesty had ingenious ways of teaching—via his actions (as in sufficiency economy), or in words (through the royal speeches and his books). He wrote and translated eight books altogether, the first of which was When I Left Siam for Switzerland, a journal on his time studying in Europe. One of his well-known quotes is when one person yelled to him “Don’t leave your people behind”, and from the moving car, he responded, “If my people don’t leave me, how can I leave all of you?”
He translated the best-selling book entitled A Man Called Intrepid, about Sir William Stevenson, a British Intelligence agent who bravely conducted his duties and upheld justice, peace, liberty, and morality without hoping for praises and accolades. The late king was also inspired by his pet dog, named Thong Daeng, and wrote a book about her loyalty, kindness, and good manners.
Among all his output, the most popular is Mahajanaka, translated from Thosajataka, one of the Lord Buddha’s 10 previous lives. This mythical story tells about Prince Mahajanaka who travelled by sea and was shipwrecked. He has to swim for days and nights across the ocean to get back to land. This book was illustrated by several major visual artists, has a cartoon and a Braille version.
For the 70 years of King Bhumibol’s reign, Thais have lived under his glorious magnanimity. He has been our constancy while we went through numerous political fluctuations. We have been in a status quo for a long time, and don’t like going through changes. Thais refer to a reign as “land” or “country” because in the old days each King would gain or lose territories from wars and battles. Changing the “land” is like living in a new country. However, King Bhumibol has entrusted his beloved son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, to succeed as King Rama X. As the new king, he will not only have to continue his father’s legacies but also create his own. Long may he reign.