Rama II

Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (Rama II)
King of Siam
Buddha Loetla Nabhalai portrait.jpg
Reign 1809 – 1824
Full name Chim (birth name)
Titles Prince Issara Sundhorn
Born February 24 1767(1767-02-24)
Amphawa, Samut Songkhram Province
Died July 21 1824 (aged 57)
Predecessor Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke
Successor Jessadabodindra
Consort Queen Srisuriyendra (Phra Phanwasa)
Issue 73 sons and daughters
Father Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke
Mother Amarindra

Phuttaloetla Nabhalai, Rama II, now known as Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (February 24, 1767 – July 21, 1824), was the son of King Rama I and Queen Amarindra, he was born at his mother's home at Amphoe Amphawa in present day Samut Songkhram Province. He was the second king of the Chakri dynasty. His father, Rama I, had extended Thai territory and driven off the Burmese, who had occupied part of the kingdom. His reign as King of Siam (1809–1824) brought in a renaissance of Thai arts and culture, especially in literature. He became known as the Great Artist and is sometimes referred to as the poet king. In 1968, UNESCO declared him a World Heritage Person.[1] Rama II had seventy-three children. Of these, two became King, Chesda Bondindra as Rama III and Mongkut as Rama IV, famous as the king in Anna and the King of Siam.[2]

Contents

Biography

When Rama I became King, the future Rama II was 16 years old. He was created a Prince, and took part with his father in several military campaigns. In 1806, he was made deputy-king. He was 42 when his father died and he succeeded as king.

During Rama II's reign, Thailand experienced a confrontation with Vietnam, then becoming a major power in the region, over control of Cambodia, in 1813, which his father had brought under Thai rule. Rama II was successful in keeping Cambodia under Thai suzerainty. However, as a devout Buddhist, he was more interested in peace than war. Among the many reforms that he introduced were harsh punishments for anyone found gambling over animal fights, such as cock-fighting. He ordered that all land must be cultivated, or it would revert to the state for re-allocation. He commissioned a survey of the kingdom to determine who owned which land, to prevent false claims and misappropriation. To help the population understand and practice Buddhism, he translated the Pali prayers into Thai. He also "revived the the celebrations of Visakha Bucha—the day that Lord Buddha was born, enlightened, and died."[3]

Western influences had begun to be felt in Southeast Asia and in Thailand. In 1785, the British occupied Penang, and in 1819, they founded Singapore. Soon, the British displaced the Dutch and Portuguese as the main Western economic and political influence in Thailand. The British objected to the Thai economic system, in which trading monopolies were held by royal princes and businesses were subject to arbitrary taxation.

Patron of the arts

Rama II is especially remembered as a patron of the arts and of Thai literature. He himself wrote a more popular version of the Ramayana, which his father had translated, set to a masked-dance. He wrote a number of other dance dramas, famously the Sang Thong, and composed tunes for the fiddle, which he played. As well as being an accomplished musician, he carved traditional Thai dance-masks too, favoring characters from the Ramayana. Like his father, Rama II saw Thai identity as important if the Thai were to retain their freedom. Also like his father, Rama II placed Buddhism and Buddhist ethics at the center of Thai life. He sent monks to Sri Lanks "to study Buddhism in that country," built a number of Buddhist shrines and "ordered his subjects … to shun all vices."[4] He wanted to restore what had been destroyed when the Burmese had sacked the nation's former capital at Ayuthaya.

The White Elephant King

In addition to being known as the Great Artist and the poet king, he was popularly dubbed "The White Elephant King," due to his possession of a number of white elephants. White elephants are considered lucky. The white elephant later became part of the national flag of Thailand, whose current king also owns white elephants. In Thailaind, "a white elephant is a noble beast of special importance, exemplifying a king's honor and glory" and "there is a strong bond between the Thai people and elephants. Elephants hold a revered place in society, because of their symbolic importance to monarchs, religion, and the nation as a whole."[5]

Relations with the British Empire

In 1821, the government of British India sent a mission to demand that Thailand lift its restrictions on free trade. They saw Thailand as a route to China. Thailand also had Teak timber, and some mineral resources. Two attempts were made, in 1821, to secure a commercial treaty between Singapore and Thailaind, both of which were unsuccessful. The first attempt was led by John Morgan, the second by John Crawfurd, later British Resident of Singapore (1824-1826).[6]. After recently throwing off Burmese occupation and establishing their autonomy as an independent power in the region, the Thai people were cautious about encouraging foreign presence in their territory. However, trade treaties with Britain were to be negotiated under Rama II's son, Rama III. As British power increased to the West of Thailand and French to the East, the Thai kings, in what proved to be a successful bid to protect their independence, negotiated treaties with both imperial powers that made some territorial and trade concessions in return for the promise that neither would invade. Instead, the British and the French agreed to regard Thailand as a neutral buffer-zone between their two empires.

Legacy

Rama II died at the age of 58. His younger son, Prince Mongkut, was heir-assumptive, but Rama II had not actually names him as his successor, so it fell to an Accession Council to determine the succession. Although Mongkut's mother was senior, the Council decided to give the throne to the son of one of Rama II's junior wives, Prince Chesda Bondindra, who ruled as Rama III, because of his greater administrative experience. Perhaps fearing for his life, Mongkut became a monk. However, Rama III chose not to designate a successor, which left the way open for Mongkut to succeed him when he died in 1851. Leaving the monkhood, Mongkut, then 47, finally became king as Rama IV, known in the Western world as the king who appointed Anna Leonowens as tutor and governess for his children.[7] There is a Memorial Park dedicated to Rama II in Bangkok, where an annual memorial fair is held in his honor. In 1968, he was declared a World Heritage Person by UNESCO.

In addition to Rama II's artistic legacy, his example of entering negotiation with the colonial powers would become Thailand's mechanism to avoid domination and loss of independence. His son, Rama III, entered the first treaty with the British in 1826, when, after the British assumed control of part of Burma, it became obvious that negotiation and diplomacy was the best way to protect Thailand from colonial domination.

Notes

  1. Grand Festival, King Rama II Memorial Fair. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  2. Margaret Landon, Anna and the King of Siam (New York: John Day, 1944). ISBN 9780060954888
  3. King Buddha Loet La Nabhalai Retrieved October 8, 2007
  4. ibid
  5. Circle of Asia, Elephants in Thailand. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  6. Ode to Friendship: Celebrating Thailand-Singapore Relations. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  7. Thailand Gateway Nang Klao. Retrieved October 8, 2007.

References

  • Baker, Christopher John and Pasuk Phongpaichit. A History of Thailand. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780521816151
  • Manich Jumsai. History of Thailand and Cambodia. Bangkok: Chalermnit, 2001. ISBN 9789747390292
  • Rama II with Fern S. Ingersoll, and Bunson Sukhphun. Sang Thong a Dance Drama From Thailand. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle Co, 1973. ISBN 9780804810029


Chakri Dynasty
Born: 24 February 1767; Died: 21 July 1824
Preceded by:
Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke
King of Siam
1809–1824
Succeeded by:
Jessadabodindra

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