Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand is best known as being the beloved wife of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) who is the King of Thailand and the world's longest serving head of state. The Queen of Thailand was born on the 12th of August 1932 in Thailand as Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara and today apart from being one of the most recognizable women within southeast Asia, she has also been described as being one of the most courageous.
Anyone vacationing within Thailand, will see pictures of the Queen of Thailand being proudly displayed in government and private buildings throughout most of the country. Like the King of Thailand, the Queen is highly revered among Thai people and it is unlawful and impolite to say anything negative about her whilst visiting Thailand.
BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS
Queen Sirikit was born during a difficult period of Thai history when the country was experiencing changes to its administrative system which at that time was moving from an absolute monarchy to the present system of a constitutional monarchy.
Born into a privileged family, she was the daughter of Prince Nakkahatra Mangkala Kitiyakara of Thailand. The name given to her of Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara is said to mean "the greatness of Kitiyakhon", so from an early age the Queen to be had a fortunate upbringing residing at Deves Palace in Bangkok and being schooled at Queens College and later Saint Frances Xavier Convent School.
However, by the the age of 13 at the end of WW2, her family including her mother Mom Luang Bua Sanidvongs moved to Europe so the young Sirikit could continue her education. During this period she had the opportunity to reside in countries such as England, Denmark and France due to her father's job as an ambassador for Thailand.
THE FIRST MEETING
It was during this time while living in Europe at the age of 17 that Sirikit first met her husband to be while she was studying at a music academy in Paris. She and a number of other students including a distant cousin Bhumibol Adulyadej, who were staying at the Thai Royal Embassy in Paris, spent time together while visiting a series of tourist attractions. It was during these initial visits that Bhumibol and Sirikit formed a friendship. Some time later Bhumibol was involved in a car accident and required hospitalization and it was Sirikit that apparently became a frequent visitor.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Their friendship grew and Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol were engaged on July the 19th 1949 and were married on the 28th April 1950 before her 18th birthday. Since her marriage to King Bhumibol her official title and name is Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachinat.
The decade following their marriage Queen Sirikit and King Bhumibol had four children. They are:
What is probably less known about Sirikit is that by the time she and King Bhumibol undertook their first world tour (which was to last six months) in 1960 she had been voted one of the world's 10 best-dressed women. She obviously had an eye for fashion as on their royal tour to England in 1960, Queen Sirikit took 150 outfits which included 80 pairs of shoes, 12 suites of matching diamond bracelets, necklaces and earrings.
During her visit to Australia in 1962 with King Bhumibol, Thai tradition was said to influence her dress choice. Therefore, by following the traditional "Thai colour chart" for each day of the week, red was the colour to be worn on Sunday's, yellow on Mondays, pink on Tuesdays, green on Wednesdays, orange on Thursdays, blue for Fridays and purple on Saturdays.
During these early years of marriage and raising her family, both the Queen and King of Thailand wanted their children to have as normal a childhood as possible, which they had both missed. Consequently, their children were schooled in classrooms set up at the Royal Palace in Bangkok being taught alongside other Thai children from all walks of life.
These early years of marriage appear to have been the most grueling for Sirikit because in addition to having four young children, by 1959 she and King Bhumibol commenced a world tour with the first State Visit being in the Republic of Vietnam in December of 1959, followed by a State Visit to Indonesia in February of 1960.
Between 1959 and 1967 they visited the United States of America, Australia (including Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane), Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaya, Burma, Japan, Switzerland and Pakistan.
At the completion of this world tour which was undertaken to establish world ties and friendships and to showcase Thailand (i.e. its people and culture) the royal family spent the next decades, assisting Thai people with their daily problems and trying to improve the living standards of all Thai's.
SERVICE AND DUTY
However, Queen Sirikit has demonstrated since becoming the Queen of Thailand that she was more than just a figure head within the royal family and she would not shirk from her responsibilities nor duties at any cost.
This courage and commitment was demonstrated back in 1981 when at the age of 49, Thailand was embroiled in yet another political coup. The Queen received a telephone call while at the Chitralada Palace at 11 PM at night. On the other end of the telephone a voice told her that a segment of the Thai military had seized the Thai Prime Minister and was preparing to march upon Bangkok if the palace would give approval.
An hour later Queen Sirikit returned the telephone phone call, speaking with a colonel involved in the coup. She warned him that if the Thai Prime Minister was not released within 30 minutes she would come and free him herself. Due to her courageous actions, the Thai Prime Minister was released immediately and the political coup failed.
the Queen of Thailand, Sirikit continued to dedicate her time in
assisting Thai people to improve their literacy and by supporting and
establishing charities within Thailand. In 1956 she became an
honorary President of the Red Cross of Thailand, a position which she
still holds today. She also established community libraries and medical
centres in remote country locations to improve the education and health
conditions of the poor.
By 1981 Queen Sirikit and her husband were known to work 10 hour days and spend 10 months of the year traveling around Thailand, doing charity work and development projects. Apart from making around 730 public appearances across Thailand, they would also meet with the people and discuss problems faced by the farming communities and hill tribes.
Queen Sirikit encouraged local farmers to supplement their farm income with handicrafts, or arts and crafts and weaving. It is said that about 20,000 Thai farmers had benefited from adopting the Queen's scheme.
Such visits were often undertaken at great personal risk which was the case in 1977 when a visit to the Yala province almost ended in tragedy when Muslim radicals detonated a bomb close to Queen Sirikit and her husband.
Like her husband and 95% of the Thai population, Sirikit is a Buddhist and in recent years she called upon Thai Buddhists monks to bring peace to southern Thai people. In particular she asked them to re-inhabit hundreds of vacant temples and monasteries in the country's southern provinces, that had been abandoned due to violent attacks from Islamic separatists. In 2007 alone around 211 temples and monasteries were reported to have been destroyed or badly damaged by extremist attacks at locations including Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani.
Despite this type of violence and damage of Thai landmarks Sirikit is well known for her work in promoting tolerance in relation to Thailand's Muslim minority population and is said to spend several months a year visiting provinces with higher Muslim populations.
Apart from her works mentioned above, over the years Queen Sirikit has continued to dedicate her life to building the Kingdom of Thailand through assistance to various charities and causes on behalf of human and animal welfare groups including the Elephant Rehabilitation Project in the Phuluang Wildlife Sanctuary within the Loei province of the northeastern region.
Her lifetime of service has been recognised by world leaders including the Unites States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who sent the Queen a message on her birthday on the 12th of August 2012 acknowledging her many charitable works that she has undertaken on behalf of the Thai people.