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Chakri Day To Honor
King Rama I -
Founder of Bangkok

King Rama IThree hundred years ago the Kingdom of Siam was in turmoil. The Northern Kingdom of Lan Na, which had united with the King of Siam, was occupied by aggressive Burmese troops who, following the expansionist policies of the Burman Court of Ava, were proceeding south to the Siamese Royal Capital of Ayudhya. Chiangmai, already under the yoke of Burmese military command, was exhausted and denuded of its citizens as they fled south before the victorious Burmese armies. In fact, for a time our lovely old city of Chiangmai was abandoned to the ravages of war.

Some of the most bitter fighting in these Northern Wars was commanded by a young man of noble Ayudhya descent. He was Thong Duang (born 1737) and he rose to be Chaophraya Chakri (the rank "Chakri" would be similar to a modern day Field Marshal) and he rallied his Siamese and Lan Na forces time and time again. But they were gradually forced to fall back until, eventually, the Burmese had a grip on the Royal Capital. Ayudhya fell on 8th April 1767 and the Siamese people fled to Thonburi further downriver on the mighty Chaophraya. The ornate city of Ayudhya was razed by the Burmese, temples plundered, gold and jewelry looted, monks and women cruelly dispatched the old city would never rise again as can be witnessed by the ruins we see today. But the Burmese had suffered heavily in the taking of Ayudhya and knew the Siamese would return to take up battle. Knowing they could not hold Ayudhya, the Burmese retreated after only one week.

War campaigns continued over the years, ebbing and flowing, until the Siamese armies consolidated during 1779 in Thonburi. The military commander (Chakri) realized the Royal Court of King Taaksin was in disarray and, such was the King's weariness with war, he had taken to religious escapism rather than address the needs of his subjects. Lots of citizens rebelled against this lack of leadership and, marching on Thonburi, called for the overthrow of King Taaksin in favor of their "Chakri" being elevated to the Throne. So this is what happened; the young nobleman, Thong Duang, who became military Chakri was elevated to the Siamese Throne. He took the title "King Ramathibodi" and reigned as King Rama I from April 6 1782 until 1809.

As an experienced military campaigner, King Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty, knew that the city of Thonburi was vulnerable to possible Burmese attack from the west. Accordingly, he commanded that a new Capital be established across the River Chaophraya on its eastern bank. And so Krung - Thep (Bangkok) was born; the city was immediately alive with artisans and tradespeople as government buildings, Royal Palaces, homes, canals and workplaces began to take shape under hammer, chisel, blade and spade.

Although facing many problems, gubernatorial as well as military, King Rama I proved himself an able administrator as he began to pull his tattered Kingdom back to order. One of his initial aims was to strengthen the Buddhist faith and reestablish moral fibre within the monkhood which had lost its spine since the sack of Ayudhya. The King assembled all 218 of his senior monks, at what is now Wat Mahathart, and ordered them to bring together all of the Buddhist Scriptures and Holy Books which had survived war and to revise or rewrite what was missing. The work took five months such was the vigor of daily royal inspections as to the senior monks' progress!

King Rama I also uplifted the national esteem of his people by reintroducing State Ceremonials which had not been seen since the fall of Ayudhya. This gave people, from the Royal Court downwards, a civic pride plus knowledge of hierarchy and personal identity. A long-lost feeling of togetherness and order was revived.

The Legislative Council was also brought to order when King Rama ordered a gathering of judges and scholars to inspect the workings of Siamese law. Where needed, existing laws were edited and upgraded whilst new judicial rules were added so that they would reflect "His Majesty's Justice". The collective effort became known as the "Three Seals Law" (because three official seals were affixed) and they served the Kingdom of Siam for the next 100 years.

Wars, and talk of wars, continued for years to come but, thanks to the military and administrative talents of King Rama I, the Kingdom of Siam survived. The King also survived, against plot and counterplot, and was able to live out his life until death took him on September 7, 1809. The Crown and Throne of Siam, uplifted from the plains of war and dissent, was nourished by King Rama I before they passed to his eldest son, Prince Itsarasunthon, who became King Rama II of the Chakri Dynasty.

Perhaps on this Public Holiday of Chakri Day, we may pause to reflect on and remember King Rama I builder of Bangkok, administrator, military leader and founder of the Chakri Dynasty. An illustrious ancestor of our present King, His Majesty King Bhumibol, Rama IX, of the Chakri Dynasty. Long Live the King!

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