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King Chulalongkorn
and Princess Dara Rassamee

Rama 5On 23 October, Thailand commemorates the life of King Chulalongkorn on the anniversary of his 1910 passing. King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, born 20th September 1853, was not only largely responsible for modernizing Siam and avoiding colonialism, but also for unifying the Kingdom. His link to the people of Chiangmai was Jao Dara Rasamee, a favored Royal Consort who hailed from the northern province.

When Prince Chulalongkorn acceded to the throne in 1868, he was just 15 years old. His father, King Mongkut (Rama IV) appointed a Regent to oversee Siam until he reached the age of 20, then sent him abroad to learn more about the world. King Chulalongkorn visited neighboring states in Southeast Asia, and later, British-ruled India. Several months before officially taking the throne, young King Chulalongkorn was ordained as a monk, leaving the monastery just days before his Royal Inauguration on 16 October 1873.

His familyHe certainly had his work cut out for him. During the 19th century, the Kingdom of Siam was merely a loose conglomeration of many "MUENG" held by "JAO MUANG" ("MUENG" means a leading city surrounded by its smaller cities and "JAO MUANG" means appointed or self-appointed rulers). Banditry and piracy were widespread, as there was little in the way of a police force or established judiciary. Tax collectors were little more than thieves, and organized transportation, health services and public education were at best poor and at worst lacking.

One strategy for winning loyalty from some 20 autonomous muengs was through royal marriages. Many rulers considered it a great honor to have their daughters accepted as wives or concubines for the King. Procreation on a large scale was expected of a Siamese King, but like everything else Rama V accomplished, this strategy was only part of a larger plan. He ultimately sired 77 children (44 girls, 33 boys). The boys would be educated, well traveled and loyal to the King's vision, and would make perfect choices for key posts across the land.

The 'Modernizing Monarch'

Rama 5Sometimes referred to as the "Modernizing Monarch," King Chulalongkorn played a major part in staving off western colonization while simultaneously adopting more positive aspects of western society. This helped to keep Siam out of the hands of England, France and Holland, and move it quickly out of the state of feudalism.

Appreciative of certain western principles, Rama V liberated his subjects from serfdom by establishing a government based on a council of 12 ministers. He diminished the power of mueng rulers by creating a system of smaller administrative units right down to the village level, and frequently dispatched trusted representatives to the provinces for updates. This system ultimately paved the way for the present democracy. In addition to a more democratic rule, the King installed health and education programs, and encouraged capitalist practices.

Rama 5In foreign matters, King Chulalongkorn traveled to Europe and cultivated diplomatic and friendly relations with European countries. He quickly learned that European attitudes towards Asia were not as friendly as they seemed on the surface. Knowing what was happening to the people of his colonized neighbors, and remembering the trip to India of his youth, the King, like his father before him, continued to resist offers from the British East India Company to build a railroad in Siam. Instead, he skillfully negotiated with several railroad technology experts across a variety of European countries and invited them to Siam to argue over the best way to build. Eventually, a railroad was built with a combination of resources, giving no single power, nor any type of collective power, to contributing countries.

Thai Pride

The Thai people are especially fond of King Chulalongkorn. The preservation of Thailand's sovereignty and independence, in contrast to other Southeast Asian countries, was a direct result of his efforts. His diplomacy abroad and ability to form a central government at home endeared him to the people. Through his vision and leadership, a small traditional Kingdom was transformed into a modern nation at the heart of Asian affairs.

She was formally betrothed to King Chulalongkorn when she was 11 years old. At 13, she traveled by boat with her father to Bangkok, where she received the great honor of having her topknot ceremoniously shaved by her future father-in-law, former King Mongkut himself. She was then officially presented to King Chulalongkorn in royal matrimony with the duty as overseer of internal palace affairs.

Princess Dara RassameePrincess Dara Rassamee's marriage to King Rama V was one of the most significant of his strategic unions. As the daughter of a Chiangmai king, her marriage marked an important bond between the two oldest Thai kingdoms in Southeast Asia.

The Lanna Kingdom (present day northern Thailand) was actually older than the original Siamese Kingdoms at Sukhothai and Ayuthaya. Its Mengrai Dynasty lasted from 1258 to 1558 until the arrival of Burmese invaders. But the region remained Siam's most strategic of all Thai areas during these wars with Burma that raged for 200 years prior to the 19th century. Despite the Burmese stronghold on the north, a new Lanna King took the throne in Chiangmai from 1732 to 1771.

King Tipchang was finally in a position to make loyal appointments to various prefectures throughout the Lanna region, including the placement of his son Prince Kaew as the ruler of Lampang. After Siam's King Taaksin marched an army from Thonburi to help liberate Chiangmai from Burma, he appointed General Phya Ja Baan to rule Lanna based at Chiangmai, and Prince Kaew's son Gawila took over at Lampang (But later, Phya Ja Baan had a falling out with King Taaksin, and the following Siamese King installed Gawila as King of Lanna).

During this time, King Taaksin was making his own attempts to unify Siam. A trusted general and younger brother of Phya Chakri (a war hero and good friend of King Taaksin, who would later become Rama I, the first king of Thailand's present Chakri Dynasty), married King Gawila's younger sister, Princess Sri Anocha. This man, Phya Surasi, in effect became the first Royal Siamese related to the Tipchang Dynasty, and an important loyal bond was formed in which the Lanna Kingdom respected its position as part of the Kingdom of Siam.

Dara Rasamee's father, King Inta Wichayanon, was the 7th king of this Tipchang Dynasty, and in 1893, nine years after her official installment in Bangkok, Chiangmai was formally annexed into the Kingdom of Siam.

Great Consort

Darapirom PlaceDuring the 1880's, Jao Dara Rasamee became a highly respected royal consort and cultural representative of the Lanna Kingdom. Unlike the other women, who wore their hair short according to the Central Thai style, Princess Dara Rassamee wore her hair long and dressed in traditional northern clothing such as a pasin (long skirt similar to a sarong) or a jonggrabane (wrap-around pants). It was even rumored that at one time, England's Queen Victoria wanted to adopt Princess Dara as a daughter.

Princess Dara Rassamee bore the King one child on 2 October 1889, a daughter who died tragically at the age of three. But she continued to live at the palace and engage in the internal affairs of the Siam Royal Family. She brought the palace children together through organized music, dance and other performing arts lessons and activities.

Despite her active role at the palace, she was homesick, but remained loyal. At one time she became very ill, and was sent to recover at the Ang Sila beach resort in Chonburi. The King and other leading members of the Chakri Dynasty eventually granted her the title "Great Consort," for her "faithful and correct behavior toward the King, members of the Royal Family, and government officials".

When Princess Dara Rassamee's father died in 1909, she asked the King's permission to visit Chiangmai. During this 55 day trip by boat, she also visited family members and memorial sites to her ancestors in various Lanna cities.

Upon her return to Bangkok, the Royal Family granted her new living quarters. Only ten months later, King Chulalongkorn passed away, but she remained at Dusit Palace after the crowning of King Vajiravuth (King Rama VI) for another five years. In 1915 her brother, King Kaew Nawarat, went to Bangkok on official business and asked for permission for her to return to Chiangmai.

By this time, almost 30 years since her first arrival in Bangkok by boat, Princess Dara Rassamee traveled back to Chiangmai via the new railroad. She took up residence at Tha Chedi-Geaw Palace (which now serves as the present day office of the American Consul General), where she spent her days performing charitable works on behalf of the poor and infirm. She also helped to revive traditional performing arts in the north, and erected a monument of honor for the remains of past rulers and members of Chiangmai's two royal dynasties at Wat Suan Dork. In special tribute to her father, she had his ashes enshrined at the peak of Doi Angga and the mountain is now known as Doi Inthanon in his memory.

Her other residences were the Rinkeaw Mansion (located near Gad Suan Kaew mall), a teak mansion on Doi Suthep (which has since been removed) and the Dara Pirom Palace, where she passed away in 1933. The Dara Pirom Palace is now restored by Chulalongkorn University as a museum devoted to her life and features her personal items.

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