King Chulalongkorn Day is a national holiday observed on October 23rd every year in commemoration of the passing of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn the Great. King Chulalongkorn is renowned for the modernization of Siam and major reforms, founding its first university and abolishing slavery.
As the fifth monarch of the Chakri dynasty, King Chulalongkorn is known as King Rama V and is grandfather to His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (King Rama IX) and great-grandfather of the present monarch, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X).
The reformist monarch
King Chulalongkorn succeeded the throne in 1868 when he was 15 years old and was crowned king later in 1873. Early on in his reign, more than a third of the Siamese population were slaves. Those who could not live independently sold themselves into indentured servitude, which would be passed onto their children, forming multi-generational slave families.
King Chulalongkorn interceded, enacting a royal decree to reduce the price of redemption for slaves born in 1868, allowing those slave children to be freed by the age of 21. By 1905, the Slave Abolition Act ended Siamese slavery in its entirety, and slave owners were forced to reduce their slaves’ debt by 1 baht per month until they were free.
In homage to the Act, the reverse side of the 100 baht banknote (Series 15, Type 2) depicts King Chulalongkorn in Royal Thai Navy Uniform, and abolishing the slave tradition. Chulalongkorn University was also named after him.
King Chulalongkorn is also credited with having introduced social, economic and political initiatives and reforms, establishing a proto-Cabinet of trusted administrators that would eventually lead to the creation of 12 ministries governing defense, foreign affairs, justice, education, and public works, among others.
Additionally, he created Thailand’s first modern civil administration system that has since evolved into today’s provinces, districts, sub-districts and villages. This organized hierarchy supported the greater consolidation of Siamese sovereignty amid Western colonial forces to the east and west.
He passed away on October 23, 1910 after ruling Siam (now Thailand) for 42 years. Now, the monarch is also referred to as Phra Piyamaharaj or “Great Beloved King,” as well as Phra Phuttha Chao Lhuang, a reference of great esteem for past monarchs that is almost exclusively used for King Rama V.
The Equestrian Statue
The majority of Dusit district in Bangkok was built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, and the surviving buildings show a mix of Thai and European-style architecture. There, in the Royal Plaza, stands the Equestrian Statue of King Rama V, in front of Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.
On this day, Thais show their respect to the great reformer by placing wreaths at the Equestrian Statue and other statues of King Chulalongkorn throughout Thailand, in addition to the flowers and garlands that many Thais offer regularly out of the respect and affection for the revered monarch.
In addition, the Chulalongkorn rose, a thorn-free pink rose, is offered, especially to represent the everlasting love of Princess Dara Rasmi, a princess consort of King Chulalongkorn. Similar to other holidays in Thailand, if King Chulalongkorn Day falls on a weekend, the holiday will be observed on the following Monday.