Millions of hearts to become one
It will be a vast sea of yellow at the Royal Plaza today. But even that will pale in comparison with the ocean of allegiance when millions of Thai hearts converge for the grandest commemoration of a truly beloved King who ascended the throne exactly 60 years ago today.
At that time, it was a calm, albeit bewildered, young prince rising to kingship before an expectant and adoring populace. Today, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-reigning monarch, having guided and unified his country through thick and thin, high and low.
With unrivalled moral authority and sheer hard work, he has seen Thailand through political upheavals, economic crises, natural disasters, wars as well as ideological divides.
If that young prince was awed then, it's the world that's marvelling now.
The gathering at the Royal Plaza, the yellow and national flags sprouting up in every household, the cooperation of public and private entities in the epic national commemoration have one thing in common - it all comes from the heart. Royals from around the world are arriving to honour His Majesty, but the true measure of what he has achieved is in the everlasting and fierce loyalty of the common man, whom he has worked so hard for and cared so much about.
"Across Thailand, the poor, the sick and the underprivileged have seen their lives bettered through more than 5,000 projects seeded by King Bhumibol Adulyadej over decades of hard, sweaty labour," wrote Associated Press veteran on Thailand, Denis D Gray. "This in turn serves as the source of his immense popularity and a political power the world's longest reigning monarch has decisively wielded during pivotal moments."
Over a million Thais from all over the country are expected to show up for an audience with Their Majesties the King and Queen, who will greet the crowds from the balcony of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, in a scene resembling the time the royal couple granted a public audience at the Royal Palace decades ago.
With such a huge number of people expected to attend, the Agriculture Ministry has prepared refreshments including thousands of packs of milk, 100,000 cups of water, seven tonnes of rambutan, five tonnes of pineapples and 600 kilograms of oranges for the people.
"I've been making my own religious observances for the King, including meditation before going to bed every night, for three months since the middle of last month," Krisada Jaknarai, a 29-year-old from the Northeast, told reporters.
"This is a time of happiness, and all Thais are very happy to show our loyalty to the King," said Charaspong Disalanand, a 31-year-old doctor who said he was flying his mother to Bangkok from southern Thailand for the festivities.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) will organise cultural performances from 6.30pm to 8pm at 16 locations across the capital city including Sanam Luang. The events held from today until Sunday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne are expected to welcome at least 100,000 visitors per night.
The highlight will be a grand performance titled "The Metropolis Under His Majesty's Reign", held near the statue of King Rama III on Rajdamnoen Klang Road from 9pm to 9.45pm everyday, while the stretch of Rajdamnoen Avenue from the King Rama III statue to Democracy Monument will be transformed into a "Music Avenue". An orchestra of 260 students from BMA schools will play to a backdrop of light, sound and fountain shows around the monument.
The TV pool will broadcast the royal ceremony today from 9.45am on, while people will be able to watch the ceremony from giant TV screens at eight spots from the Royal Plaza to the Makkawan Bridge.
Police have blocked roads around the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall since last night in preparation for the huge crowd this morning. Police have also requested that the public do not bring mobile phones into the ceremonial area, especially the inner zone of the Royal Plaza.
Nearly 2,000 members of the media from 25 countries have registered to cover the grand celebrations Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said yesterday. The government will arrange for these international reporters to cover events at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and the royal ceremonies on June 12 and 13. They will also be taken to see royal projects upcountry, he said.
Surakiart also said the Thai Sikh community in Bangkok had organised a non-stop recital of the 1,430-page Guru Granth Sahib holy book at the Sikh Gurudwara temple from 10am on Wednesday until 10am today to mark this auspicious occasion. Afterwards the Thai Sikhs will parade to Sanam Luang, where the Public Health Ministry will hold a two-kilometre walk with nearly 3,500 participants.
Travel agencies upcountry have arranged tour packages incorporating the celebrations. Prapai Uthayan of Chiang Mai's Sansai Tour said the firm was offering a three-day package that included attendance at tonight's full-dress rehearsal of the Royal Barge Procession and a visit to the royal exhibition at Muang Thong Thani for Bt2,000 per head.
"The package has sold like hot cakes. We had to turn down 50 clients," she said.
Another agency in Songkhla's Hat Yai district was offering a similar package to southerners at Bt3,900 per head. The package, for which only 40 seats are available, attracted many local tourists' attention, the firm said.
Many of those who were there to admire the composed young prince ascending to the throne 60 years ago may have passed away. And many of those who are wearing yellow shirts wholeheartedly today were not even born when the prince abandoned adolescent life to take on the seemingly unbearable burden of an unstable royal institution. The two generations that share equally strong allegiance are the best testaments to the unrivalled weight and moral authority that His Majesty has earned through compassion and perseverance.