K-pop is all the rage in Thailand these days. I was recently taking in a very beautiful music video of a Korean song called Miracles In December. The holiday love song is interesting because it is clearly set during the Christmas holiday; a holiday which did not arrive in South Korea until only a few centuries ago.
The music video is a consummate reminder that every generation of young people always finds a way to repackage the holiday traditions which have been gifted to them from previous generations of their fellow countrymen.
Often, an exchange of traditions generally ignites a clear process which usually unfolds in a similar way: First, someone else’s traditions somehow take root in a land which previously had not known them. Then, the traditions gain cultural currency. Finally, later generations make the traditions their own, slightly changing those traditions in the process.
Today, there are many new traditions which are winding their way through Thai culture at large. In particular, the traditions from Thailand’s Islamic far south are becoming more widely known. This is because King Bhumibol the Great made cross-traditional exchange a hallmark of His 70-year reign. (1946-2016)
The Buddhist King took a personal interest in these provinces from very early on in His reign and went to great lengths to improve the lives of Thailand’s Muslim population. His royal policies would encourage development not only through financial means, but also through having a deeper understanding of differing traditions.
In 1962, the Counsel of Saudi Arabia paid a visit to the late King and presented H.M. with the gift of an English-language Qur’an. King Bhumibol read the book and He contacted Thailand’s chief Muslim leader to eagerly commission a Thai version. He then royally dispatched a Thai-language Qur’an to every mosque in the Kingdom.
The King was very active in Thailand’s southern provinces. In 1968, He commissioned a royal procession in order to mark the 1,400’th anniversary of the Qur’an’s completion. He also had a Royal Development Study Center and Royal Palace commissioned in Narathiwat so He could be closer to the Islamic community.
He dispatched royal physicians to treat the sick and indigent who resided within these Islamic provinces and He personally donated the money to build a number of very important mosques. He also proactively encouraged the Thai Government to support the construction efforts and He personally attended many grand opening ceremonies when the mosques were completed.
Many Thai Muslim leaders would grow close to the King as the years and decades passed by. However, one of the more prominent names that many Thai Muslims remember was a man that few Westerners have ever heard of. His name was ‘Uncle WahDeng,’ “the friend from Saiburi.”
Also known as ‘PohDeng,’ Thai Muslims remember that the two had a close friendship for twenty years. Uncle WahDeng raised excellent fruit and was a very talented agriculturalist. He was very familiar with the area so he often was called upon for local insight.
Uncle WahDeng passed on in 2012 and King Bhumibol the Great passed on four years later, but the effects of the King Bhumibol’s reign still are leaving their handprints on our world today. A royal family member still participates in the annual Mawlid al-Nabi ceremony which celebrates the birth of the prophet Muhammad and once-impoverished areas have now found lasting prosperity.
Today, young Muslims are graduating from Thailand’s southern universities and spreading not only their knowledge- but also their traditions- as they fan out across the Kingdom. Delicious Halal food can easily be found in many of Thailand’s major cities and there are an increasing number of mosques being constructed throughout many parts of the Kingdom.
The trading of traditions really is a wondrous thing. Whether it be religious tradition, culinary tradition, the ways of our ancestors or maybe just some good K-pop; when we take the time to embrace and support traditions that are new to us, miracles truly do become plum for the taking.
Editor’s note: For further detail, read ‘His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Thai Muslim Community’ at The Royal Thai Embassy-General of Kolkata at www.thaiembassy.org/kolkata/en/home
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.