Cultural Insights – The History of Thai Flags
When we think about cultural things about Thailand, we usually think of topics such as Buddhism, the cuisine and the monarchy. We covered these topics already to various extents, but what one rarely thinks about is the flags. Or in our case, the national flag and the King's flag. Like everything else, they have their stories and, today, we will tell you about them.
The National Flag
In the last 300 years, Thailand (or Siam as it was known in the olden days) had seven different national flags, including today’s flag. The first one from 1700 was as simple as it could possibly get. It was just plain red, that’s it. Throughout the next two centuries, chakra symbols and white elephants were added to the initial simplicity. Then, finally, on 28. September 1917 we come closer to the flag we know today. The design was the exact same as today’s flag, but instead of the blue color in the middle, it had the same red as seen at the top and the bottom. The reason behind this new design was to create a flag that was symmetrical. Supposedly, King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, saw the previous flag hanging upside-down during a flood and to prevent this from happening again he established the new design.
Later during the same year, he then changed the color of the middle stripe from a red to a dark blue. There were two reasons for this:
- Blue is the color of Friday and since King Vajiravudh was born on a Friday it was seen as auspicious.
- Some of the Allies of World War I had the same colors of red, white and blue such as the USA, Great Britain, and France. So, by conforming to the same color palette, Rama VI showed his solidarity towards the allied forces.
In their unity, the colors have another meaning as well. Red represents the blood that has been spilled in order to keep Thailand’s independence; white stands for purity and Buddhism, Thailand’s prime religion/philosophy; blue as a symbol for the Thai monarchy, besides the other meanings mentioned above.
Since 2016, the 28. September is a national holiday, which then marks last year’s celebrations as the 100th Anniversary of the national flag. ‘Thong Trairong’ is the name that the Thais gave their flag, which means ‘tricolor’. It’s a name that, strictly speaking, can refer to a great number of flags with three colors.
The King’s Flag
Another flag you will encounter frequently is the King’s Flag. It is yellow and in the center of it, you can see the Garuda, a figure of mythology. This part human, part bird creature is a protective spirit and "the bearer of the god of bravery". The color yellow has significance as well, of course. It is the color of Monday and day of birth of the recently deceased King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, and also the current King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X.
In reverence to their king, many Thais wear yellow shirts on Monday. As tourists, you are not required to follow suit, but you will certainly gain some brownie points if you do so.