An interesting seminar this morning at ANU by historian Peter Jackson on the deva-raja (god-king) in Thailand. Too late for NewMandala readers to go to the seminar but the circulated abstract makes interesting reading in the light of some of our earlier discussion:
God-King as Commodity: Thailand’s King Bhumiphol as a “Virtual Deity”.
In this work-in-progress seminar I will discuss the re-emergence of the discourse of “deva-raja” (god-king) around the present King of Thailand, Bhumiphol. Historically the legitimacy of monarchical rule in Thailand drew both on Buddhist notions of “dhamma-raja” (righteous monarch) and Brahmanical notions of “deva-raja” (god-king). There was never a clearly formulated resolution of the tension between these different conceptions of kingship, with the alternative Buddhist and Brahmanical symbolisms of royal rule rising and falling in prominence in different periods. In the modern period, ideas of Buddhist kingship have generally been more popular and linked with notions of modernity, scientific rationality, and progressive democratic rule. In contrast, Brahmanical symbolisms have at times been critiqued for their historical association with “irrational” beliefs and “dictatorial” government. However, in the past couple of decades the notion of Thailand’s king as a “deva-raja” or “god-king” has begun to reappear in nationalist discourse, even if in the somewhat ironic idiom of a “virtual god-king” (sammuti deva-raja).