Thai city cheers a family legacy, and its own history

Fri May 29, 2009 3:41am EDT
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By Chawadee Nualkhair

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - Dancers in peacock feathers, usually seen at royal events, precede a group of middle-aged Thais bearing a banner that proclaims them "Bosses of the North" as relatives, living and dead, look on.

One hundred years ago, at the same cemetery in Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai, one of those relatives, Dararasmi or Shining Star, also held a party to celebrate the creation of the burial ground for her family, who once ruled Thailand's north.

Helped by her husband, King Rama V, Dararasmi brought together members of her far-flung family and preserved a personal legacy that is inseparable from the history of Chiang Mai.

"The union between Princess Dararasmi and His Majesty Rama V kept Chiang Mai in Thai hands when it could have belonged to the British," said Kitinard Muangngoicharoen, curator at the Dara Pirom Palace Museum, which is devoted to Dararasmi's life.

"She also did a lot of charity work for cultural, educational and environmental causes. She played a key role in keeping the family together. That is why events like this still go on."

This month, Chiang Mai held several events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the burial ground, and to highlight the area's distinctive legacy in a bid to lure more tourists.

A century ago, the newly created royal cemetery, attached to Wat Suan Dok or Flower Garden Temple, also inspired major celebrations that included dancers, gambling and northern Thailand's very first opera -- a "Madame Butterfly," featuring a northern Thai woman in love with a central Thai soldier.

The ashes of Chiang Mai's first seven kings and their consorts were also "invited," along with the city's living inhabitants, who partied for five days and five nights.   Continued...