Princess Mother of Thailand
Srinagarindra in 1925 with her son Ananda Mahidol later King Rama VIII
Spouse HRH Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla (1920–1929)
HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana
HM King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII)
HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)
House House of Mahidol
Chakri Dynasty (by marriage)
Father Chu
Mother Kham
Born October 21, 1900(1900-10-21)
Thailand Nonthaburi, Siam
Died July 18, 1995(1995-07-18) (aged 94)
Thailand Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand

Srinagarindra (Thai: ศรีนครินทรา; RTGS: —Si Nakharinthra—, née Sangwan Talapat; 21 October 1900 – 18 July 1995) was a member of the Thai Royal Family and was a member of House of Mahidol, which is descended from Chakri Dynasty, originated by Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla, son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). She was the mother of Princess Galyani Vadhana, the Princess of Naradhiwas, King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).

Her given name was Sangwal (Thai: สังวาลย์), while her formal name and title were Somdej Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani (Thai: สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี). In Thailand, the she was affectionately called Somdej Ya (Thai: สมเด็จย่า), "the Royal Grandmother". By the various hill tribe people, to whom she was a special patron, she was called Mae Fah Luang (Thai: แม่ฟ้าหลวง), "Royal Mother from the Sky", or "The Heavenly Royal Mother".


Early Life and Background

Princess Srinagarindra while in childhood

Princess Srinagarindra was born on 21 October 1900, in Nonthaburi Province. Her given name was Sangvan Chukramol. She was the third child in a family of four children. Her elder brother and sister died while they were still young, and by the time she was 9 years old, she had also lost both her parents, and had only one remaining sibling, a younger brother named Thomya. Her aunt, Suay earned a living by making sweets and rolling cigarettes, became her guardian.

In those days, women had less opportunities in finding a job, many were housewives. Because of this, very few women could read. Sangwal's mother was one of those women, and she taught her daughter those skills. With these elementary skills, she enrolled at the all-girl school of Wat Anongkharam, the nearby temple whose abbot was recognized the need for girls to have an education. Her next school was Suksanari, but she had to leave after only a month due to lack of funds.

She maintained her reading habits by regularly visiting her aunt’s friend, who ran a library of books for rent. She read up on Thai classics, such as, Inao[disambiguation needed ], Phra Abhaimani, and Sangsinchai.

At the suggestion of a relative, the young Sangwal was sent to live with Chan Saeng-xuto, another relative and a nanny to Princess Valaya Alongkorn, the Princess of Petchaburi, daughter of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and Queen Savang Vadhana (later Queen Sri Savarindira, the Queen Grandmother). At the age of 7, that the young Sangwal found herself presented to the royal court in the manner deemed proper for young Thai girls with the right connections and opportunities. Her only duty at that time was to present herself at a twice-daily audience with the Princess – when she woke up and again in the evening. Every now and then she would join the Princess’ entourage when she went for an audience with her mother, Queen Savang Vadhana at Suan Hongsa Royal Villa, in the grounds of Dusit Palace.

Princess Srinagarindra while attending in Satri Wittaya School in her childhood; second row, sat in third seat by counting from left

Shortly afterwards, she was sent to Satri Wittaya School, while she lived with Huan Hongsakul, the nanny of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla, the younger brother of Princess Valaya Alongkorn.

After an accident with a sewing needle, Sangwal was sent to Lord (Phraya) Damrong Baedyakhun, the court physician for surgery. She stayed at his house, while continuing her schooling at Satri Wittaya School. Sensing that she was feeling listless and unhappy, the good doctor enquired whether she would be interested in studying nursing, and she answered at once that indeed she would be. With her options being limited and after 6 years of school, she as a young girl had no other choice for further education but to become a teacher. Siriraj Hospital had opened a school of midwifery and nursing, but despite the minimum requirement of being able to read and write, had not been able to attract many students. To add further incentive, each student was paid 15 baht per month, sufficient to live on for the entire month.

Nursing Student

Princess Srinagarindra while attending in Satri Wittaya School in her childhood

Sangwal enrolled as a student of Siriraj School for Midwifery and Nursing in 1913, when she was just thirteen. She was two years under the minimum age requirement, but her qualifications more than made up for her age and the school was able to overlook this discrepancy. She was a scholarship student, and on accepting the fifteen baht monthly for her expenses, she had agreed to work for the hospital for three years, the same number of years she would spend at the nursing school. Upon graduation in 1916, she joined the nursing team at the hospital.

In the following year, Prince Rangsit Prayursakdi, the Prince of Chainat (son of King Chulalongkorn and adopted son of Queen Savang Vadhana, stepbrother of Princess Valaya Alongkorn and Prince Mahidol Adulyadej), director of the Royal Medical College of Siriraj Hospital, designated two doctors and two nurses to further their studies in the United States. These scholarship students were expected to return to teach future generations of medical students and advance the medical profession in Thailand. The medical scholarships were provided by Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and a first-year student at Harvard Medical School, while the nursing scholarships were provided by his mother, Queen Savang Vadhana. One of the two nurses selected was Sangwal herself. Her preparations for this trip included a six-month intensive English couse with Miss Edna Sarah Cole, headmistress of Kullasatri Wang Lang School for girls (later to become Wattana Wittaya Academy).

Princess Srinagarindra while studying in the United States

For her passport, she also needed a surname, the use of which was not a regular practice in Thailand until 1913, during the reign of King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). Since her father was dead, she took on the surname of Lee Talabhat, who was in the service of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej. Her surviving younger brother registered himself as Thomya Chukramol.

Sangwal Talabhat left Bangkok on the 13th of August, 1917 on the ship Kuala with almost twenty other Thai students. The trip took them to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Hawaii, and after six weeks, the group reached San Francisco. From there, she went to live with an American family, the Adamsens of Berkeley, for a year, attending Emerson School with her friend Ubol Palakawongse na Ayudhya, a member of the nobility. She also attended Sunday school to learn the ways of the Christian faith.

In 1918, they joined eight other Thai students travelling to Boston, Massachusetts. As the train drew into Boston station on the 21st of September, 1918, Prince Mahidol was waiting to welcome them, though Sangwal had no idea who he was. Furthermore, she had no idea that her presence had already made an impact on the young prince, who, according to his roommate, Pradit Sukhum (later Lord (Luang) Sukhum Nayapradit), arrived home after two o'clock in the morning, shook him awake saying:

“The two girls have arrived. Sangwal is really very pretty, you know.” [1]
Sangwal and Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, her future husband at Boston

Prince Mahidol Adulyadej had arranged for the girls to stay with the Armstrong family in Hartford, Connecticut, and to attend North Western Grammar School to perfect their English reading, writing, and speaking skills. During this time, Prince Mahidol maintained close interest in Sangwal’s development, making frequent visits to Hartford. Their strolls in the park to observe the flowers reflected Sangwal’s lifelong love of plants and concern for the natural environment.

Engagement and Marriage

Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and Mom Sangwal in their engagement
Mom Sangwal Mahidol na Ayudhya with her three children

Approval was granted, and in 1919, in a private ceremony, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla Nagarindra presented Sangwal Talabhat with a diamond ring on a heart-shaped setting. (30 years later, this same ring was to be presented by his son, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to his bride, Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara). After their engagement, Prince Mahidol bade his fiancée move to Cambridge where she lived with the Williston sisters, Emily and Constance, who tutored her in algebra, Latin, French, and English. The Prince also assigned an American lady to take her on guided tours of museums and art galleries, with explanations on the significance of the various exhibits.

Prince Mahidol Adulyadej and Mom Sangwal Mahidol na Ayudhya had 3 children; 1 daughter and 2 sons:

The marriage was followed by an extensive visit to various European countries, before the couple eventually returned to the United States. Prince Mahidol resumed his studies in public health at Harvard and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston and arranged for his wife to take a preparatory course for nursing at Simmons College in the same town, where she studied chemistry and nutrition. Upon passing the test at the end of the semester, she went on to study school health at MIT, entering in the summer semester.

In Boston, they were simply known as Mr. and Mrs. Mahidol Songkla, living in a two-bedroom flat at 329 Longwood Avenue. Apart from their studies, they were both closely involved in the activities of the Siam Association of USA under Royal Patronage, which had been established by the prince. They would often host meals for other Thai students – she did the cooking and he washed the dishes.

Death of Prince Mahidol

Prince Mahidol Adulyadej was beset with kidney problems during his last year at medical school. Despite chronic health problems, he managed to graduate with honours. Immediately after his finals, he suffered from acute appendicitis requiring immediate surgery. As soon as he was well enough to travel, he and his family went to Europe again for an extended stopover, returning eventually to Siam in 1928 and taking up residency at Srapathum Palace. Prince Mahidol died on 24 September 1929 at Sapathum Palace.

After Mahidol's death

She was 29 years old then and cared for her 3 young children ranging in age from six and four to one year and nine months. At that time, her daughter, Princess Galyani Vadhana was studying at Rajini School. As soon as they were old enough, her sons were also sent to school, Prince Ananda Mahidol attended kindergarten at Mater Dei School and transferred to Debsirin School, while Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej remained in kindergarten at Mater Dei School.

All through their lives they had been moving from place to place. Upon their return to Thailand on 24 June 1932, a revolution brought about the end of absolute monarchy in the country and introduced democracy. The situation was tense which made members of the Royal Family resign from their government posts, whereas many left the country to live overseas until the political scene had settled.

Moved back to Europe

Queen Sri Savarindira, the Queen Aunt, who later titled the Queen Grandmother, consulted with her daughter, Princess Valaya Alongkorn, the Princess of Petchaburi and her adopt son, Prince Rangsit Prayursakdi, the Prince of Chainat, about the suitable course of action for her grandchildren, especially Prince Ananda Mahidol. Prince Rangsit recommended Lausanne, Switzerland, a decision that Mom Sangwal approved to because of the in her opinion mild climate, beautiful scenery and hospitable people. It was also said to be one of the most favoured places of her much-travelled husband Prince Mahidol.

And so, in April 1933, Mom Sangwal and her children took off for Switzerland, together with a small entourage among whom was a young relative name Boonruen Sopoj, who later became Dame (Thanpuying) Boonruen Choonhavan, the widow of the late Prime Minister General Chatichai Choonhavan.

Accession to the throne

While Mom Sangwal and her 3 children were living in Switzerland, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII)) abdicated on 2 March 1934, relinquishing his right to appoint an heir to the throne, a year after they arrived in Switzerland,

According to the Palace Law regarding succession to the throne as promulgated by King Vajiravudh in 1924, the next line was the son of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla Nagarindra. Thus His Highness Prince Ananda Mahidol, as yet only 9 years old, was declared the 8th monarch of the Chakri Dynasty.

Since the new king was only 9 years old, Parliament unanimously appointed Prince Aditya Dibabha Abhakara (son of Prince Abhakara Kiartiwongse, the Prince of Chumphorn) and Lord (Chao Phraya) Yomaraj (Pan Sukhum) as Regents until the king came to age. On this same occasion, Mom Sangwal was conferred the title of The Princess Mother Sri Sangwal, a title that still denoted her commoner status.

For various reasons including security in line with their new status, the family moved from their former home to a new house, names Villa Vadhana in Pully, near Lausanne.

The king and his younger brother, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej went to a school called Ecole Nouvélle de la Suisse Romande. Although in his own country he was king, at school in Switzerland he was simple Ananda Mahidol, son of Madame S. Mahidol, a student receiving no more privileges than any other student here.

Return to Thailand

3 years later ascending the throne, the young King Ananda Mahidol returned to visit his country and his people for the first time. Upon their return, Princess Sri Sangwal was elevated to the ranks of royalty with the title Her Royal Highness. Throughout the 2 months that the young king appeared in the midst of his people, the Thais had a chance to admire his maturity and his demeanor, which was most becoming to a monarch and far beyond his years. For this, they could only credit the Princess Mother; she had moulded a monarch worthy of obeisance and respect single-handed.

The Princess Mother also took advantage of this brief sojourn in their homeland to make sure that the king saw as much as he could of the important temples and historic sites in Bangkok and the environs, and of the national arts and culture. She also kindled his desire to help others, to contribute to charitable projects including public health and medicine. The king donated a sum from his Privy Purse to build the Ananda Mahidol Hospital in Lopburi Province, while his siblings donated toward a health centre in Samut Sakhon Province.

In January 1939, King Ananda Mahidol and his family bade farewell once again to their homeland and returned to Switzerland.

World War II

Princess Mother Sri Sangwal with her children while exile from World War II at Switzerland

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 has its repercussions on Mahidol Family just as on anyone else, and the Princess Mother’s resourcefulness helped the family through the crisis. They received ration coupons like other Swiss families; they had to use ash for washing instead of soap, and the young king travelled to school by bicycle. The Princess Mother made her own jam from fruit such as strawberries, apples and pears that she picked from her own garden.

But even during such trying times, she kept up her late husband’s tradition of inviting Thai students round for meals on Saturdays. The increasing number of Thai students in Switzerland, who had moved there from war-torn Belgium, France, and Italy, meant that they had to take turns as guests of the Princess Mother. Her support to the students extended to lending, or even giving, them money if their funds from Thailand arrived late, though she always managed to keep the family going even when her own funds were delayed as well.

The young king and his brother remained at Ecole Nouvélle de la Suisse Romande until 1941, boarding at the school during their last 2 years there, since it was their mother’s wish for them to learn how to take care of themselves. Meanwhile, Princess Galyani Vadhana was attending an international school in Geneva.

The Princess Mother also made a point of hiring an English governess to teach English to the king. She also made sure her children kept up with their Thai language and culture studies with a tutor, Prueng Siribhatra, who was sent by the Thai Government. The family lived in Switzerland until all children graduated. They prepared for their official return to Thailand.

Official return to Thailand

Princess Mother Sri Sangwal with her two sons, King Ananda Mahidol and Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej

On 29 November 1945, the family started returning to Thailand, this time travelling by plane. 6 days later, they arrived in Thailand. As they stepped off the plane, that Thai public witnessed, not two young schoolboys dressed in shorts as they had the previous time, but two mature and dignified young men, happy to be back among their own, yet, understandably apprehensive about the responsibilities and expectations that lay ahead.

Princess Mother Sri Sangwal, on the other hand, seemed more at ease than ever before. At the age of 45, she had successfully directed the paths of her children until they were all intelligent and responsible adults, commanding the awe, admiration and respect of the Thai people. King Ananda Mahidol especially was ready to take on the huge burden placed upon his shoulders. Everywhere the king went, his mother and younger brother would be close by. Having grown up in a faraway land, there was much for them to see and learn about their country and their culture, and the Princess Mother made sure that all their questions were answered.

Death of King Ananda Mahidol and Accession of Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej

The Thai Government requested that the king postpone his return to Switzerland in order to present the new Constitution to the nation on 9 May 1946, and to open Parliament on 1 June. He acquiesced, and the return trip to Switzerland was scheduled for 13 June 1946. But the trip was not to be, for an unforeseen calamity befell the nation. On the morning of 9 June 1946, only 4 days before he was due to travel to Switzerland, His Majesty King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) of Thailand died in an incident of either regicide or suicide at Boromphiman Throne Hall, Grand Palace, Bangkok. Though Siamese police director general originally told an emergency session of the legislature that the King's death was accidental, experts have since testified that regicide is the most likely due to King Ananda Mahidol being found flat on his back with his colt found a small distance from his body but nearer his non dominant hand. In February 1955, three of the late King's attendants: his secretary Senator Chaleo Patoomros and two pages, Nai Chit and Butr Paramasrin, were executed by Phibun's regime on charges of conspiracy to kill the King after long and confusing trial. Today it is acknowledged that these charges were probably baseless, but the truth of the matter remains a mystery that is not discussed within Thailand.

On the same day as King Ananda Mahidol's death, by Parliament’s unanimous decision, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej, her second son was invited to accede to the throne as King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) of Thailand, the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty

Return to Switzerland

On 19 August 1946, the Princess Mother accompanied the new king back to Switzerland, where he resumed his studies at the University of Lausanne. He switched his choice of subjects from science to political science, law and economics, in order to better suit his new priorities.

During that time, the Princess Mother once more dedicated herself to her role of “housekeeper” of the Villa Vadhana residence, seeing to it that everything ran smoothly. She preferred to do things by herself, even driving on shopping rounds. After lunch, she would spend her time in the garden, digging the flower beds, pruning the bushes and sweeping the leaves. She would also attend lectures on topics of interest at the University of Lausanne. On days off from college, the king and his mother would go on drives out of Lausanne or to neighbouring countries such as Italy, France, and Liechtenstein, visiting various places of interest or just enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside. On these trips, the Princess Mother would often stop by the road and pick wild flowers to take back home.

On 4 October 1948, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was badly hurt in a motoring accident, requiring hospitalization. The Princess Mother committed herself to nursing her son back to health. Fear and anxiety for her son, together with the physical strain, must have taken their toll, and doctors eventually advised her to take a break in the country.

Not long afterwards, on 12 August 1949, the Thai people received joyful news that the King had become engaged to Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, the eldest daughter of His Serene Highness Prince (Mom Chao) Nakkhatra Mangkala Kitiyakara (later became His Highness the Prince of Chuntaburi II Suranath), the Thai ambassador of the Court of St. James's, England, and Mom Luang Bua Sanidvongse.

Serving the Kingdom

Throughout her long life, The Princess Mother served her country, providing her full support to her sons, the late King Ananda Mahidol and King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and to her daughter Princess Galyani Vadhana, while carving out her own role in activities of social concern.

When King Bhumibol Adulyadej returned to Thailand from his studies in Switzerland in 1951 with his wife, Queen Sirikit, and their first daughter, Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, the Princess Mother remained in Lausanne. She returned only periodically between 1952 to 1963 in order to attend significant functions or events, such as the birth of her grandchildren, the illness and subsequent death of Queen Sri Savarindira, the Queen Grandmother, or the ordination of her son, the King. For these visits, she would stay only one or two months at a time, and only stayed for extended periods when the occasion demanded. On Their Majesties’ state visit to 14 European countries and the United States in 1960, she remained in Thailand for 6 months, acting as Regent during Their Majesties’ absence, just as she did during their subsequent state visits overseas until 1967.


As Regent, the Princess Mother carried out various official duties on behalf of the King, including acceping diplomatic credentials from newly posted ambassadors, conferring degrees on university graduates, presiding at religious ceremonies and putting her signature to several important legislative acts. She was the third woman Regent of the Rattanakosin era, the first being Queen Saovabha Bongsri during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (later became Queen Sri Bajrindra, the Queen Mother), and Queen Sirikit early on in the present reign. In the capacity, she put her signature to a number of important laws and declarations, including the Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1960, and the first National Economic Development Plan, 1961–1966.

A trip to northern Thailand in 1964 helped change her routine. Not long after the Bhubing Palace on the northern town of Chiang Mai Province was completed, the King invited the Princess Mother for a visit. As was her habit in Switzerland, the Princess Mother went for long treks through the woods behind the palace, enjoying the flora and fauna, and stopping in the little villages en route. It was then that she discovered the abject poverty of the villages in remote areas. There was a sad luck of schools and health services or personnel, and even the border patrol police, who acted as guides and also provided security fro her on the trips, were very poorly paid, and receive no per diem for services rendered over and above their normal duties.

Due to those observations revealing the precarious economical situation of the rural areas, the Princess Mother began making regular visits to the remotest areas of the kingdom, starting from 1964, despite her age of 64 years. In border areas, she would make it a point to visit each patrol station to lend moral support to the soldiers.

This was also the start of a number of projects to alleviate the problems of poor villages and improve their quality of life. Ranging from education and health care, to environmental preservation, the social welfare projects have over the decades proved to be a unifying force for those in remote areas and have helped upgrade their lives.

Social Welfare Projects

Ever since she was still a young mother caring for her 3 children in the confines of the new villa in Srapathum Palace, the Princess Mother proved that Thai housewives could make good use of their time and contribute to society. In 1932, when her children had started school and she had more time on her hands, she set up an American-style “Sewing-circle”, inviting close acquaintances to join the group. Among the members of the circle were Mom Chao Sipphanphansanur Sohnakul, Thanpuying Prayong Sanidvongs na Ayudhya, Khunying Chalaem Puranasiri, Khunying Srivisarnvaja, Khunying Prem, Damrongbaedyakhun, Thanpuying Poa Anurakshraja mondira, and expatriate wives such as Mrs. Zimmerman, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Langesen, Mrs. Nederguard, Mrs. Pendleton and Mrs. Reeve, whose husbands were missionaries or lecturer at Chulalongkorn University.

The sewing circle members started off by making their own clothes, then gradually made clothes for poor children at various hospitals. They met once a week, each member taking turns hosting tea at home between 4 and 6 pm.

It soon became a procedure for the Princess Mother to set aside her own money to purchase necessary items for poor villages during her increasingly frequent upcountry visits. These gifts included T-shirts, towels, multipurpose “pha khao ma” cloth, and stationary for schoolteachers, school uniforms, and stationery for schoolchildren, and pha khao ma, sarongs, needles and thread, medicine, tinned food and dried foodstuff for villagers, while small children would receive various toys suitable for their age.

She also set up with her own personal funds a number of foundations, most notably the Border Patrol Police Support Foundation, and the New Life Foundation for those who have recovered from leprosy or mental illness.

Apart from her own personal funds, the money for these various projects came from the sale of handicraft made through projects initiated by the Princess Mother, such as pressed-flower greeting cards, which was ner hobby, and brooms and brushes made from the sisal hemp, which became a very popular product.

In 1985, the Cabinet approved the proposal of the National Committee for the Promotion and Development of Social Welfare Activities that 21 October, the Princess Mother’s birthday, be declared National Social Welfare Day, in honour of the Princess Mother, who devoted her time and efforts, in addition to her own funds, to well-being of the people. As she was also a nurse, it has since been renamed National Nurses' Day (TH: วันพยาบาลแห่งชาติ Wan Phayaban Haeng Chat).


For the Princess Mother, education had always been a goal in life. This love for education also fulled her desire to encourage, not only her own children, but the people she came in contact with, to further their studies to the best of their abilities. To this end, she continuously provided support when and where she could, most significantly in remote areas which the network of the central government could not reach.

Being a scholarship student herself, the Princess Mother was known to have provided scholarships as far back as 1920, not long after her marriage to Prince Mahidol Adulyadej. The Bangkok Times issue of 21 September 1920 listed the names of donors to the Kullasatri Wang Lang School, which included the newly-weds, who had donated 5,000 baht. The publication noted that Mom Sangwal Mahidol na Ayudhya, having married into the Royal Family, was entitled to an annual stipend of 200 baht, and that she had decided to donate it in its entirely to needy students.

Her students as a scholarship student had been under the direction of Prince Mahidol. Her studies included algebra, English, Latin and French, in addition to her courses in nursing and public health. She also received tutorials in psychology, cooking and nutrition.

Through the influence of her royal husband, she had always considered it her responsibility to return to Thailand to help the nation. This sense of responsibility was also instilled in the hearts of her three children from the time they were small. According to Princess Galyani Vadhana:

“It was almost an unspoken rule, a nature sense of priority to do what we could for the country. What mother taught us came from Father. He was 8 years older than Mother, and taught her a lot. Mother was very receptive, she learned so much from Father. What she taught us I later found to be almost quoted verbatim from Father…It was like Father teaching us through Mother…”[2]

Although her children were brought up in a western environment, the Princess Mother always made sure that they retained their contacts with their language and culture. She commissioned a jigsaw puzzle in the shape of a map of Thailand as an educational toy for her children. History and geography quizzes were a standard family game at mealtimes, and if the children did not know the answer to a question, they had to look up in a dictionary or encyclopedia.

This kind of environment created by the Princess Mother was greatly conductive to inquisitive minds like those of the three royal children, encouraging them to strive for the best in whatever happened to interest them. When the two young princes became interested in World War I battleships, they would each study the subjects matter in depth, the elder prince researching German battelships while his younger brother read up on English and American vessels.

One of the Princess Mother’s initiatives with regard to education was the Border Patrol Police School project. As a result of her frequent trips to the remote corners of the kingdom, the Princess Mother learned of the extreme poverty of the villagers, especially those belonging to the hill tribes. One school had been set up by the Border Patrol Police Region 5 in their Dararasmi Camp, in Mae Rim District Chiang Mai Province. The school provided access to education for children in these remote regions, giving hilltribe children a chance to learn the Thai language and culture and instilling in them a sense of being Thai.

The concept was in line with the Princess Mother’s own philosophy that education was the key to improving human resources, a necessary development tool. She therefore took the school under her royal patronage in 1964, and donated funds to the Border Patrol Police to set up similar school in remote areas. The private sector found this to be a worthy cause, and contributed its share in setting up more schools, which were named after their donors.

Each school – and there were eventually to be 185 – had power classrooms and a proper residence for teachers for added convenience and incentive. She personally went to open each of these schools, donating to them a set of symbolic items to bolster a sense of Thai identity, including a Buddha image to symbolize religion, a portrait of the King or the Queen as an emblem of the monarchy, and a flag to represent the nation. She also made sure that each school was equipped with a radio set to keep up with the news, and a map of Thailand to give students a sense of belonging no matter where in the country they were located.

Public Health

To the princess mother, the health and well-being of her people were highest on the list of priorities. She believed that, with good health, they would be in the position to earn an income and help develop the country – a philosophy that echoed that of her royal husband, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, who had pledged his mental, physical and financial support to the field of public health of the country.

Upon the death of Prince Mahidol, the Princess Mother continued to provide scholarships to medical students so their studies would not be interrupted. When they returned to work, she also supplemented their salary if it happened to be lower than the set rate. A revolving fund of 500,000 baht was provided to Chulalongkorn University for 25 years, from which the interest could be used to send students for post-graduate studies overseas. After 25 years, the fund was transferred to the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital.

In 1945, as she accompanied her elder son, King Ananda Mahidol, back to Thailand, she brought back with her drug PAS which was used to treat tuberculosis.

In addition to providing scholarships, the Princess Mother continued to play a major role in the field of nursing in Thailand. She founded the Thailand Nursing Association, of which she was also a board member. With her funds, the first national nursing convention in Thailand was organized in 1960. Hospital building and nursing schools were built under her patronage

The Princess Mother’s Volunteer Doctors

Since 1964, when trips to remote areas to visit villagers and army personnel became a routine procedure, she was how people there were plagued by health problems, Due to the lack of medical facilities, such basic illness as gastro-intestinal infections, tape worms, skin diseases and malaria would often lead to death.

In 1969, she established the first medical volunteer mobile unit in Chiang Mai Province, called The Princess Mother’s Medical Volunteer. The team was made up of doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses and health officers, who volunteered their time during weekends to travel by car or helicopter to treat the ill, and offer consultative services to the public free of charge.

All expenses for these visits were subsidized by the Princess Mother. If she happened to be on the trip with the medical team, she would help fill the prescriptions and provide advice to the sick. Those in critical condition would be sent to local hospitals. Later, she experimented with the system of radio consultation between doctors in the hospital and patients at health centres in remote areas, following the system of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

The project was well received, and within a few years the number of radio centres increased to 446 covering 25 provinces, with the centre of operations at Srapathum Palace. Over a million patients have benefited from this service.

In 1974, the Princess Mother donated one million baht to establish The Princess Mother’s Volunteer Flying Doctor Foundation, which was subsequently changed into The Princess Mother’s Volunteer Foundation; PMMV in 1985. Through the years, the foundation was to remain close to her heart, much like a mother who brings up a baby into a fully grown adult but still continues to keep a watchful eye on him in his maturity.

The Prostheses Foundation and the Breast Foundation which both under the Patronage of the Princess Mother, were two projects that the Princess Mother initiated in her later years. The Prostheses Foundation was set up in 1992, when she learned that a doctor from Chiang Mai University had developed below knee prostheses from recycled plastic bottles which cost only 700 baht, and ones that could be used for agricultural purposes at a mere 300 baht. She saw this as an opportunity to provide artificial limbs free of charge to the poor to enable them to carry out a normal life. With initial funds donated by the Princess Mother, and further donations from her daughter, Princess Galyani Vadhana, and the general public, the foundation is now able to offer here artificial limbs to the needy regardless of nationality or religion. It also trains personnel, and carries out research to improve the quality of the protheses.

Environmental Preservation

She had deep interests in issues of nature. In winter she enjoyed skiing down the snowy slopes, while in summer she would spend hours trekking along the hillsides, picking wild flowers for decoration or for making into pressed flowers.

In 1964, at the age of 64, she hiked to the top of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak locates in Chiang Mai Province. She had been used to taking walks from Bhubing Palace, accompanied by border control police and two physicians. Soon she left that she had covered all she could within the immediate vicinity, and yearned to conquer Doi Inthanon, which was visible from the palace windows. In those days there was no access road to the top, and the Princess Mother spent two nights camping out during her hike, the first night before the ascent at Pang Somdet, and the following night at Ban Pha Mon. Here a large number of hilltribe villagers turned up to welcome her. Again, their lack of access to medical care gave her cause for concern. When she returned the following year, she brought with her two doctors, and her visits to these remote areas by helicopter eventually earned her the name Mae Fah Luang among the hill tribes, meaning Royal Mother from the sky, referring to her descent from the skies with doctors, nurses, medical equipment, food and clothing for them.

The mulitple visits of the hill tribes her realize that their slash-and-burn system of cultivation had inadvertently caused the destruction of the watershed forests. Over the years, they had moved from place to place, leaving behind them patches of barren hillside.

She initiated the Doi Tung Development Project. I shall plant forests on Doi Tung, she pledged. In 1988, a total of 93,515 rai (14,962 ha.) in Mae Chan, Mae Sai, and Mae Fah Luang District of Chiang Rai Province were targeted for reforestation and sustainable development to improve the quality of life of the local villagers.

The Princess Mother played an active role in the Doi Tung Development Project, starting from nursing the saplings herself, planting the forests with support from government and the private sector. Surrounding the palace are also experimental plots where temperate crops are tested, such as Arabica coffee beans from Brazil and Costa Rica, macadamia nuts and chestnuts. New plant-nursery technology is constantly being introduced for the promulgation of asparagus, bananas, orchids and strawberries. After successful trials, villagers are trained in the procedures to follow, and these extra activities are expected to provide them with an increased income.

A Drug Rehabilitation Centre was also set up so addicts could be treated and provided with vocational training to suit their way of life. Mulberry trees, the fibre of which is used to make sa paper, is just one of the crops they are encouraged to plant and grow.

A Mother First and Foremost

While her children were growing up as members of the Royal Family in the days of absolute monarchy, it would have been so easy for the Princess Mother to bring them up to life of privilege, surrounded by attentive staff eager to follow orders. But that was not the way of Prince Mahidol or his wife.

Princess Galyani Vadhana described her upbringing as being very much in the vein of any normal family, where the children are taught to be respectful of grown-ups, to be responsible in their duties, and to expect punishment when they are naughty. Coral punishment was applicable as the last resort. First-time mistake would be discussed, and explanations given. However, if the children still persisted despite reasons and warnings, then punishment would be meted out. Often the Princess Mother would even discuss with the offender what level of punishment they thought deserved. Then they would grimly face the consequences.

Princess Galyani Vadhana recounted a particular episode in Lausanne when Prince Ananda Mahidol, despite frequent warnings persisted in picking on a youngster who was the son of the caretaker. On this particular occasion, Prince Ananda Mahidol pushed the boy near some stairs, which could have led to a disastrous outcome.

The exasperated mother said to her son;

“I’ve warned you many times, this time I’m going to spank you. How many times do you think you should be spanked?” Whereupon the young boy answered, “Once. I don’t think that’s enough,” continued Mother, “since you’ve done it several times now. I think it should be three times.”[3]

And with that, the punishment was carried out. Prince Ananda never picked on the little boy again.

The children had been taught from a young age to be thrifty. They each received weekly pocket money, the amount depending on their age, but never more than was necessary to buy themselves some sweets or chocolates. Other items, such as books and toys, also had to come out of their own pocket money; the Princess Mother only indulged them on special occasions like birthdays.

A sense of frugality was something that the Princess Mother practiced throughout her life. Even when she was in a position to pamper herself a little, she preferred to maintain her simple was of life. Her meals were simple dishes that emphasized nutritional value. She only had new clothes made when necessary, usually two outfits a year. She wore very little jewelry. A simple bracelet made of nine gemstones was the extent of her accessories; she said it went with any outfit. She also wore one particular ring – a diamond ring with her Thai initials “Sor Vor” (th: ส.ว.) etched on top. The initials stood for “Savang Vadhana” (th: สว่างวัฒนา), the given name of Queen Sri Savarindira who had given her the ring.

Manners were an integral part of character-moulding. The children had always been taught to respect their elders and behave properly with other people, and this remained the same despite the change in their status later in life. Along with manners came spirituality and religion. Though she learned about Christianity during her years in the United States, she remained a devout Buddhist, and brought her children up in the Buddhist faith as well. However, she was clever enough to introduce western religious rites such as bedtime prayers into their daily routine to make Buddhism more accessible to them. Instead of the usual Sanskrit incantations, they said their prayers in Thai, asking the Lord Buddha to protect them and lead then down the good and righteous path. Prayers would them be supplemented by stories on the life of the Buddha.

To encourage them to be aware of their responsibilities, the children were expected to do their chores like any other children. They had to keep their rooms clean and even the young king had to make his own bed when he was in Lausanne. This habit remained in later years. When King Bhumibol Adulyadej was living overseas, he would drive, wash and even polish his own car without anyone’s assistance. Similarly, after his music sessions, he would insist on putting away his own musical instruments and wiping them himself.

Her way of bringing up the children held her in great respect from Queen Sri Savarindira, who had nothing but praise for her daughter-in-law. As Princess Galyani Vadhana noted;

“Queen Sri Savarindira did not get involved in the everyday routine of bringing up the children, but only gave advice on important matters. That was because she respected Mother, seeing that she brought up her children with proper discipline and in the right way. Queen Sri Savarindira did not feel the need to interfere because Mother was doing such a good job already.”[4]


According to Princess Galyani Vadhana, the Princess of Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra’s book Busy Fingers, the Princess Mother had always shown an interest in astronomy;

“When she was in the States she had a copy of Astronomy for Beginners. Later on when her youngest son started astronomy lessons at his Lausanne school, Mother bought him a copy of “Le Ciel” (The Sky), Larousse edition. In this book there were some maps of stars and the Moon which she looked up so often that three pages fell out. These Mother took out eventually for separate use.”[5]

On boat trips, the Princess Mother was known to have enjoyed standing on deck at night, gazing at the stars without the use of a telescope. When the navy officials had explained the names of the constellations to her in Thai and English, she would give their French and Latin names, then proceed to astonish the officials with her knowledge of further constellations, until quite late into the night.

Her interest in astronomy remained a lifelong passion and was reflected in several of her other activities. The constellations appeared as part of her ceramics painting, on lamps, ashtrays and dishes, often in the form of flowers representing the stars, with the number of petals and the colours representing the magnitude of each star.

Her love of astronomy was evident in her Doi Tung Royal Villa. The ceiling of the main reception hall is decorated with the constellations as designed by the Bangkok Planetarium. I want a ceiling for the hall that is inexpensive, she instructed, opting for a carving of the solar system and the 12 signs of the zodiac, and 12 constellations rather than a crystal chandelier. Each star was represented by a light bulb giving off a comparative magnitude of light. Wood carvings of other constellations also adorned her private balcony and some of doors.

Flower for the Princess

The Princess Mother had a passion for flowers. It was a defining characteristic that dominated her life from her youth through to her later years. This love of flowers reflected a sensitivity and a concern for nature that was not just enjoyment of its aesthetic qualities, but included the need to care and nurture them into full bloom with the same kind of attention and concern that she gave to her role as mother, and every other project in her lifetime.

Plants are like people. This particular zinnia I didn’t grow from a seed, but bought a sapling from a nursery, and it is now strong and healthy. Why is that? Because the nursery owner knew how to choose a good seed, and the right soil. He knew how to nurse the sapling, which I couldn’t have done as he did. When I bought it back, I had to attend to it, fertilize it constantly because the soil here is not so fertile. I have to constantly water the plant, turn the soil, pull the weeds and pick the dead leaves. People are like that; if he comes from a good breed, the child will be healthy and intelligent. If the parents provide constant nurturing, picking out the defective bits and adding fertilizer, the child will grow up and prosper like these zinnias

—Princess Srinagarindra[6]

Her technique for pressing flowers was to put them between sheets of newsprint and tissue paper and toilet rolls, and cover them with some heavy books. She would also write the common and scientific names of the flowers, and the date, on the newsprint.

This particular activity was not simply for pleasure and decorative purposes. As most of her other activities, it became an educational process, not only for herself but also for others. She collected the pressed flowers into an album, indicating the names in both French and Latin and the documented the location where they were picked, the altitude and the date.

Camera Buff

Another hobby since she was a nursing student at Siriraj Hospital was photography. When she arrived in California and started receiving her own pocket money of US$5 a month, she saved up to buy her own box camera. She experimented with different photographic techniques, such as double exposure, and would continuously upgrade her equipment were subjects for her camera, and as a result the country has extensive records of their two kings as children. In 1928, her interest was drawn to the movie camera. She was among the 50 members of the Amateur Cinematographic Society set up by King Prajadhipok at Chitralada Palace. Here she would show her own home movies to the other members.

The hobby was adopted by both her sons.

Sporting Activities

The Princess Mother was always fond of outdoor activities. Apart from trekking along mountainsides enjoying the natural environment, she was an avid skier. It was a sport she used to enjoy with her children when they were in Switzerland. Badminton and horseback riding were also regular activities, and she continued riding well into her seventies. She only gave up badminton when she was 70, and skiing when she was 80. In later years, she would enjoy a game of pétanque, which was good exercise for different parts of her body and her joints.

Through her knowledge of health care and nutrition, and regular exercise, the Princess Mother retained good health. A physical examination in 1988 showed that she was in perfect condition. If you were to look at the medical report, her blood tests, blood pressure, pulse, etc., without knowing who the patient was, I guarantee that no one would have guessed her age correctly, as the results were no different from those of any strong and healthy young man or woman said Dr. Chek Dhanasiri, one of her physicians.[7]

A Step Towards Sustainability

When the Princess Mother started making regular visits to villagers, officials, soldiers and police in the Thai border areas in 1966, the scene from her helicopter showed barren hillsides devoid of trees, with occasional shifting crops, weeds and opium poppies. From these visits, she learned of the nomadic lifestyles of the villagers who had to grow crops through slash-and-burn cultivation methods whivh unwittingly destroyed the natural environment, the watershed forests, resulting in upsetting the ecological balance.

I shall plant forests on Doi Tung. With those words, a royal initiative was found, launching an attempt to revert the mountain to its original state. The Princess Mother was also determined to improve the quality of life of the villagers, provide education and health services, means of a regular income, and an awareness of the need to preserve the environment.

Acting on this inspiration, the government under Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda set up the Doi Tung Development Project in 1988 as a joint project between 7 ministries. The Princess Mother was approaching her 90th birthday, and the Thai people were concerned that her annual sojourns in Switzerland were becoming too taxing for hege. A house on Doi Tung would be the perfect solution; its location at 1,000 metres above sea level, with temperatures ranging between 17 and 24 degrees Celsius, its climate and the surrounding scenery were not unlike the cool, mountains setting of Villa Vadhana in Lausanne.

Doi Tung royal villa

The two-story house is nestled against a steep incline. The upper floor is divided into 4 sections – the private queaters of the Princess Mother. Princess Galyani Vadhana and Thanpuying Dhasanawalaya Sornsongkram, and the reception hall.

Reflecting the Princess Mother’s deep interest in astronomy, the ceiling in the reception hall is carved in the image of the solar system, with clusters of the different star signs. Instead of the usual chandelier, the room is lit with bulbs representing the stars in the system. Walls are lined with Thai silk embroidered with flowers. Other decorative items are carvings of elephant herds in the forest, while the Thai alphabet lines the stairway to the lower level.

Behind the palace is a long balcony lined with flowers boxes. It is here that the Princess Mother spent many a happy hour tending to the flowers herself. The lower level are living and working quarters for countries. In front is a wide lawn with flower gardens, which affords a wonderful view of the mountain range that stretches as far as the eye can see.

The Princess Mother took up residence at the Doi Tung Royal Villa on 23 November 1990. This is my home she said. After all, her other palaces had been official royal residences. It was her first true home and, sadly, her last.

Just a decade later, as the smell of fragrant flowers waft on the breeze toward the palace, visitors can see the changes in Doi Tung. The hillsides are lush with watershed forests, commercial forests, and botanical gardens. Planting the seeds of awareness and responsibility in the people to help replant the forests and regenerate the environment on Doi Tung, as inspired by the Princess Mother, has achieved its goal. Apart from being the site of an experimental agricultural project, Doi Tung is now said to be one of the leading tourist destinations in Thailand.

Mae Fah Luang Foundation

Parallel to the Princess Mother’s project on the greeing of Doi Tung was a plan to improve the quality of life of the local hilltribe villagers. No longer able to rely on their slash-and-burn method of cultivation, they needed alternative ways to feed themselves and earn an income. In 1972, the Princess Mother established the Hill Tribes Products Promotion Foundation with an initial donation of 100,00 baht. The foundation, based at Srapathum Palace in Bangkok, would promote and market the beautiful and distinct handicrafts produced by each village. The foundation also provided training to hilltribe youth to enable them to lead the development programme.

The Princess Mother donated more money to buy 2.3 hectares of land in Chiang Rai, which became the centre for training in agriculture, weaving and dyeing. A Hill Tribe Youth Leadership Programme was set up to allow 50 youth to undergo training courses each year.

Death and Funeral

Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother was popular among the people of Thailand, not only for the royal position, but most of all for her dedication and numerous achievements initiated for the benefit of the people.

Princess Mother lived officially in Srapathum Palace, with her daughter, Princess Galyani Vadhana. In the middle of 1991, she apparently fell in her bedroom. She never entirely recovered from that accident. In November 1993, December 1994 and again in June 1995 she was admitted to the Siriraj Hospital for treatment. And in the end, Princess Srinagarindra died on 18 July 1995 at Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok, at the age of 94. She was one of the longest-living Thai royalty.

As her body lay in state within the ancient and cavernous hall of Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall, in the compound of the Grand Palace, mourners thronged to pay their final respects. These included not only members of the Royal Family, diplomats, government official, and those living within the confines of the capital city, but also hilltribe villagers from the far corners of the kingdom. They filed into Bangkok by car, by bus, by train, their black-clad figures covering the vast grounds of Sanam Luang with a dark blanket of sorrow and grief.

The Royal Cremation took place on 10 March 1996. For which an elaborately carved, the Royal Crematorium, or Phra Merumas, was built in the centre of Sanam Luang, symbolizing the mythical mountain abode of the Hindu gods. Crowds lined the street as the golden urn of rank was transported on the Royal Great Victory Carriage, or Phra Maha Pichai Ratcharot. In a solemn procession from the Grand Palace to the Royal Crematorium. This Royal Cremation Ceremony was one of the biggest events Thailand has witnessed in modern times, attended by thousands of people and watched on television nation-worldwide.

The funeral pyre was lit by her son, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. After the cremation, the king collected his mother’s ashes to be afterwards enshrined nearby her husband Prince Mahidol Adulyadej in the Rangsi Vadhana Memorial, Royal Cemetery, Wat Ratchabophit temple in Bangkok.


  • 21 October 1900 – 17 August 1913; Miss Sangwan
  • 17 August 1913 – 10 September 1920; Miss Sangwan Talapat
  • 10 September 1920 – 16 November 1938; Mom Sangwan Mahidol na Ayudhya
  • 16 November 1938 – 9 June 1970; Princess Mother Sri Sangwan
  • 9 June 1970 – 18 July 1995; Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother

There is some confusion as to why the Princess Mother was never titled Queen Mother, considering that she was the mother of two kings. Since her husband was never king and only had the title of a prince, she never ascended as a queen-consort, and was therefore she was given the title Princess Mother by her son.

Royal Decoration

Royal Cypher of Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother. The letter "ส.ว." (Sor Vor) refers to her given name, Sangwal

Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother received the following decorations in the Honours System of Thailand:

From Japan



  • Community Health Foundation under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana. 90th Anniversary of Mae Fah Luang. (Thai Version) Bangkok: Darnsutha Press, 1990.
  • Galyani Vadhana, Her Royal Highness Princess. Busy Fingers. (bilingual edition) Bangkok: Dransutha Press, 1984.
  • Galyani Vadhana, Her Royal Highness Princess. From Little Princes to Young King. (Thai Version) Bangkok: Darnsutha Press, 1987
  • Galyani Vadhana, Her Royal Highness Princess. Mother Told Me. (Thai Version) Bangkok: Thai Wattana Panich Press, 1980.
  • Luang Sukhum Nayapradit. A Short Story of My Life. (Thai Version) Published on the occasion of Luang Sukhum Nayapradit’s cremation at Wat Debsirindrawas on 29 June 1967.
  • National Identity Board. King Bhumibol: Strength of the Land. Bangkok: Amarin Printing and Publishing, 2000.
  • National Identity Board. Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani: Grandmother of the nation. (Thai Version) Bangkok: Darnsutha Press, 1996.
  • Princess Mother Memorial Park Committee Under Royal Initiative. Princess Mother Memorial Park. (Thai Version) Bangkok: Aksorn Thai Printing Press, 1991.
  • Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Parks Foundation under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother. Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Parks Foundation. (Thai Version) Bangkok: Aksorn Thai Printing Press, 1998.
  • The Tourism Authority of Thailand Doi Tung. Bangkok: Darnsutha Press, 1998.
  • Wong Wannakhadee. Monthly Thai literary journal, October 1947.


  1. ^ Luang Sukhum Nayapradit. A Short Story of My Life, Page 32
  2. ^ National Identity Board, Somder Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani: Grandmother of the Nation, Page 99
  3. ^ Galyani Vadhana, Her Royal Highness Princess, From Little Princes to Young King, Page 62
  4. ^ Community Health Foundation under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, 90th Anniversary of Mae Fah Luang, Page 40
  5. ^ Galyani Vadhana, Her Royal Highness Princess, Busy Fingers, Page 24
  6. ^ Wong Wannakhadee, Monthly Thai literary journal, October 1947, Page 11-12
  7. ^ Community Health Foundation under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, 90th Anniversary of Mae Fah Luang, Page 111

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