The Nation – December 30, 2008 – By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
The doors of a royal treasure trove in Bangkok are about to swing open
From the reign of her father King Rama IV to the modernisation of Siam under the reign of her grandson, His Majesty the King, Queen Savang Vadhana witnessed six monarchs of the Chakri Dynasty take the throne.
Recently, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presided over the official inauguration of the Queen Savang Vadhana Museum at the “ Tamnak Yai” (Great Mansion) in the vast compound of the Sra Pathum Palace in Bangkok’s Pathum Wan district. Though the date hasn’t yet been announced, this historical treasure trove will soon to be opened to the public.
Home from the reign of King Rama VI until her death in 1955, Queen Savang lived at Tamnak Yai with her youngest son Prince Mahidol, his wife, Princess Sri Nagarindra (the Prince Father and Princess Mother) and three royal grandchildren. It was also here that her majesty performed her final royal duty, overseeing the marriage ceremony of Their Majesties the King and Queen in April, 1950. She had done the same for the Prince Father and Princess Mother previously. At present, Sra Pathum Palace is the residence of HRH Princess Sirindhorn.
Designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno, Tamnak Yai was completed around 1914-1915. Renovation work began in 1997 and the mansion was restored to its former glory in time for HM the King’s 80th birthday and just before the death of the late Princess Galyani Vadhana.
Visitors will be met by a video documentary on Queen Savang’s life of charitable works, including the health-related projects she initiated such as mobile medical units, Somdej Hospital in Si Racha, Chon Buri province, and the Siamese Red Cross. Education was another interest, and she provided scholarships for talented students as well as promoting equal opportunities for girls. She studied Buddhism closely, but also read widely in foreign languages and delved into new technologies. A woman of her time, she backed projects under royal patronage like rice mills, textile and craft producers, and managed her investments very successfully.
The museum is divided into three areas, each representing a different period in its history. The Reception Room and the Ceremonial Room introduce us to Tamnak Yai’s early years and the wedding ceremony of Their Majesty’s the Prince Father and Princess Mother.
In the Grey Bedroom and the Study Room on the second floor we move on to the return of Prince Mahidol with his family from England, when Queen Savang took up residence at Tamnak Kiew (the Green Mansion) within the compound.
The third area features the White Bedroom, the Prayer Room and the Leisure Room, which mark the return of Prince Mahidol from the United States with the queen’s three grandchildren. Queen Savang built Tamnak Mai (the New Mansion) for the young family, while she herself lived out the rest of her life in Tamnak Yai.
The first room visitors encounter after walking through Tamnak Yai’s east entrance houses the queen’s documents: letters, telegrams, newspaper clippings, foreign magazines, and even her will. There are personal items too – her sunglasses, powder compact, vanity case, royal stamp and collectibles made of tortoise shell and ivory. One of the most interesting objects is a cloth used to wipe the feet of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, displayed on a gold tray. Each year on the queen’s birthday, this room became backstage for a classical dance performance by Rajini School. The stage curtain they used is still here.
Next comes the Ceremonial Room, decorated by celebrated London furniture maker Maple & Co and dominated by a grand dining table sitting 16 that was imported from Paris.
The Reception Room on the west side of the museum features Louis XVI chairs reupholstered using photographs of the original designs.
On the second floor, the Grey Bedroom houses furniture in the art deco style. It opens onto the Study, where scientific equipment and a typewriter jostle for space with leather-upholstered sofas and chairs, and a wooden desk and cabinets lined with books.
Next is the Leisure Room featuring a card table in the centre, the queen’s desk and Siamese Red Cross stationery, and a sofa where she relaxed with favourite magazines like National Geographic.
Late in life, the queen often spent her nights in the small Prayer Room, which houses a collection of Buddha images. This is where she passed away.
The White Bedroom – the queen’s – is aptly named. White furniture is surrounded by paintings of the Royal Family hanging on the walls, an original portrait of King Chulalongkorn among them. The room’s en suite bathroom with bathtub and shower is surprisingly modern and still has its light-green tiled decor.
Visitors should also pay a visit to “Jek Tu” further along the corridor. He’s modelled on the street hawker the queen would call in to the palace and buy toys from for her grandchildren.