Princess Sunandha Kumariratana, born on November 10, 1860, was the daughter of Rama IV, or King Mongkut, and his princess consort, Piam. It was in the land of Siam, what is now known as Bangkok, Thailand. Siamese kings typically kept large harems of wives and concubines, and as such, they tended to have dozens of children, as exemplified in the novel Anna and the King and the movie The King and I. King Mongkut had 82 children.
As a teenager, Princess Sunandha married Rama V, who became known as King Chulalongkorn and became the queen consort, meaning that she held all of the formal titles associated with the king but did not possess his military or political power. He also married two of her sisters, though many claim that he loved Sunandha the best.
Today, the progressive king is remembered for many of his reforms that helped bring the ancient kingdom into the modern world and prevented the colonization of Siam by Western powers. The queen, however, is remembered for her senseless death that could have easily been avoided. She, her daughter, and an unborn child – presumably a son – are memorialized at the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace in modern-day Bangkok, where a marble monument is dedicated to the young, tragic queen.
Touching a Member of the Royal Family and Other Superstitions
Royals tend to have special laws relegated to them, many of which keep them from mixing with more common people. For example, there are strict protocols in the United Kingdom regarding that state if and under which circumstances someone may be permitted to touch a member of the royal family. The present law is probably less rooted in superstition and ancient tradition than it is in the fact that the royals want their person to be respected. Think of it as celebrities not wanting the paparazzi touching them; their personal space is invaded enough with constant onlookers.
An ancient Siamese law stated that no commoner was to touch a member of the royal family, under pain of immediate death. This law may have been rooted in superstition, religious belief, or an ancient tradition whose origins are no longer known. This law applied to Queen Sunandha and ultimately led to her untimely demise at the age of 19.
The Siamese culture was full of many other traditions and superstitions, as well. One stated that you should never try to rescue a drowning person. This tradition may be found in well-formed logic, because if you venture out into dangerous waters and are not an exceptionally skilled swimmer, you may die, too. However, the Siamese believed that if you try to rescue a person who is drowning, then even if you survive, the river will come back and claim your life as a substitute for the one that you snatched from it. If a royal person were drowning, he or she would undoubtedly be doomed; that is, if the river didn’t take the one who tried to save him or her, the law would mean that the potential savior would be killed.