Elephants, White


Elephants, White
   Elephants have played an important role in Burmese history, as beasts of burden (most famously, in the extraction of teak) and as mounts for battle used by kings and commanders. But the white elephant has special significance as the expression of the power and authority (hpoun) of the old kings, a belief that the Burmese shared with the Indians, Siamese, and Cambodians. Awhite elephant figures in the birth legend of Gotama Buddha. Possession of these animals, whose physical identification is subject to exacting criteria, enhanced the ruler's prestige and signified the prosperity of his realm. Both Tabinshwehti and Bayinnaung demanded white elephants from the king of Siam (Thailand), and when the latter refused, used this as a pretext for war. When Bayinnaung conquered Siam and brought some of the animals back to Burma, he bestowed upon himself the title Hsinbyushin ("Lord of the White Elephant"), which is also the name of a prominent Konbaung Dynasty ruler. In 2001-2002, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) captured three white elephants in Arakan State. They are kept in a special compound in Insein Township, Rangoon (Yangon), where the public can view them under tight security. Naming one of them "royal elephant that bestows grace upon the nation," the military regime claims that they are a sign of SPDC legitimacy and portents of prosperity. Modern-minded critics who point out that possession of white elephants has nothing to do with economic development have found themselves in trouble with the authorities.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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