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LEXICON

 

 

White Elephant

An albino, brownish pink to white Asian Elephant, an animal which in Buddhist nations is regarded as sacred and a symbol of royal might, and which is belived to gring good fortune to any nation that posses it. It is therefore by law always presented to the king. King Bhumipon Adunyadet of Thailand some pointed owned eleven White Elephants (fig.), all of which seemingly assembled at the same time outside of the Grand Palace, with their respective mahouts dressed in black (fig.), as a tribute to the late King on 9 November 2016, ca. one month after the demise of HM King Rama IX, on the day of the auspicious number nine. However, it was later revealed that those elephants were only made to appear like White Elephants, but were in fact painted and of at least some even the tusks were fake. Myanmar in 2016 still possessed three albino elephants (fig.), kept in a sala-like pavilion in Yangon (fig.). Legend has it that White Elephants are born from lotus flowers (fig.). It appeared as a sacred animal in the dream (subinnimit - fig.) of Maha Maya and Erawan (fig.), the mount of Indra, also has a white complexion. Furthermore gives Prince Wetsandorn in the tenth story of the jataka a rainmaking White Elephant away (fig.). Thai mythology recognizes four categories of auspicious White Elephants, named after their creators and subsequent powers: Brahmaphong, a White Elephant created by Brahma and with the ability to bring material wealth and knowledge to the king; Isvaraphong, created by Shiva and with the ability to endow the king with royal power; Vishnuphong, created by Vishnu and which can produce rain and fertility, as well as bring victory over enemies; and Agniphong, a White Elephant created by Agni, the god of fire, which ensures animal fertility and prevents war and inauspicious events in the kingdom. The distinctiveness needed to qualify as a White Elephant does not just relate to its colour. The name is actually an incorrect translation from ancient Indian writings where it is described as an elephant ‘with the colour of a lotus’. This is open to many interpretations, and according to the present rules of reference a White Elephant is required to have the following qualities, besides a pinkish white colour: white nails, light colour of eyes and a pink rim around the eyes, a pink inner mouth and pink genitals. Until 1917, the royal animal was portrayed as the ensign on the Siamese flag, then a red field with a White Elephant (fig.). Today, this is still visible in the circle on the banner of the Thai Royal Navy (fig.), but with the elephant dressed in ceremonial attire. It often occurs in iconography (fig.) as well as in literature, and in Thai proverbs. Located on the grounds of the Dusit Palace in Bangkok, is the Royal Elephant National Museum (fig.), housed in former stables, built in the reigns of king Rama V and Rama VII, and exhibiting a number of objects related to the Chang Ton, including the tusks of White Elephants from various reigns. In Thai Chang Pheuak, literally ‘elephant [with the colour of] a taro root’ (fig.), in Thai called pheuak.