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Friday, July 1, 2022

rare 'White elephant' and the flag of Laos !!

Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma,  China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  

Understand in the Sanga period, benevolent Kings would give elephant as prize to poets ~ obviously, it was not the animal only but wealth that went along ensuring their upkeep.  In our mythology, “Airavatham” is the white elephant who carries Indira.  Airavata has four tusks and seven trunks and is spotless white. It is known as Erawan in Thai. Airavata is also the third son of Kashyap and Kadru.  Airavatha is the King of elephants and brother of Garuda.  By some reference, King Bimbisara had one such white elephant,  captured in wild  and named Sechanaka which means "watering" as the elephant used to water the plants by himself without any prior training.

In reality, ‘A white elephant’ is a burden rather than prized possession – the owner  cannot dispose of  but the cost of keeping that of maintenance would be out of proportion to its usefulness.  The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam, now Thailand, were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. In modern usage, it refers to objects / ventures that are considered not of any use. 

Elsewhere ‘white elephants’ are sacred in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.  To possess a white elephant was regarded (and is still regarded in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. The opulence expected of anyone that owned a beast of such stature was great.   The thai term  ‘chang samkhan’, actually translates as 'auspicious elephant', being "white" in terms of an aspect of purity.

Scientifically, a white elephant (also albino elephant) is a rare kind of elephant, but not a distinct species. Although often depicted as snowwhite, their skin is normally a soft reddish-brown, turning a light pink when wet.  They have fair eyelashes and toenails. The Burmese rulers and the King of Thailand do possess white elephants.   

A rare white elephant has been captured in Myanmar, state media said recently – the creature traditionally seen as a sign of political good fortune in a country edging towards breakthrough national elections. The pink-tinged pachyderm, which was caught in a forest reserve in the Irrawaddy Delta area of Pathein, is the ninth white elephant to be held in captivity in the former junta-run country, according to a report in the Global New Light of Myanmar.

The female elephant is thought to be about seven years old, is around 190cm tall and has “pearl coloured eyes”. They have been found at opportune moments for the country, which has been ruled by a quasi-civilian government since 2011. The discovery of a white elephant just before elections in 2010 was hailed by state media as the mark of a successful “democratic transition”, despite widespread criticism of the polls with allegations of cheating and the absence of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar is currently preparing for another general election, a key test of the country’s political reforms and one that is likely to see significant wins for Suu Kyi’s party. [source :]

From 1952 until the fall of the royal government in 1975 the country of Laos had a red flag, with a white three-headed elephant (the god Erawan) in the middle. On top of the elephant is a nine-folded umbrella, while the elephant itself stands on a five-level pedestal. The white elephant is a common royal symbol in Southeast Asia, the three heads referred to the three former kingdoms Vientiane, Luangprabang, and Champasak which made up the country.  The nine-folded umbrella is also a royal symbol, originating from Mount Meru in the Buddhist cosmology. The pedestal represented the law on which the country rested.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
16th Mar 2015.

Photo of Laos flag :  "Flag of Laos (1952-1975)" by Thommy - Own work, based on Flags of the World - Laos, 1952-1975 and Coat of arms of Laos (1952-1975).svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; 

 Photo - of white elephant : the

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