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Diamond Jubilee White Elephant

The White Elephant

White Elephant.

Since the time of King Ramkhamhaeng in the 13th century, the white elephant has been given great prestige in Thailand and adopted as the emblem of the absolute monarchy.

Although not actually fully albino, an elephant must have eyes, palate, nails, tail hair, skin, hairs and testicles 'close to white' to qualify as a white elephant.

A law passed in 1921 stated that all white elephants automatically belong to the King, and therefore cannot be bought, sold or used commercially.

The term 'white elephant' subsequently caught on in the West as 'a possession that is useless and often expensive to maintain'. The law still holds today.

The white elephant on a red background was the Siamese flag until the early 20th century, but the flags were generally of poor quality and the design non-standardized. Some foreign dignatories even mistook the elephant for a pig.

King Vajiravudh introduced the present-day red, white and blue flag in 1917, inspired by the multi-colored striped flags of other nations.

As part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of His Majesty's accession to the throne Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahon, the 60 year old royal elephant that resides in Klaikangwol Palace in Prachuap Khiri Khan, will be dressed in a new uniform. This specially designed uniform comprises a cloth head-dress and a cloth back cover, jewellery net to hang beneath his trunk, a pair of yak hair tassels to hang from his ears, and a "Sema Khachaporn" necklace and harness for his front, back and tail.
Phra Sawet Adulyadej Phahon, a native of Kra-bi, was the first white elephant raised to royal rank during His Majesty's reign. The king has owned a total of twenty one royal elephants during his reign. To date, six of whom are still andraised at the Conservation Center of Thai Elephants, Lampang and four are raised at Bhupaan Rajanives Palace, Sakon Nakorn province. Among these eleven, five have yet to be raised to royal status. The other ten did not live long enough.
The white elephant, or "Chang Samkhan", according to ancient Royal Thai traditions is a most noble beast, exemplifying a king's honour and glory; and for a king to acquire one during his reign will bring prosperity and happiness to the entire kingdom.
Part of the ceremony of rasing a white elephant to royal rank.

Whenever a white elephant is found in the kingdom it must be reported to the Ministry of the Interior, who then notify the Bureau of the Royal Household, and a thorough examination of the beast is undertaken to clarify whether it possesses the seven special characteristics of an elephant worthy of raising, with His Majesty's consent, to the rank of royal elephant: White eyes, palate, nails, hairs, skin, tail hair, and genitals.

When royal approval is granted, there follows a ceremony heavily influenced by Buddhist and Brahman rituals, and the beast is then raised to the status of a royal elephant. The animal is honoured and from that day onwards lives a lordly life.

Elephants are of immense importance in Thailand, and have been revered in proverbs and sayings: once featured on the country's national flag, royal emblems and royal decorations. The elephant holds pride of place as the national symbol of the Kingdom of Thailand.