Thai kings have always kept white
elephants as a symbol of power. If a
white elephant is caught, it must be
handed over to the King immediately.
Thailand is called the land of white
Elephant masks play a special role in religious customs and rituals. During the religious dance, the supernatural forces of the mask work against evil forces. The dancer wearing the mask gains magical power.
Once a year, the finest Sri Lankan male elephant
carries a holy shrine with Buddha’s teeth relics
through the streets of the town of Kandy.
Thousands of Buddhists participate in the
procession. The elephant is called Rajah (King).
It wears gold and silver rings on its tusks and a
gold-embroidered head cover.
17th century painting
After receiving a coin or a banana, the
elephant blesses the visitor by tapping him
on the head with its trunk. The temple
elephant is specially selected and enjoys a
higher rank than the ordinary work
elephant. It is however hard work, as the
temple elephants spend many hours
everyday standing in front of the temple.
Every year in Surin, hundreds of work elephants and mahouts have a large celebration. They eat, dance, parade and play elephant football. The festival pays homage to the founder of Surin, Ching Pum, who in the 16th century caught one of the King’s white elephants that had escaped.
Elephants often feature in art of several
Asian countries. Detail on a wall of a temple
in Mysore, India.
A “mahout” is a person who rides an elephant.
Usually, a mahout starts as a boy in the “family
profession” when he is assigned a young elephant. They remain bonded to each other throughout