BANGKOK: A dozen elephants powdered up to represent the mysterious white elephants of old have participated in a royal ceremony to mourn the passing of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The royal pachyderms were brought from the old capital of Ayuthaya to Bangkok to participate in Tuesday’s ceremony.As crowds of onlookers watched on, the elephants paused and bowed to observe a minute’s silence in front of the Grand Palace for the king who died Oct. 13 at the age of 88.The country is currently observing a one-year period of mourningElephants are Thailand’s national animal and were a symbol of status and prestige.
Before a military coup toppled the absolute monarchy in 1932, the country’s national flag was a white elephant resting on a field of red, but it has since reverted to the familiar stripes of white, red and blue.White or albino elephants aren’t born completely white but a pinkish hue. For official ceremonies, the royal household covers the mammals with a fine white powder that lends them the more traditional look.
Historically, they were so rare that they became a status of symbol and power for the royals of Southeast Asia, but due to their scarcity and value, they could not be worked in fields — as many elephants in the region are — and instead would be housed at tremendous expense.
Legend states that the ancient kings of Siam, now Thailand, would make a present of a white elephant to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to financially ruin the recipient.The term “white elephant” — a possession which cannot be disposed of and whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness — has since derived from the problems such ownership would create.To this day, whenever an albino elephant is born in Thailand it is presented to the royal family as a gift. -APP