A sign of Peace and White Elephant (Sin-Phyu-Daw, ဆင္ျဖဴေတာ္)

Of the many things that intrigue the visitors who come to Myanmar, nothing is as complicated to understand as why the white elephant (albino elephant) (sin-phyu-daw ဆင္ျဖဴေတာ္) is very precious in our country.

In Burmese tradition, white elephants are considered not only as a symbol of good luck but also strength and power. In the ancient Burmese world, if one king possessed the white elephant during his ruling period, he was considered and believed by the people as the right king who will bring peace and prosperity to the country. Moreover, people believed that the white elephant could provide power and glory, and even support the power to conquer other neighboring area. And some monarchs in history often changed their possession of white elephants in their formal titles. (For example, nga:-si:-shin-kyaw-swa (ငါးစီးရွင္ ေက်ာ္စြာ) (Lord Kyaw Swa of five white elephants).

These noble and awesome white elephant theories are not only found in Myanmar, but also in most of the South East Asia origin countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. They have their somewhat different believes on white elephant, but the lucky property is in common.

Actually, the tradition derives from the history of Buddha’s birth. History says that the mother of Buddha dreamed about white elephant and lotus flower on the birth of Buddha. The white elephant has always been considered as noble and sacred among Buddhists. According to the three repositories of Buddha scriptures, there are ten kinds of white elephants. They can be listed as follow;

  1. Kar-lar-wa-ka (ကာဠာ၀ကဆင္)
  2. Kim-gay-ya (ဂေဂၤယ်ဆင္)
  3. Pan-na-ra (ပ႑ရဆင္)
  4. Than-va (တမၺဆင္)
  5. Pin-Gin-La (ပိဂၤလဆင္)
  6. Ga-na (ဂႏၶဆင္)
  7. Min-ga-la (မဂၤလဆင္)
  8. Ba-Ma-Sin (ေဘမဆင္)
  9. U.-Paw-tha-hta (ဥေပါသထဆင္)
  10. Ba-than-Hta(ဆဒၵႏၲဆင္)

(White Elephant, By Tutay Thi Myint Tun, Ngwe Tar Yee Magazzine, Feb 2013)

Though the white elephants are regarded as a priceless animal, it is not a distinct species. Their skin is normally a soft pink or reddish grey instead of a snowy white as their name could make people think. Therefore, white elephants are just nominally white. From the point of medical view, they can be called as albino elephants (the term which used to diagnose when the coloration of the skin is disrupted).

Now in Myanmar you can see the white elephants in Yangon and Nay Pyi Daw. These white elephants are guarded by a high steel fence and an assault rifle-wielding police officer. But it’s a sad thing that their forelegs are tethered by large steel chains.  Don’t forget to take sugar cane and bamboo if you plan to go and enjoy.

It is quite difficult to understand why recent Myanmar people are still interested in white elephants. They still considered it as a sign of wealth and peace. You can see Sin Phy Daw (Burmese term of white elephant) brand anywhere around Myanmar. For examples, Sin Phyu Daw Snacks, kind of preserved and salty damson, is very famous and available in every retails shop in Myanmar, and Sin Phyu Daw Hotel which is popular among local travelers due to its cheap price.

Believe it or not! But, the definite reason is that you’ll feel a great pleasure for seeing such a rare kind of elephant.

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