Royal elephant museum

Learn about how Hindu gods created elephants of four different castes, see lifestyle models of famous royal elephants & read Second Reign book on how to capture & train them.

The life-size model of HM the King’s first royal white elephant, named Phra Savet Adulyadej Phahana.

ELEPHANTS

Royal elephants in full splendour

New museum allows the public to learn about the history and significance of pachyderms to Thailand and its monarchy

7/11/2013

Pichaya Svasti

At first glance, I thought a white elephant with a pair of long curvy tusks, standing tall and graceful in a royal stable, was real. I was wrong. It is a life-size model of one of Thailand's most important royal white elephants, named Phra Savet Adulyadej Phahana. It is part of a permanent exhibition on two major kinds of royal Thai elephants - white and auspicious - at the newly-opened Royal Elephants' Stable Museum at the Chitralada Royal Palace, Bangkok.

The museum was visited by His Majesty the King on Nov 26 last year, officially opened by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on May 13 this year and has been welcoming the general public since last month. Under the supervision of the Royal Chitralada Projects, the museum consists of two former stables for royal elephants covering a total area of 176m2, as well as outdoor exhibition space and a nearby pond for the royal elephants to swim in.

Building 1 was once the stable for HM the King's first royal white elephant, named Phra Savet Adulyadej Phahana. It showcases an exhibition on ancient and religious beliefs relating to pachyderms. Based on beliefs from India, elephants are a symbol of fertility, a symbol of the Lord Buddha as well as a symbol of merit making and holiness.

A highlight is the Second Reign's manuscript about the qualities of elephants and the rituals to capture and train them.

Visitors will see these features by looking at the small models of auspicious elephants from four castes - Isvara, Brahma, Visnu and Agni.

Four Hindu gods created elephants of four different castes. Those of the Isvara caste, created by Shiva, bring good fortune and riches. They have black yet delicate skin and are powerful. Those of the Brahma caste, created by Brahma, bring longevity and confer wisdom. They have fair and soft skin. Those of the Visnu caste, created by Visnu, bring victory over enemies and abundant fruits and crops. They have thick skin, a moderately large chest and neck as well as big legs, but a bizarrely huge face and tail and red freckles on their ears. Those of the Agni caste, created by the god of fire, bring peace and fertility, especially abundant fish for food, and peace. They have rough and quite dark skin and hair, red freckles on their faces, red tusks, a red back and honey-coloured eyes.

The exhibit also gives information and displays paintings and photos relating to important elephants in Thailand from the Sukhothai period to the Rattanakosin era, because elephants are considered treasures owned by monarchs. The touchscreen system is used to present two documentary films _ the Fine Arts Department's footage on the importance of elephants to religions and Thai history, and a black-and-white silent movie, Chang: A Drama Of The Wilderness, which was shot in 1925 in Siam depicting the round-up of wild elephants.

Building 2 was once a stable for another royal white elephant, Phra Savetabha Sura Gajara. It has an exhibition on all royal ceremonies to bless white elephants from the reign of King Rama I until today and the lives of all the 11 white and auspicious elephants presented to His Majesty the King. A highlight is the life-size model of Phra Savet Adulyadej Phahana and on display nearby the model are the white elephant's tusks as well as life-size models of a white monkey and a white crow. According to Thai belief, spotting one or both of these animals is a sign of finding a white elephant nearby.

The museum also provides a rare opportunity for visitors to see the Royal Elephants' Stable at the Chitralada Royal Palace. The stable was constructed in the style of early Rattanakosin architecture in 1976. This stable was the home of all the 11 white and other auspicious elephants belonging to HM the King.

Ten of these 11 pachyderms participated in royal ceremonies to bless them. The place fell into disuse after HM the King ordered the relocation of Phra Savet Adulyadej Phahana to Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan, in 2004, six other royal pachyderms to the Thai Elephants Conservation Centre in Lampang and the last four at Phuphan Royal Palace, Sakon Nakhon.

In 2008, HM the King had the stables for two of his white elephants renovated and turned into a museum. The project has been supported by the Fine Arts Department and the Royal Chitralada Projects. It was intended to honour HM the King on his 84th birthday on Dec 5, 2011, telling the public about royal white and auspicious elephants and creating a learning centre about the significance of elephants in Thailand.

"His Majesty the King thinks youths nowadays do not know much about the significance of elephants and white elephants, so he set up this museum on elephants and their importance to the nation and all Thai kings," said ML Phiphatanachatr Diskul, a royal veterinarian who oversees the museum and other royal projects concerning elephants.

According to ML Phiphatanachatr, the museum also displays replicas of the gold apparel and ornaments presented by the Fine Arts Department to HM the King for his first white elephant to don while greeting royal guests during the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the King's coronation in 2006.

At present, there are nine royal projects for elephants, including royal support for elephant hospitals in Lampang and Krabi. There is also a royal programme under which 250 vets volunteer to provide free medical treatment for all kinds of animals. The team recently visited Bung Kan, Uthai Thani, Surat Thani and Phrae.

The Royal Elephants' Stable Museum at Chitralada Royal Palace is open to the public on weekdays during office hours, but reservations must be made in advance. For more information, contact the Royal Chitralada Projects on 02-282-8200.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/travel-feature/378592/royal-elephants-in-full-splendour

About the author

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Writer: Jon Fernquest
Position: Online Writer