“Where an elephant walks, a path is created.”

last final layer white ele

Digital Illustration by Thora Thandar Aung

Purity. Wisdom and intelligence are the words people around the world describes elephants with.

Elephants, especially white elephants, are a rare species that are not yet extinct. They are commonly used  throughout Asia for religious and political symbols because of their symbolic meaning of being an “auspicious” animal.

In many religions and cultures white elephants are the subject of many legends.  For example, in the Buddhist religion there is a story:

On the eve of giving birth to the Lord Buddha, his mother dreams that a white elephant comes to present her with a lotus, a symbol of purity and knowledge.

“where an elephant walks, a path is created.”

The quote above has been popular for ages throughout the culture of Myanmar. This quote means that wherever elephants have passed by or walked through, that area becomes a path for humans and animal because of their strong and mighty bodies that has knocked out everything in front of them.

White elephants are also used as a symbol of peace. That’s why in many legends monarchs trade elephants for peace, not only in Asia, but also in Persia. According  to al-Tabari, a white elephant killed the commander of the Arab Muslims in the Battle of the Bridge.

While there are many positive reports of white elephants back in our history, there are also many western references that means otherwise. The term “white elephant” could also mean a prestigious thing that is considered to be more trouble than it is worth. The owner would happily neglect it and give it away rather than keep it because it might be more useful for other people.

As the western term has changed, its point of view in Myanmar and Thailand has not changed. I hope they don’t change it.



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