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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

‘The King in Exile: The fall of the Royal Family of Burma’ by Sudha Shah

White elephant
"The royal white elephant died in the Golden Palace the very day King Thibaw left the shores of Burma. The king learnt of his death in Madras, and is said to have remarked to Colonel Cox that the elephant must have starved to death as his keepers must have abandoned him. During his reign, King Thibaw had accorded this elephant appropriately honorific treatment. A hundred soldiers had guarded his enclosure. Everything he ate and drank from was made of solid gold; he was bathed with sandalwood scented water; palace dancers performed every day to entertain him; and every night lullabies were sung to put him to sleep. The reason for all these privileges was that it was believed that in his last birth on earth, the Lord Buddha had entered his mother's womb in the form of a white elephant. Therefore the white elephant was one of the 'seven precious things' the ownership of which marked great kings. King Thibaw must have consequently seen the death of his elephant as a great tragedy and as a sinister omen of things to come.'
"As it turned out, the royal white elephant's death heralded bad times not just for the royal family but also for the people of Burma. Less than a month after his death, Burma ceased to be an independent nation. On 1 January 1886 Lord Dufferin issued a proclamation making Burma a part of the British Empire."
(pp. 99-100, 'The King in Exile: The fall of the Royal Family of Burma' by Sudha Shah - Harper)

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