Buddha: " Whenever you see things, just see. Whenever you listen, just listen. Whenever you know, just know."
Chang Ton Royal Elephant Museum, Dusit Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
The Royal Elephant Museum, is within the grounds of the Dusit Palace complex at U Thong Road in the
Dusit Area of Bangkok
Entrance to the museum is by way of a combined ticket to the Dusit Palace complex (100Bht for foreigners 2007) or a separate admission fee of 5Bht is charged to casual visitors.
No photography is allowed in the museum.
Open between 09.30 and 16.00 daily, except public holidays.
We visited the Chang Ton Royal Elephant Museum, Dusit Palace, Bangkok in October 2007 and found the experience very interesting but would have been fuller had there been a real 'white' elephant around to see.
According to age old Thai tradition, all 'white' elephants found in Thailand must be presented to the Monarch and become the King's exclusive property. When a 'white' elephant is found in the Kingdom, the find must be reported to Thai Interior Ministry, which then notifies the Bureau of the Royal Household, who take appropriate action to acquire the elephant. The Bureau then conducts a physical examination - which may take months - looking closely at every part of the animal, especially the skin to decide if the elephant bears the complete characteristics of 'a special noble beast' according to an ancient textbook called the 'Gaja-Laksana' (Elephant Characteristics). When the elephant is declared 'white' the King is informed.
For centuries the Kings of Siam have revered the white elephant. The white elephant is an albino form of the Siamese elephant, a symbol of prestige and wealth. A Royal white elephant can not be worked and therefore is an expense that most people could not afford, hence the western phrase 'White Elephant', meaning something decorative but of little real worth, the name of a charity stall at many fund raising events where people donate things they no longer want or need and are probably useless. The King's 'white' elephants live a lazy life apart from when they are training for ceremonial duties with their mahouts.
Within Thailand 'White elephants' are only allowed to be kept by the king. When the king receives an elephant certified as 'white', he would command a royal ceremony to celebrate the registration of the elephant. The elephant is given a name: Phraya Chang-ton (for a male), or Nang Phraya Chang-ton (if it was female).
The stables for the royal elephants exist in Royal Palace grounds throughout Thailand. The Chang Ton Royal Elephant Museum consists of two former elephant stables within the grounds of the Dusit Palace complex, built in the Thai-style during the reign of King Rama V. The 'working' stable was moved to another palace when this one became The Chang Ton Royal Elephant Museum in 1988.
In building 1 there are artifacts and display boards related to Royal 'white' elephants such as white elephant figurines, tusks, charms and tools of the elephant mahouts, pictures and articles about elephants, such as elephant catching, roping, corralling and training.
In building 2 is a display showing a full size model of a white elephant in ceremonial dress uniform and more pachyderm equipment and images, including photographs of the investiture ceremonies for royal elephants.
In Thailand the white elephant is sacred and revered. The myth and legend of the white elephant began in Southeast Asia - The Land of the White Elephant. In the story of the Lord Buddha, the white elephant is connected to fertility and knowledge. On the eve of giving birth to The Lord Buddha, his mother dreamt that a white elephant came and presented her with a lotus-flower, a symbol of purity and knowledge. There have been 10 royal elephants during HM the King's reign (six are still alive) and five 'Chang Samkhan', which have yet to be elevated to royal status. A white elephant on a red background used to be the flag of Siam.