Solo Elephant in the Forest

Elephants in Thailand’s History and Culture

[2 min read]

If you’ve ever traveled to Thailand, there’s no doubt that you would’ve seen the Thai elephant at some point or another during your Thailand trip, whether it be a real, living elephant, a drawing of an elephant, a photograph of an elephant, or the elephant’s image on some type of canvas such as wood carving or fabric.

You can probably guess that Thai elephants have significant meaning and value to the Thai people. But you might not realize how important elephants are to Thailand’s history and culture, which is why, in this post, we will be giving a brief history and the cultural background of Thai elephants.

Elephant in History

Elephants are majestical creatures that have always been closely tied with Thailand’s (formerly Kingdom of Siam) history. From 1820 to 1917, throughout 3 flag designs, the Kingdom of Siam’s flag was symbolized with an elephant.

Elephants are highly respected as they are considered to be the king’s animal. Elephants are used in royal ceremonies as they are considered virtuous creatures. They are dressed elegantly with luxurious ornaments that reflect their appropriate rank, like different uniforms in an army. The most revered kind of elephant is the white elephant because it is extremely rare, so they are used for royal duties. Because of its rarity, a king’s status is also determined by the number of white elephants in his possession.

In war, elephants were ridden by high-ranking military officers to go into battle. The elephant rider uses a weapon called “Khor Ngao” which is a blade attached to a long hilt, with a shorter blade attached perpendicular to it. The elephant uses its tusks to suppress the other elephant during battle to allow its rider an opening to slash the weapon across the other rider. The elephant’s feet are vulnerable. An attack at the elephant’s foot can cause it to fall, endangering the rider. Because of this, there are guards assigned to protect each one of the elephant’s feet.

Elephants were also used in transportation such as carrying logs because of their strength and endurance.

Elephant in Culture

The elephant is so important that it is widely symbolized in Chiang Mai’s and the Northern region’s art and culture. Elephants can be seen in many drawings and paintings. You can see hundreds of elephant drawings at the walking street in Chiang Mai by Thai artists who are often drawing it right there on the street, as people walk by.

Elephant images are carved in wood murals and all kinds of furnitures. They are made into statues of all sizes. Elephant keychains are  very popular as souvenirs to buy from Chiang Mai. Of course, there’s also the infamous tourist elephant pants that are very affordable and perfect for the sunny, tropical weather of Thailand.

Elephants are highly revered in the northern region. They are the symbol of the north. Chiang Mai University’s symbol is a white elephant holding a torch and walking forward, against a backdrop of the color purple. The stepping of the elephant symbolizes moving forward, never stopping or staying still, continuously progressing. The torch symbolizes wisdom and intelligence that lights the way.

We hope this gives you some context about Thai elephants so that the next time you’re visiting Thailand, you can understand more about why there’s so many elephants everywhere! Traveling is awesome, but we believe that in addition to enjoying the novel sights of another country, learning about its history and culture can really make your trip much more memorable!

Summary

  1. Elephant was symbolized on the Thai flag through 3 designs.
  2. Elephant is considered the king’s animal and used in royal ceremonies.
  3. White elephant is the most rare.
  4. Elephants played an important role in Thailand’s battles.
  5. Elephant is the symbol of the North.

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