Monday, November 28, 2011

"The Lord White Elephant"

Watercolour with pen and ink of the “Lord White Elephant”, by Colesworthy Grant in 1855.

Grant wrote that: 'This noble looking animal has lately died, and there is none, it is believed, to fill his place. He had occupied his late royal position for upwards of fifty years, and was said at the time of the Mission (September-October 1855) to be about 60 years old...and he was said, also, at the time, to be sickly, or out of condition. The eye, however, which was peculiar, was full of mischief: the king himself remarked that his temper had always been uncertain. He was ridden only by his mahout, who was invariably seated on his neck when visitors were expected. The colour of the animal was a cream or very light dun; his height was about ten feet, and his magnificent tusks nearly touched the ground...He was 'right royally caparisoned' in bands of crimson cloth or velvet and gold, studded with large bosses of gold...His ears were decorated with large silver tassels, and over his head he wore an ordinary cloth of gold, his costlier gear being reserved either for state occasions or for exhibition to visitors at such times. These collectively are delineated in a separate plate...Above his head was suspended a white canopy, the exclusive privilege and insignia of Royalty. Fastened to the pillars are seen his golden umbrellas, and near one of the windows, a white fringed umbrella, or canopy, and other ornamental items of furniture indicative of Royal rank and privilege. In the foreground are a variety of conic shaped vessels, glittering in gold and silver and mosaic; and near to them a gigantic jar of silver, containing water, all used either for drinking or bathing purposes.'

Amerapoora, Palace of the White Elephant photographed by Linnaeus Tripe. The white elephant is associated with the legends of the Buddha's life and occupied great symbolic significance in the hierarchy of the Burmese court. Sinbyudaw or Lord White Elephant was ritually bathed and anointed and treated with great reverence with a white parasol held over it wherever it went. In reality albino elephants were a pinkish grey in colour rather than pure white. Tripe wrote of this palace, 'The white elephant is the same Crawfurd saw in 1826; it is now fifty years old: it has its guards, four white and eight gold umbrellas, officers of state and regalia.

Watercolor with pen and ink, 1855 of the the regalia worn by the ‘Lord White Elephant’, a rare and auspicious white elephant kept by the King at Amarapura by Colesworthy Grant. Grant was presented with a gold cup and ruby ring by the Burmese King in recognition of his skill.

Grant wrote: 'Fig 1. - A plate of gold, probably eighteen inches in length, bordered with innumerable Rubies, and having, in the centre, the name or title of the Royal beast. Worn across the forehead. Fig 2. - The jewelled Frontlet, worn above the trunk, and below the eyes; a massive crescent of gold, with three rows of Rubies around the edge. In the centre...Diamond, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, and Pearl [are found]...Fig 3. - The head covering. A gigantic net of Pearls, embossed with plates, or rosettes, of gold set with Rubies. Two jewelled circles, of size and position corresponding to the two bumps on the Elephant's head, over which they fitted, occupied the centres of the two hemispheres of this net...Environing this entire net, that was in shape like a peepul leaf, was a band of Rubies, and this again was margined by vandyke or net pearl work, edged with a border of thin gold peepul leaves. Two immense jewels, one an emerald, surrounded by Diamonds, and small gold leaves, were pendant at the lower point of this head dress, and would fall between the eyes. Fig 4. - Was the 'Choonee', or Driving hook. The hook and handle were formed of crystal, tipped with gold; and the whole length of the staff, about three feet long, was cased in pearls, banded at intervals with gold and rubies. It was altogether an exceedingly beautiful and tasteful article. Fig 5. - A smaller choonee, or hook, formed of gold, set with small Rubies, with handle of cane. It is believed to have been the ordinary hook used by Royal hands on some occasions of the former King or Kings have ridden the 'Lord white Elephant'.'

From the British Library

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