RANGOON—Three white elephants that were caught and celebrated under the rule of Burma's former Chief of Military Intelligence Gen Khin Nyunt have been largely ignored by the current generals and the number of visitors to the elephants' venue has decreased.
|Yati Mala in a recent photo at the Royal White Elephant Garden. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)|
Military officials told The Irrawaddy
that Khin Nyunt, who was prime minister from 2003-04, had ordered a golden palace and garden to be built to house the auspicious albino elephants, but since he was deposed little attention has been paid to the animals as their site is regarded by the current military brass as one of Khin Nyunt's initiatives.
People close to the Royal White Elephant Garden told The Irrawaddy that since Khin Nyunt was purged and placed under house arrest in 2005, the regime's leaders have never visited the site.
“When Gen Khin Nyunt was in office, division commanders, ministers and high-ranking army officers came here almost every day to observe the white elephants,” said a worker from the Forestry Department.
|Gen Khin Nyunt pours sanctified water over Yati Mala at a ceremony in July 2002 at the Royal White Elephant Garden. (Source: MRTV)|
During that time, well-known businessmen who were close to Khin Nyunt paid monthly visits to the elephants and fed them for good luck, he said.
“It has been six years since Gen Khin Nyunt was removed from his power,” a source close to the elephant garden said. “None of the military top brass or rich people have shown up at this venue since then. They may even be scared to visit here.”
Vendors at the white elephant garden said pictures of Khin Nyunt pouring sanctified water over the white elephants in 2002 have been removed from the garden. They said that the stone plaque inscribed with Khin Nyunt's name that commemorates the completion of the garden has also been removed.
Instead, an enlarged picture of Kyaing Kyaing, the wife of junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe, blessing the elephants has been placed on the wall alongside an inscription saying: “White elephants are only found during the reign of a glorious king. It is an omen that augurs the country's prosperity.”
“More people visit here on religious occasions, but otherwise there are no more than 10 or 20 visitors a day,” said a vendor. “Before 2004, the garden was packed with hundreds of visitors every day.”
Khin Nyunt presided over a ceremony for the three elephants—one male and two female. The male elephant, now 18 years old, was named Yaza Gaha Thiri Pissaya Gaza Yaza, while the two female elephants, 32 and 15, were called Theingi Mala and Yati Mala respectively.
The elephants were found in Arakan State and caught between 2000 and 2002. According to sources from Naypyidaw, Than Shwe has ordered battalions based in Arakan State to hunt a white elephant to be sent to Naypyidaw. Local people have also been coaxed to get involved in the venture.
Members of a Rangoon-based astrologers' community said there are a total of seven kinds of white elephant, but that only four kinds existed during the reign of the ancient Burmese kings.
“This military regime is trying to catch a white elephant to let people think it is powerful and glorious,” said an astrologer.