White elephant receives regal welcome in Myanmar

AP News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2010 12:47 AM
White elephant receives regal welcome in Myanmar

Myanmar's ruling junta staged a lavish welcoming ceremony for the country's fifth white elephant captured in recent years as it arrived in the capital, state media reported Friday.

The festivities Thursday coincided with the unveiling of a new national flag and a new national name _ going from "Union of Myanmar" to "Republic of the Union of Myanmar" _ two weeks before an election that the government calls a major step in a transition to democracy but critics say is a sham.

White elephants, actually albinos, have for centuries been revered in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and other Asian nations. They were normally kept and pampered by monarchs and considered a symbol of royal power and prosperity.

The 18-year-old elephant, captured in jungle in northwestern Rakhine state last month, was greeted by a host of senior leaders upon its arrival Thursday in Naypyitaw.

The 7-foot-1 inch (2.34-meter)-tall elephant was sprinkled with scented water during a ceremony at the Uppatasanti Pagoda, a replica of the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the former capital and largest city in Myanmar.

The white elephant circled the pagoda clockwise before joining the country's fourth white elephant at the elephant enclosure at the eastern corner of the pagoda, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

Officials performed a house warming ceremony, feeding ceremony, naming ceremony and chanted prayers for its welfare and safety.

The elephants are not necessarily white. They can look similar to other elephants except for certain features like fair eyelashes and toenails, light-colored hair or a reddish hue to the skin.

The two elephants in Naypyitaw look unusually white.

The other three elephants captured and held in captivity in Myanmar in recent years are kept at a special park in Yangon, where they live in an enclosure with spiraled pavilions, a manmade waterfall, ponds and trees.