Thailand’s best-known national symbol, the elephant, has been associated with the Thai people for centuries. The Asiatic species found in Thailand, Elephas maximus, was used for heavy work and was a vehicle of war in Thailand up until the 16th Century. One of Thailand’s most famous rulers, King Mongkut (officially, King Rama IV, 1851-1868) once offered some elephants to US President James Buchanan (1857-1861), praising their usefulness for heavy work.
Thailand had an elephant flag from the reign of King Rama II (1809-1824), depicting a white elephant on a red background. Thais who adopted many Hindu beliefs and rituals in daily and royal life, regard white elephants as auspicious, perhaps owing to their rarity.
Though the elephant’s role in modern Thai society has diminished, Thais continue to treat them with great respect. A Thai Elephant Conservation Centre was set up in 1969 in Lampang to care for young elephants and train their mahouts. March 13th has now been designated Elephant Day by the Royal Thai Government, which joins with non-government organisations to celebrate this noble animal and raise funds, and heighten public awareness of elephant conservation activities.
The national flower/tree, Ratchaphruek (Cassia fistula Linn.), known by several names, including the Pudding Piper Tree or Indian Laburnum, is a deciduous tree that grows to a height of 8-15 metres. Its yellow flowers grow in clusters close to its limbs and branches, and its cylindrical pods grow from 20-60 centimetres long.
The Ratchaphruek is a native of the Asian tropics and is found in mixed deciduous forests. It blooms from February to May and grows leaves prior to flowering.
The Thais consider it an auspicious tree, as its roots, bark, leaves and pods are of medicinal use for both humans and elephants. The bark and wood are used to tan leather. The golden red, hard wood is used for making pillars, cart wheels, and plough handles.
The people of Bueng Kaen Nakhon in the Northeast hold a festival called the Dok Khun SiangKhaen Festival from 13-15 April annually while the tree is in bloom. Dok Khun is the colloquial name for the Ratchaphruek.
The Thai Pavilion
With its graceful curves and classical form, the Thai Sala, or open pavilion, is an easily recognizable symbol of Thai architecture. The Sala is a type of rest shelter found in temples, private homes and alongside major highways and canals. The rectangular building usually has four wooden or brick pillars and a very steep roof.
The roof of the Thai pavilion has especially wide eaves that provide shade from the sun and shelter from the rain. As it now commonly is fitted with bench seats around three sides, it is important that the shade cover the persons sitting inside.
While modern Thai pavilions tend to be plain, those inside monasteries or royal palaces may be elaborately decorated. The gables at either end are embellished with carvings and gilded, with a glass mosaic in the background. The finials are decorated with horn-like ends, while the triangular gable is often topped by a representation of a Naga, a mythical serpent.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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