The Elephant as a Symbol

In Thailand, elephants have been respected and revered for millennia, and through the use of their image as symbolic of the monarchy, religion, government, and culture, they have become inextricably intertwined with Thai society, mythology, and daily life. Elephants are seen to symbolise a variety of positive traits, such as physical and mental strength, responsibility, durability, longevity, peacekeeping, and loyalty.

The elephant’s association with primarily positive traits, as well as the animal’s intrinsic links to Buddhism – Thailand’s main religion – have resulted in the persistent utilisation of its image, not only in a figurative sense, but also physically, to represent and promote institutions, products, and the nation itself. The elephant’s historic status as a sacred creature is reflected in its representation of the Thai monarchy, as well as in the fact that it is both the official national animal and national symbol of Thailand. In addition, a white elephant was the primary feature of various national flags of Thailand for 100 years (c. 1817-1917), and elephants are frequently featured on provincial seals and emblems of the Thai military.

Beyond the visual representations of elephants, the animal is also a prominent symbol within literary tradition and religious texts, and a great number of streets, buildings, and even foods are named after either individual elephants or the species in general. More recently, the logos of several prominent universities in Thailand feature elephants, as does the Thai business conglomerate SCG. The elephant is also the symbol of the Thai National Football Team, appearing on its logo and merchandise.

Perhaps less representative of the elephants revered, sacred status in Thailand, but certainly no less influential, is the use of an elephant image by Thailand’s top-selling beer brand, the eponymous ‘Chang’ beer (‘Chang’ means ‘Elephant’ in the Thai language). It is impossible to tell whether such an association has contributed to the popularity of Chang beer, but it has certainly furthered the elephant’s role in daily life, and ensured the elephant remains at the forefront of collective consciousness in Thailand.
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