A feast of gratitude for Thailand’s elephants

Thais love and revere elephants. To show gratitude for the few that have helped with some chores, southern Thai townspeople provided a sumptuous banquet and a bathing ceremony to honor their pachyderms.

More than one hundred people from the district of Yan Ta Khao in Trang province turned out for the tham kwan chang ceremony for 14 local elephants and their mahouts, or handlers last week.

Elephant is Thailand’s national animal, and most Thais have a special place in their heart for them. An image of an elephant once adorned the flag of Siam, which was the Kingdom’s name before it was changed to Thailand in 1939.

Before the banquet and rituals to honor the mighty elephants, villagers bathed to clean them and provide them with some relief from the intense summer heat. A Buddhist monk then blessed the elephants and sprinkled holy water on them as they converged in a protective circle around 93-year-old villager Hem Hemarat, an expert on elephants and the ceremony. Hem pays for the feast every year.

The monks chanted for the health of Hem and the elephants and for safety from evil spirits. Their owners and mahouts then made a ritual extending gratitude to the elephants for having them helping out with some housework during the past year.

Then the pachyderms lined up at a trough where villagers laid out a delicious assortment of local fruits, vegetables and cooked delights for the animals.