Elephant is considered as national animal in Laos for a very long time. For years, it has been the symbol of prosperity and represents the strength of nation. In Laos, people pay their respect for this special animal through festivals and ceremonies. Let’s find out the reason behind it and take one step closer to Laotian belief and culture.

Explanation from Buddhism

The fact that elephant is Laotian national animal originates from Buddhism, the major religion here. The elephant is Indian Elephant whose hometown is the same as Buddhist hometown. In Buddhist perspective, color elephant represents for luck, peace and wealth, especially, white elephant is the highest representing for power and royalty.
Elephant relates to conscious mind. At first, when people were born, they were grey elephant. They don’t know what is right or what is wrong and can’t control their action, just like a wild elephant run freely and destroy everything it encounters. After leading a religious life, it becomes a white elephant which can control its action and is powerful enough to eliminate all of its obstacles.
Moreover, white elephant is the mount of a Buddhist god who is known for her wisdom over six sense. Therefore, elephant is the most intelligent animal in Laotian legend. Yearly, the elephant festival held in Xayaboury Province is the clear evidence for Laotian appreciation toward elephant.

Three-head elephant image in Laos
The image of elephant is everywhere in Laos: pagodas, temples, Royal Palace Museum, etc. But in Laos, you also notice three-head elephant image or taboo or even in some temples in Luang Prabang. If you search for Laotian former national flag, you will definitely see the image right away.

Three-head elephant in Laos

Three-head elephant in Laos

Three-head elephant started to appear about eighteenth century since the separation of three smaller countries from Lan Xang in Laos’ history. Those three countries are: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Champassak. The three head elephant is the symbol of three major Gods in Buddhist/Hindu mythology: BRAHMA, VISHNU AND MAHESH. Among three of them, the creator is Brahma, the keeper is Vishnu and the destroyer is Mahesh. Three-head elephant flag is still Laos’ national Flag until 1975. After that, they changed its national flag into a different image.

Belief of many Southeast countries
So far, tamed elephants are very friendly and useful in carrying out jobs which requires strength and power such as farming or even military. They even appear in many legend and myth of many Southeast Asia countries such as: Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, etc about elephant’s God.
Especially, white elephant is a rare species which represents for prosperity. Because of its scarcity, if a country can own a white elephant, it means it is a powerful nation with the wealth of people and the peace of the whole nation.
The belief is so strong that in Thailand, they even have a story of king to give white elephant for unfavorable mandarin which both shows appreciation for their devotion but also means a punishment for them since raising a precious animal is very costly and difficult (they must do it right and can’t refuse the responsibility).
In history of Laos, there are many names of Laos through Period. In the first period of establishing the country, Laos named itself as Lan Xang, which means million elephants.

Nowadays
The importance of elephant symbol is undeniable but now people are seeking for money and turn elephant into a tool of making money. They are in danger because of logging abuse and luckily, many of them have been saved and start a new life with elephant riding organization where they can support for tourism and be taken care well.

Lao elephants in festival

Lao elephants in festival