28 Aug The Symbols of Thailand
Among much else, Thailand is celebrated for its magnificent royal palaces, decorative temples, glorious beaches and modern cityscapes perched alongside peaceful riverside communities. Rich in culture and tradition, it is only apt that the Kingdom would be represented by significant national symbols; the flag, flower, animal and unique architecture, each proudly embodying the heart of the country.
Thailand has a tricolor flag with five stripes rather than three, forming horizontal lines of red, white and blue that represent the land, the monarchy and Buddhism, the three elements that unify the Thai nation. The central blue stripe is twice as wide as each of the other four. The flag’s Thai name is Thong Trairong, which simply means tricolor flag.
This flag was adopted as the national flag of the Kingdom of Thailand in September 1917, and by royal decree was issued that year. Prior to this Thailand’s flag had undergone several changes before finally evolving into the tricolor flag of today.
The flag used under King Narai who ruled Thailand from 1656 to 1688 when it was known as Siam, was a simple plain red. After that a red flag with a white chakra symbol in the center was used, with another variant of the flag being a red background with a white elephant in the middle.
‘The Golden Shower Tree’ was chosen as the national flower and its brilliant yellow blooms represent two of the three most important institutions of the Thai Nation, the national religion of Buddhism and the Thai royal family. In addition, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on a Monday and in Thai culture, yellow is the colour of Mondays.
The scientific name is Cassia fistula and it belongs to the Fabaceae plant family. Cassia fistula is actually a tree not a shrub, and its yellow coloured flower is known as Ratchaphruek, with both names used alternately as Thailand’s national flower. It also holds the honoured title as the royal flower. The yellow golden flowering tree is of average height and when in bloom does indeed resemble a cascading shower of gold.
The Thai elephant or Chang is the official national animal of Thailand and in 1998 the Cabinet approved the designation of March 13 as Thai Elephant Day. Every year the day is marked with fruit baskets put out for domesticated elephants to feast on.
The white elephant is a symbol of royalty in Thailand and according to Buddhist tradition on the eve of Buddha’s birth his mother had a dream and was given a lotus flower by a white elephant. Because white elephants were incredibly rare and much revered, they were only used for royal duties. Thai kings would sometimes offer white elephants as gifts to their rivals, and because the animals were considered sacred, the elephants could not be put to work and instead were sometimes seen as an expensive burden to be cared for.
The Thai people have always had a close relationship with elephants as they played a significant role in transportation, labour and in war. Over the years the elephant has faced threats to its existence because of dwindling habitat and climate change and the number of Thai elephants has sadly dwindled from about 100 000 to 2000 to 3000 wild elephants, and about 2700 domesticated elephants, over the past 100 years. Although much effort is being done to protect them.
As the elephant is the national symbol of Thailand, they are the main attraction at many festivals and events, taking part in the ceremonies. Wild elephants are still found in pockets of jungle and national parks across Thailand.
A sala by definition is an open pavilion and has it’s roots in the Thai Sanskrit word sala, which means a building with a specific purposes, such as sala klang for a provincial hall or a salawat, which is located in a temple.
Built from basic materials by traditional Thai architects, it consists of a roof supported by columns with open sides to allow for free flow of air, and are mainly used for temporary activities, such as rest stops; a sala can be small and modest although almost always has intricate trimmings. It can of course be built more elaborately for more permanent purposes too. Irrespective of size and style, the sala represents the craftsmanship and wisdom of traditional Thai carpenters and is built entirely from wood and with clever joinery techniques, can be easily assembled and disassembled.
Such timeless qualities promoted the sala to become one of Thailand’s official national symbols. As Thai society became increasingly urbanised, the traditional role of the sala has changed somewhat and ready made sala can be bought and used as garden decorations, with more elaborate designs available for wealthier households. Either way, the sala provides a satisfying place to rest, to meet with friends or to simply enjoy a cup of tea.