When an Elephant Falls


Here’s a compelling story. Compelling if you along the lines tongues of flame descending from heaven, or talking snakes and forbidden fruit.

It seems that 1000 years after the Buddha had vacated his shell of a body for nirvana, and after his followers had carved this shell up into countless pieces, a monk was wandering the hills of Thailand.

He had with him a hunk of bone said to have been from the Buddha’s shoulder blade. For whatever reason, he thought he should build a temple.  And thus broke the piece of bone in half and mounted one half on the back of a sacred white elephant.

Now, how many of these sacred white elephants were around at the time, is unknown. I don’t know the incidence of white elephants that present in modern times, so I’d guess pretty rare.

Anyway, there it was. A sacred elephant. And as we’ll soon see, he wasn’t feeling well.

This monk puts the piece of shoulder blade in a box and puts the box on the beast’s back and announces that he will follow the elephant and wherever it dies he will build a temple.

He gives the elephant a tap on the bum and sends him on his way.

It’s not clear how long the white wonder wanders. Whether it’s forty winks, or forty days and forty nights, or four score and seven years. One gets the impression, though, that it’s not too long because the monk is around for big decision.

The elephant wanders into the hills above Chiang Mai Thailand about 20kms and finds a spot overlooking the city. He found a place in the woods. He trumpeted three times. He tramped around in a circle three times, then knelt down and expired.

The prognosticating pachyderm passed, selecting the site in the mid 1400’s for Doi Suthep temple.

It’s a nice half day trip. If you’re going. Hire one of the pervasive covered red pick-in trucks for a round trip up the mountain and back. We paid about 18 bucks.

You can gain some merit points for hiking up the 300 plus steps to the top and then make an offering or donation or just take some pics. Food, water, souvenirs and items needed for worship are available at the top.

There’s even a side temple honoring  the elephant who founded the place.




Final resting place of a tiny piece of the Buddha’s shoulder blade.



Elephants at the feet of the Buddha.

Categories: Thailand

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