News / Asia

Ivory Urn for Top Thai Buddhist's Remains Sparks Debate

FILE - A man holds a portrait of Thailand's Supreme Patriarch, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, October 25, 2013.
FILE - A man holds a portrait of Thailand's Supreme Patriarch, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera, at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, October 25, 2013.

In Thailand, an urn has been carved from ivory to hold the remains of the country's top religious leader, who died last year. The production of the urn comes as Thailand faces international pressure to eradicate the world’s largest market for unregulated ivory.

Sometime next year, a ceremony will be held to transfer the cremated remains of Thailand’s late Supreme Patriarch into an urn made of ivory.

Somdet Phra Nyansamvara died last October at the age of 100.

The Supreme Patriarch or Sangharaja was the head of the Sangha Supreme Council, overseeing all Buddhist monks in Thailand. He was appointed by the King upon the prime minister’s recommendation.

An image of the urn is seen on the front page of the Bangkok Post.An image of the urn is seen on the front page of the Bangkok Post.
x
An image of the urn is seen on the front page of the Bangkok Post.
An image of the urn is seen on the front page of the Bangkok Post.


Last month, photographs of the completed ivory urn for the late Sangharaja were on the front pages of newspapers in Thailand, where 95 percent of the population is Buddhist.

The ten kilograms of ivory used to carve the urn were taken three years ago from the tusk of a 70-year-old Thai bull elephant, named Thongbai.

The tusks of captive elephants are sometimes trimmed for health reasons.

In Thailand, some Buddhist leaders have called for congregants and temples to reject the use and trade of ivory, even if it's from live captive elephants. They note the demand for ivory drives the unsustainable poaching of elephants, a revered animal in the kingdom and in Buddhism.

Phramaha Napan Santipattho, Assistant Abbot, Wat Saket (The Golden Mount Temple), Bangkok, August 1, 2014, (Steve Herman/VOA).Phramaha Napan Santipattho, Assistant Abbot, Wat Saket (The Golden Mount Temple), Bangkok, August 1, 2014, (Steve Herman/VOA).
x
Phramaha Napan Santipattho, Assistant Abbot, Wat Saket (The Golden Mount Temple), Bangkok, August 1, 2014, (Steve Herman/VOA).
Phramaha Napan Santipattho, Assistant Abbot, Wat Saket (The Golden Mount Temple), Bangkok, August 1, 2014, (Steve Herman/VOA).

The assistant abbot of the Golden Mount Temple (Wat Saket) in Bangkok, Phra Maha Napan Santidhaddo, said Buddhists are to avoid intentions or acts which would cause more animals to be harmed.

“In the case it's not harming any elephant it would be fine. But we have to be careful about the message that we send to the society that 'oh, it would be great if we can do the urn from the ivory.' And maybe it causes a new circle of destroying elephant life,” Napan noted.

In Thai tradition, ivory is considered a pure and auspicious material and donating it for the urn of a highly respected figure is considered meritorious.

Other materials for the Supreme Patriarch's urn were deemed inappropriate. Gold is reserved for royalty. Using marble, ceramic or wood would have been too pedestrian.

Phra Maha Napan sees the publicity about the Supreme Patriarch's ivory urn as a Buddhist teaching moment.

“We have to respect both sides, the environmentalists and the ones who have a strong belief in making merit. It's a great chance to educate both of them,” stated Napan.

Sales of ivory from domesticated elephants are legal in Thailand.

But the kingdom has no ivory registration system in place. Thus it is not possible to trace the origins of the lucrative product.

And that, according to the TRAFFIC wildlife monitoring network, creates a loophole for bringing illegal ivory from African elephants into the Thai marketplace.

Many Thais are not aware of the link between ivory and wildlife crime.

The head of Thailand’s department of national parks and wildlife, Nipon Chotiban, is calling for an amendment to existing legislation that would help bring the domestic ivory trade under control.

Thailand, last year, pledged to close its domestic ivory market. But a military coup this year displaced the civilian government. And with the junta expected to be in control until at least late next year it is unclear whether Thailand will be able to make good on its previous commitment.

A global regulator, expressing frustration with Thailand, is warning that the country faces a total ban on wildlife trade unless it soon brings the ivory situation under control.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (known as CITES), at a meeting in Geneva last month, set a March, 2015 deadline for Thailand to make significant progress or risk wide-ranging sanctions.

Colman O Criodain, a trade analyst for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), was at the meeting. He said the sincerity of Thai officials agreeing to act quickly in Bangkok eventually persuaded CITES against taking immediate action.

“Some member states were so incensed about the situation in Thailand that they were insisting on sanctions now. And it took a lot of persuasion to get them to back off. So, whatever, about Thailand being serious they need to recognize that the international community is serious about this and they won't be pawned off with excuses,” O Criodain said.

The sanctions would impact Thailand’s trade in species covered by CITES, including orchids and reptile leather.

CITES and environmental groups blame Thailand's de facto unregulated market for the illegal killings of African elephants.

CITES estimates more than 60,000 African elephants have been killed in the past three years, far outstripping their birth rate.

There is significant demand in Asia, especially in China, for ivory for jewelry, artwork and traditional medicines.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Susan Campisi from: Los Angeles
August 06, 2014 12:20 AM
With all due respect, I vehemently disagree with Napan's attitude that they "have to respect both sides, the environmentalists and the ones who have a strong belief in making merit." If you choose to perpetuate a tradition that results in the slaughter of African elephants you are choosing a path of violence, cruelty, and the infliction of deep suffering, to humans and elephants. Is this the Buddhist way? Isn't Buddhism about compassion and the shattering of illusions? It's time for the "tradition" of venerating ivory to be relegated to the history books. Elephants deserve our reverence. Not ivory. Shame on you for choosing the wrong path, misleading millions of people in Thailand to believe that ivory is acceptable, while people all over the world are working so hard to save these majestic creatures.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid