While visiting the Elephant Temple in the countryside about five km south-west of Huế, I watched as half a dozen chickens and roosters peered through this gate before hesitantly strutting through.
According to legend, during the period of warfare between the ruling Trịnh and Nguyễn families (1627-73), a heroic soldier died in a ferocious battle and his grief-stricken elephant ran two kilometres from the battlefield to Thọ Cương Hill. As the elephant arrived, he trumpeted once, long and loud, then fell and breathed his last breath. The local residents were so moved by this demonstration of loyalty that they held a funeral for the elephant and built a grave where he had fallen. They named it Screaming Elephant Grave.
After Gia Long became king in 1802, he ordered a temple built beside the grave to honour military elephants who died in battle. He named the temple Long Châu Miếu but the locals called it Điện Voi Ré, Screaming Elephant Temple. Rituals were organised twice a year, in spring and autumn, to make offerings for the heroic elephants.
Built in 1817 according to Feng Shui principles, the temple, which consists of several structures, sits on a hill facing a lotus lake surrounded by trees.
Điện Voi Ré is about 400 metres from Hổ Quyền, the Tiger Arena, where elephants once fought with tigers for the amusement of the emperors.
Unfortunately for the tigers, the elephants symbolised the king, and the tigers, the enemy. For this reason, the fights were fixed by declawing and starving the tigers, and the elephants always won. Despite the cruel treatment, once in a while an angered tiger would mortally injure an elephant.
Screaming Elephant Temple was recognised by UNESCO as a cultural heritage site in 1993.
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