Shapes & Motifs of Opium Weights
Why did the Burmese choose animal motifs for their opium weights?
Why did they choose animals that are normally not regarded as beautiful or pleasant?
There are two reasons to explain this. First of all, the Burmese loved to decorate even the simplest tools of daily use in a most skilful way.
Furthermore the religious and mythological world played an important role in human life.
The human being used to live in harmony with nature and religious imagination was strongly influenced elements of Buddhism and Hinduism and by the believ in demons and spirits (Burmese Nats).
Religious motifs prevailed not only in literature and workmanship, but they were inseperably united with daily life. The belief in the relationship of all livin beings is based upon the theory of reincarnation.
The Hindu-God Vishnu is reborn as a fish, then as a turtle, then as a pig, then as a being with a human body (see the picture) and then a lion's head. After his 10th reincarnation, he was a winged horse living in the sky. Buddha was the 9th reincarnation of Vishnu. He taught respect towards all living beings.
In the Pali-canon we read : As a mother protects her own child, her only son, even with her own life, the follower of Buddha must bear an infinite love for all beings.
Animals were hunted and killed only in the utmost need, in case of danger of one's own life or in the case of hunger. Only the European colonists introduced hunting for pleasure which often provoked or reinforced the hatred of the natives towards the barbaric invaders.
Buddha was reincarnated as a white hare and as a white elephant. Is it mere chance that motifs of some opium weights are elephants and that some opium weights are sealed at the bottom with the image of a hare ?
Motifs of opium weights
The most frequent motifs of the Burmese Opium Weights are the Duck shaped opium weights and the Lion shaped opium weights - yet these names are not correct and represent a simplification.
The motifs of the standard weights were taken from mythology. The elephant, the motif of the Laotic standard Elephant opium weights plays a significant role in the Buddhist tradition and religious life.