Various shapes opium weights

In the 18th century, Nandabahu made a list of different types of opium weights and their chronological classification / standardization, respectively their introduction. After his presentation the animal shapes were used as follows:






Bird of Paradise

Toe Naya

Tibetan Bull

Chrested Horse

Chrested Bull





Red Hintha


















We do not know the sources that Nandabahu made use of for this research work. Frequently the different species of birds are stylized or the characteristics are lost as an effect of wearing off. Therefore it is sometimes impossible to define the animal represented on the sculpture.

Some of the types mentioned above are not likely to exist any longer as the weights used to be melted and recast at the coronation of a new king.
In addition to that, there is a good number of animals and legendary creatures, not listed in Nandabahu’s manuscript. Possibly some of those are not of Burmese origin.
The metal-weights represented a stable material value to the common man, as his wealth normally consisted of perishable goods. It was easy to preserve the metal opium weights and if necessary they could be used as currency or as bartering object at any time.
Was it not expecially favourable to possess the weight which represented the animal reigning over one’s birthday? There was a guardian for each day of the week:

Sunday: Garuda (King of birds, steed of Vishnu)
Monday: Tiger (who’s image was said to hold the demons away)
Tuesday: Chinthe (mythical lion)
Wednesday: Elephant
Thursday: Pig
Friday: Rat (steed of Ganesha, the elephant-headed God)
Saturday: Toe or Naga (mythical lion and mythical snake)

The motif of the snake is deeply rooted in the mythology of Asia.

There is a legend telling how the cobra with its broad neck protected the little Buddha from the heat of the sun.
The seven-headed naga rescued the meditation Buddha from the floods of the monsoon rain.

The snake is worshiped as a holy animal in Hinduism as well as in Buddhism. Even nowadays it is considered a good omen in Thailand to dream of a snake.

The dragon, supernatural being, is a protector and a symbol of happiness and good luck as well. The dragons, we talk about, resemble snakes and do not have anything to do with the Chinese conception of a dragon.

The motif of the fish symbolizes fertility: The fish lives in the one element which decides over the well-being of men, coming down as rain on the fields, making them fertile.

The motif of the frog bears the same meaning.

Fish and frogs are very often to be seen as symbols of fertility, example: in the ornaments of the Burmese rain drums, the Kycees.

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Burmese Frog Rain drum

The monkey-shaped opum weights are to be including among the rare ones.

The monkey has a special relationship with the human world because of its human characteristics.

Think about the help that Hanuman, the monkey god, gave Rama in the liberation of Sita as it is told in the Ramayana.

Or think about the temples where crowds of monkeys live, and which is calmly accepted by the monks.


The motifs of the Chinese ’12 year cycle’ are all represented by animal weights:

  • Rat
  • Buffalo
  • Tiger
  • Hare
  • Dragon
  • Snake
  • Horse
  • Goat
  • Monkey
  • Cock
  • Dog
  • Pig

But it is more than doubtful and has never been proved that these circumstances reflect the original reasons for the choice of the motifs.

The bull Nandi steed of Shiva, is to be found in three different postures: standing, sitting and even lying down. There are bulls with and without humps.

Apart from the motifs mentioned so far there are weights in the shape of:

  • Dove
  • Worm
  • Snail
  • Squirrel
  • Fox
  • Turkey
  • Marabu

The legendary beings which Rochesnard classifies as coming from Cambodia and Kelantan, Malaysia, are of rather bizarre fashioning.

Also weights in the shape of Burmese spirits or nats have been found. The sculptures of 37 nats are presenting the temple on Mount Popa.

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