There is an intriguing legend to explain the origin of the Birman cat, still known in many countries as the Sacred Cat of Burma.

The legend states that many years ago before the birth of Buddha the Kymer people of Burma who were very devout, built wonderful temples to their Goddess Tsun Kyan-Kse. The most beautiful of these temples at Lao-Tsan contained a solid gold statue of the Goddess, with sapphire eyes. The priests of the temple also kept one hundred pure white cats as companions and temple guardians. The elderly head priest Mun-Ha had an especially devoted friend in his cat Sinh.

One stormy night, raiders attacked the temple, killing the priest Mun-Ha. Immediately the cat Sinh leapt to assist his master, and as he stood on Mun-Ha’s dying body before the golden Goddess the priest’s soul entered into Sinh and his appearance was changed to one of great beauty, that of a seal-point Birman complete with golden tipped coat and sapphire eyes. Inspired by this sign from the Goddess the other priests drove out the raiders and saved the temple.

Sinh lived for seven more days without either food or water, before dying and taking his and Mun-Ha’s souls into Paradise. The next day, the remaining ninety-nine temple cats were found to be transformed like Sinh, and from then onwards they were regarded as Sacred Cats, and thought to contain the souls of pious priests on their way to heaven.

Many people dismiss this legend as just another pretty story to explain the existence of another manufactured cat, but evidence from Birman Cat Club members suggests that cats similar to the Birman have been known in that area of the world for very many years. During the 1930s, Mr Len Sayer, whose wife Joan bred Birmans under the Sayella prefix for many years, was serving with the British army in Burma. Always a cat lover he remembers seeing groups of seal-point Birmans living wild amongst temple ruins. These cats were fed and protected by the local people who believed that to injure a Sacred Cat was to put their immortal souls in danger.

In more recent years, Birman breeder Jan Sharpe, Aesthetikat Birmans, on holiday in the area, found a shop displaying photographs of cats that looked like Birmans. On making enquiries she was taken through the shop into the garden to see the cats, who were described to her as ‘the cats of the country’. This group had all originally been strays rescued by the shop owner. Another pair of Birman breeders Anne and Ken Hunter, Kenanche Birmans, visited the Burmese border in 1988. They were unable to go into Burma because of the political upheaval, but brought back several photos of Birman lookalikes who were again described to them as ‘the cat of the country’.

It would seem then that the Sacred Birman Cat probably did originate and is still managing to exist in and near Burma.

Anne Madden
Publicity Officer