Our beloved Burmese cats have always had a close connection with temples and monasteries in Asia. A recent article in the Sacramento Bee suggests that cats have been welcome guests for centuries, at monasteries all over the world.
The author and journalist, Kim Campbell Thornton, paid a recent visit to Gachen Lama Khiid at Erdenetsogt in Mongolia’s Khangai Mountains. She reports, “nearly the first thing I saw was a cat sunning himself outside the temple.”
“Is it common for monasteries to have a cat?” I asked.
Our guide, Batana Batu, translated his [the monastery’s head lama’s] response. Yes, he said. The cat is there to protect food stores from mice.
Cats have served as pest control at temples and monasteries throughout the world for centuries.
Thornton’s article continues to describe the symbiotic relationship between cats and monks the world over. In Medieval Europe, cats were employed to keep rats and other pests from eating the stored food. Cats also helped prevent mice from nibbling on manuscripts. Monasteries even budgeted a small amount per week to provide for their sentry cats.
The Egyptians benefitted from a partnership with cats, being among the first to use their hunting talents to manage pests such as snakes and rodents.
The article also briefly mentions the origins of the Burmese breed:
Several cat breeds are reputed to have originated as monastery or temple cats. The legend behind the Burmese is that Buddhist monks regarded the shorthaired brown cats as embodiments of gods.
Quite an impressive heritage!
We’ve also learned that cats are now being considered by the city of Chicago as an “ultimate weapon” in their war on rats. Rats there are causing some serious concerns for the public health, transmitting diseases such as drug resistant C. Diff and MRSA. Officials have called in the Tree House Humane Society to provide cats to “work” as mousers! Many locals are pleased that “jobs” have been found for feral cats that previously would have been euthanized.
Embodiments of Gods, or just plain felines, today’s Burmese cats provide their humans with much more than simple mousing, of course. They are devoted companions, very affectionate and playful. As the breed continues to recover from its genetic crisis, we expect Burmese cats to become increasingly popular as pets and in the show world.
You can read more about the Burmese genetic diversity issue here. Feel free to comment below!
(Bast sculpture image courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art)