History of the Birman
According to the centuries-old legend, pure white cats resided in the Buddhist temples of the country of Burma (now Myanmar), and were revered as the feline carriers of the souls of priests who had departed the mortal plain. (The term for this process is transmutation, which means to change from one form to another.) The Goddess of transmutation, Tsim-Kyan-Kse, was worshiped in these temples, represented by a golden statue with glowing sapphire eyes.
Mun-Ha, a priest and worshiper of Tsim-Kyan-Kse, served at the temple of Lao-Tsun. Every evening Mun-Ha's faithful companion Sinh, one of the 100 sacred white cats that lived at the temple, joined Mun-Ha for his evening prayers in front of the golden statue. One day, marauders from Siam raided the temple for its riches and struck down Mun-Ha.
As Mun-Ha lay dying, Sinh put his paws on Mun-ha's head and faced the statue of Tsim-Kyan-Kse. Suddenly, Sinh's white fur changed to a beautiful golden hue, his face, tail, and legs darkened to the color of the earth, and his eyes changed from yellow to a deep, sapphire blue. Sinh's paws, however, remained white as a symbol of Mun-Ha's pure spirit. The next morning, all the temple cats had undergone the same transformation.
For the next seven days Sinh refused all food and finally died, carrying Mun-Ha's spirit into paradise. The modern, and more scientific, story of this breed, also called the Sacred Cat of Burma, begins in 1919, when a pair of Birman cats arrived in France. Two different accounts are associated with this pair of cats and, like the legend, neither account is documented. The first one alleges that around the beginning of the twentieth century, the temple of Tsim-Kyan-Kse was again raided.
Two Westerners, Auguste Pavie and Major Gordon Russell, helped some of the priests and their sacred cats escape to Tibet. When the two returned to France in 1919, they were sent a pair of Birman cats by the grateful priests. In the second and less romantic account, an individual named Mr. Vanderbilt bought the pair of Birmans from a disgruntled servant of the temple of Lao-Tsun. In both accounts, the male cat, Maldapour, died on the ocean voyage to France, but the female, Sita, arrived in France pregnant with Maldapour?s offspring, and became the European foundation of the Birman breed.
The breed flourished and in 1925 the Birman was formally recognized in France and the first breed standard was written. The breed was further developed and refined in that country until the chaos of World War II, when the breed almost became extinct. At one point, the Birman breed dwindled to a single pair of cats. With careful outcrossing, the Birman was reestablished and by 1955 Birmans began to be exported to England.
They were officially recognized as a purebred breed in Britain in 1966. In 1959 the first Birman pair arrived in the United States, and in 1967 the breed was officially recognized in America. Since then, the Birman has flourished in the United States and is on his way to becoming a popular and well-known breed.
Birmans are affectionate, gentle, and faithful companions with an air of dignity that seems to invite adoration by their human companions. As former temple cats, Birmans seem to have become accustomed to adoration.
They are very intelligent and affectionate, according to fanciers, and very people-oriented. They will generally greet visitors with curiosity rather than fear. Because of their gentle temperaments, Birmans are easy to handle, care for, and show, and they make ideal pets for anyone who wants quiet companions that will offer love and affection in return for just a little well-deserved worship.
Birman Breed Traits
In the ideal Birman, the matching white gloves on the front paws should end at or between the second and third joints of the paw. On the back paws, the gloves should cover all the toes and may extend up higher than the gloves on the front paws.
The gloves must extend up the back of the hock and in this area are called laces. Ideally, the laces end in a point or inverted 'V' and extend one-half to three-quarters of the way up the hock. Symmetry of the laces is desirable. Ideally, the front gloves should match, the back gloves should match, and the laces should match.
However, getting well-gloved Birmans is the thorn in the paw of every Birman breeder. Birmans are born pure white, and then develop color on the points.
The shading of the legs comes later, so the period of waiting for the glove markings to appear is an anxious one for Birman breeders, since the glove markings are the most difficult to perfect. The gene governing the trait is the dominant white spotting factor gene, which is very difficult to control.