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The Birman Legend

The Birman beginnings are shrouded in legend and mystery. There are numerous folk tales describing how the Birman obtained its unique colorings and markings that offer explanations while real Birman history keeps everyone guessing. What we do know is that the Birman arrived in the USA in 1959 and most Birmans in this country can be traced to England, France, Australia and Germany. It seems that these countries that nourished the Birman cat have imparted some of their national traits to this mystical breed. The French have contributed their flair for drama. The Gallic added their loving and affectionate nature. The British added their dignity and reserve. The Germans instilled patience and practicality, the Australians their adventurous spirit and Americans their ingenuity. Add a touch of Far Eastern inscrutability, stir them together and what you get is a Birman.

The striking and majestic coloring of the Birman is the subject of a fascinating legend set in Burma.  Long before the time of Buddha, the Khmer people built beautiful temples in remote mountain retreats. One of these, the Temple of Lao-Tsun, honored the god Song-Hyo and the goddess Tsun-Kyan-Kse.  Priests and monks dedicated their lives to worshipping the goddess symbolized by a golden statue with sapphire eyes.  One hundred pure white cats lived with the priests.  It was believed that after death, a priest returned to the temple as one of the white cats.  These cats, therefore, were honored and beloved guests.  One of the cats, Sinh, was the devoted companion of a very old priest, Mun-Ha, whose golden beard was said to have been braided by the god Song-Hyo himself.

One night when Mun-Ha was praying before the golden goddess, Thai raiders attacked the temple and the old priest was killed.  Immediately, Sinh leapt upon the body of his master, faced the statue, gazed into the sapphire eyes, and silently appealed to the goddess who governed the transmutation of souls.  As the priest's soul entered Sinh, the white hair of the cat's body became golden like the old priest's beard and its eyes became sapphire blue like those of the goddess.  Sinh's face, tail and legs became brown like the earth except where the feet rested on the slain priest, there they remained white, denoting purity.

Sinh's transformation inspired the other priests to drive the raiders away.  Seven days later, Sinh died and carried into paradise the soul of Mun-Ha.  The next morning all the other white temple cats had undergone the same transformation as Sinh.  Since then the priests have guarded their secret golden cats believing them to have the souls of priests.

The legend ends with this maxim:
"Woe to he who brings the end to one of these marvelous beasts, even if he didn't mean to.  He will surely suffer the most cruel torments until the soul he upset has been appeased."

In 1919, a pair of Birman cats were sent to France.  Unfortunately, the male died in transit.  The female, already pregnant, survived and began the pedigree Birman breed in Europe. The French recognized the Scare de Birmanie in 1925.  Loss of breeding animals during World War II led to a program of outcrosses for several years after the war. To be recognized as Birman, most registries require at least five generations after the out crossings.  Birmans were recognized for championship in England in 1966 and by the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA) in North America in 1967




Birman kittens are born all white and develop their color as they mature. They are a color-pointed cat*. They are found in a rainbow of colors including seal, blue, lilac, chocolate, red, cream and tortie. All of these colors can be either the traditional solid pattern or the dramatic lynx pattern. A special feature of the Birman is the white paws. Ideally, they are symmetrical, front and back with the white color extending up the back of the back legs in an inverted "V" shape. This breed is frequently confused with the Ragdoll (a man made breed that used Birmans in its development), the Himalayan (which is actually a color-pointed Persian, and has a double coat), and the Burmese (a shorthaired brown cat). Ideally, the Birman should be a medium-sized, strongly-built cat with striking blue eyes, round face, and Roman nose, all resulting in a pleasing expression. Birman fur is soft, silky and lush; the stuff that dreams are made of. They frequently exhibit a pronounced ruff around the neck and a fluffy tail. They are almost a wash-and-wear cat, and only require minimal grooming. Yet Birmans love to be groomed. You may find yours lying on her back with paws over her head waiting for the combing to begin. This is a hearty and healthy cat. It does not reach full maturity until approximately 3 years.

CFA currently recognizes the Birman for championship status in the following colors: Seal Point, Blue Point, Chocolate Point, Lilac Point, Seal Lynx Point, Blue Lynx Point, Chocolate Lynx Point, Lilac Lynx Point, Red Lynx Point, Cream Lynx Point, Seal-Tortie Lynx Point, Chocolate-Tortie Lynx Point, Blue-Cream Lynx Point, Lilac-Cream Lynx Point, Seal-Tortie Point, Blue-Cream Point, Chocolate-Tortie Point, Lilac-Cream Point, Red Point, and Cream Point.

Birmans remain relatively uncommon. Although their circle of admirers has increased steadily over the past decade, it is seldom possible to purchase one of these kittens on a whim.  Good breeders will not sell kittens through pet shops.  They prefer to meet potential buyers and assure themselves that the kitten will receive an excellent home.  There is usually a waiting list for breeding and show quality kittens and depending on you area and the time of year, you may have to wait for pet kittens with show faults (ie. too much or too little white on the paws).

Most breeders will not sell a pet kitten until it is three months old, and breeding or show kittens are generally sold after four months.  However, you may arrange to visit and see litters much earlier than that, usually after their six-week check up and first vaccines.  Three months is considered the minimum time to completely "socialize" a kitten.  It allows for a slow weaning period, veterinary health checks and first vaccines, litter box training, experience living underfoot in a busy household and the important scratch post training.  The extra time with "mom" also assures that you will take home a happy, well adjusted kitten.

If you have lost your heart to the beauty of these extraordinary cats, you can obtain more specific information from the National Birman Fanciers.

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