The Birman cat is said to have originated in Burma, where it was considered a sacred companion cat of the Kittah priests. There is a legend as to how the Birmans developed the colors they are today: “Originally, the guardians of the Temple of LaoTsun were yellow-eyed white cats with long hair. The golden goddess of the temple, Tsun-Kyan-Kse, had deep blue eyes. The head priest, Mun-Ha, had as his companion a beautiful cat named Sinh. One day the temple was attacked and Mun-Ha was killed. At the moment of his death, Sinh placed his feet on his master. The cat’s white fur took on a golden cast; his eyes turned as blue as the eyes of the goddess, and his face, legs and tail became the color of earth. However, his paws, where they touched the priest, remained white as a symbol of purity. All the other temple cats became similarly colored. Seven days later, Sinh died, taking the soul of Mun-Ha to paradise.”
The modern history of the Birman is almost as shrouded in mystery as its legendary origin. What is known for certain is that, probably around 1919, a pair of Birman cats was clandestinely shipped from Burma to France. The male cat did not survive the arduous journey but the female, Sita, survived and happily, was pregnant.
A more likely scenario (as quoted by professor Jumand in 1926 in ‘Le Chat’), is that two cats, a male and a female (whose name was Sita), were stolen and given to an American millionaire, Mr Vanderbilt, by a disloyal servant of the temple of Lao-Tsun, whilst Vanderbilt was sailing in the Far East. It is then alleged that the pair was given to a woman called Mme Thadde Hadisch. The male (once again) died on the boat, but the pregnant female gave birth in the French town of Nice in 1920 to a litter of kittens. One of the female offspring was splendid, and was then named Poupee. Poupee was bred with a Laotian Lynx. Baudoin-crevoisier, who has been documented as a top Birman breeder, confirmed this in an article written in 1933, “Poupee could not be bred by a male of that breed, but was bred to a Laotian Lynx cat belonging to a doctor in Nice. This type of cat resembles the Siamese, with very blue eyes, and this breeding produced young mongrels of Birmans and Laotians. Through successive breeding was born a perfect result – Manou de Madalpour, whose marks resemble her mother, Poupee.” Baudion then wrote in 1935, “This female was next bred to a male Siamese, which, at that time was baptised for the circumstances –Laotian Cat.” In 1933, Marcel Reney, who was attempting to unravel the truth of this mystery, wrote to the doctor in Nice, M. Prat. He wrote back, “We have had indeed several Siamese cats but know nothing of the origins. I know nothing of Mme Hadisch from Vienna.”
Marcel Reney also wrote to M. Guy Cheminaud, a hunter from the Far East who lived in Laos, and whose books on hunting of feral animals were illustrious, to determine what his view was on the “Lynx cat of Laos?” He replied, “There are no Laotian cats as a species distinct from the Siamese cat!”
Jumand and Baudoin’s entire timeline fell through, as the most significant witness, the owner of the legendary “Laotian Cat” knew nothing of either the lynx cat or Mme Thadde Hadisch. Mmme Marcelle Adams, who owned Manou de Madalpour, avowed to Marcel Reney that a certain Mme Leotardi, before strangely vanishing, had narrated the tale as Jumand and Baudoin wrote it down. In 1933, after an article by Marcel Reney was published in “Chasse, Peche, Elevage” trying to gain new information, Baudoin wrote in 1935 in “Son Altesse le Chat”, “Aside from the writings of Sir Russell Gordon and Auguste Pavie, no document gives the exact origin of these cats. After six years of research and ten years breeding offsprings in France, the Sacred Cat Of Burma still remains a mystry...."
However, the breed known as “Sacre de Birmanie” was registered with the French Cat Registry in 1925. The Birman breed was almost wiped out during World War II. Only two cats were alive in Europe at the end of the war, a pair named Orloff and Xenia de Kaabaa, both belonging to Baudoin-crevoisier. The foundation of the breed in postwar France were offspring of this pair. Manou, Lon saito, Djaipour, Sita 1 and Sita 2, and they had to be heavily outcrossed with long-hair breeds to rebuild the birman breed. By the early 1950’s, pure birman litters were once again being produced. The restored breed was recognised in Britain in 1965 and by the American Cat Fanciers' Association in 1966.
Birmans have been bred as companions for many generations. One of the basic characteristics of the Briman is that the color of the paws (usually white) and the color of the legs must not blend or intermingle.
Many years ago, before the birth of Buddha, the Khmer people of Burma built temples to Tsun Kyan-Kse. This Goddess is said to have had blue eyes and presided over the journey of the souls, and blessed the temple priests to re-live in the body of the Birman cat. One such temple is said to have contained a dazzling solid gold statue of the Goddess, has been constructed along a flank of Mount Lugh. The priests of the temple kept one hundred pure white cats to guard the temple. The elderly head priest, Mun-Ha, had a cat named Sinh.
Legend goes, one night, Phoums from Siam attacked the temple overwhelming the Kittahs, and killing the priest Mun-Ha. As he sat dying in his golden throne, Sinh leapt onto his head, and, as he sat rigid before the statue of the Goddess, a miracle transpired. His appearance was transformed to one of immense exquisiteness. His impeccable white coat became creamy and golden tinted, his ears, nose, tail and legs became dark, like the colour of the earth, but left his paws white, and his eyes glowed the same sapphire as the Goddess. He then stared at the south door. The priests, acting upon his direct look, rushed to close the heavy bronze doors.
Eventually, temple was devoid of invaders once more. Sinh, however, stayed upon Mun-Ha’s head for the next seven days with neither food nor water, before, facing the Goddess, he died – carrying Mun-Ha’s soul to Tsun Kyan-Kse… and when, Seven days later, the amassed priests consulted the statue on the succession of Mun-Ha, the remaining ninety-nine cats of the temple ran up, all of which had been transformed like Sinh, surrounded the youngest of the priests. Therefore, the reincarnated ancestors were chosen by the Goddess’s heavenly spirit.
The legend also dictates that when a priest died, his soul was channelled into the body of a cat and upon the cat’s death the priest’s soul had entered heaven– although, according to Major Russell Gordon, ”But woe also to he who brings about the end of one of these marvellous beasts, even if he did not mean to. He will suffer the most cruel torments until the soul he has upset has been appeased.”
The legend fails to explain the genuine, scientific derivation of these cats, and the mystery surrounding their initial background will probably never be revealed.
Birmans have semi-long, silky hair, a semi-cobby body and relatively small ears compared to other cat races. In order to comply with breed standards, the Birman's body should be of an eggshell colour or golden, depending on the intensity of the markings colour. The markings can be pure seal, chocolate, blue, red, lilac or cream. Tabby variations are also allowed. Tortie cats can be seal, chocolate, blue or lilac. Birmans have sapphire coloured eyes.
The Birman's coat is unusual due to the white 'gloves' on each paw. They are the only cat breed in the colourpoint coat that has fingers and toes in pure white colour. The genetics of this feature is still unclear.
All Birmans are born white (as other colourpoint kittens are) and they start developing their colours at the age of 1 week if they have a dark colour (as seal-point) and at the age of 14 days, or more, if they have a clear colour (as lilac-point). The first part which develops the colour are the points of ears, nose and tail. The real colour is complete at two years old and after a wintry season.
Points of Sacred Birman are: Seal-point, Blue-point, Chocolate-point, Lilac-point, Seal Tortie-point, Cream-point, Blue Cream point, Chocolate Tortie point, Lilac Tortie point. The same colours in Tabby version (Lynx): Seal Tabby point, Blue Tabby point, Chocolate Tabby point, Lilac Tabby point, Red Tabby, Cream Tabby point, Tortie Tabby point, Lynx or Red Factor colors on the legs, tail and face. Birmans differ from conventional colour-point cats by their white paws called gloves. The coat is medium-length, not as long and thick as a Persian's, and does not mat. A notable feature is their clear blue eyes, which remain blue throughout their life.
The only white area are gloves. A spot of white in other area is a fault in a Sacred Birman cat. Gloves are symmetrical in all four feet. The white must stop at the articulation or at the transition of toes to metacarpals, all fingers must be white too. Behind of the back paws these gloves finish with an inverted V extend 1/2 to 3/4.
Birmans have been bred for their temperament, and companionship, and they form a great affinity with their owner and their family. As all cats, they are highly intelligent creatures, and seem to take a genuine interest in whatever is taking place around them. They are also very inquisitive, and playful, particularly when young, and require plenty of stimulation and attention.
In the USA, for example, the entire alphabet has been run through once, ending with the letter "Z" in 2002, and beginning again with "A" in 2003. Kittens born in 2007 thus fall into the "E" year. The typical naming convention for a registered Birman in the USA is
"BreederCatteryName GivenName of OwnersCatteryName" up to a maximum of 35 letters and spaces (for CFA registered cats).
Thus, for anyone familiar with Birman arcana, a registered name such as "Highbeech O'Depearl of Sacréchat" can readily be translated as a cat born to the Highbeech cattery (New Zealand) in the "D" year of Highbeech's orchid alphabetical naming convention, and subsequently imported, re-registered, owned and shown by the Sacréchat cattery (USA), with a slight name change indicating birth in the "O" year (1991) under the USA's standard alphabetical naming convention.
In Germany usually all kittens' names in the first litter of a breeder start with the letter 'A', in second litter with 'B' and so on. Not every breeder makes use of this convention, though.
Some examples of faults:
Body and structure:
- cobby structure: the body must not be short and rounded
- high legs compared to the body
- slim structure, thin figure
- woolly fur
- presence of underfur
- matting and knotting fur
- rough fur
- fur too short
- fur too long
- little contrast between points and body
- white spots on the body
- ghost marks presents also in an adult (except for the tabby variants and the colours red-point and cream-point and red areas of torties).
Morphology & profile:
- Siamese-like, triangular shape
- Persian-like, round shape
- eyes close to each other
- lack of a stop
- lack of a Roman profile (without a bump)
- receding chin
- incomplete mask, which particularly in light colours (e.g. chocolate-point) is often limited to the nose
- too big a mask, which reaches the ears and part of the ruff
- white spot on the chin
- small eyes
- eyes close to each other
- round shape
- light and feeble colour
- dull and glazed colour
- colour not uniform, with lighter or darker streaks
- outer parts faded compared to the centre
- ears placed too high, too long or sharp
- ears placed too close to each other
- ears bent backwards
- short tail
- pointed tail
- tail with little fur
- slim legs
- long legs
- asymmetrical gloves
- tufts of coloured fur in gloves
- interruption of the glove and resume after a part of coloured fur
- low or high gloves beyond the standard limits
- runners, gloves climbing up beyond the standard limits
- lack of upside-down V's
- lack of glove on one or more fingers
- lack of glove on one or more legs