AIRAVATA ELEPHANT GOD | Sharon Henry
The Erawan Museum Bangkok honours Hinduism beliefs and elephant symbolism with a massive three headed elephant statue. The elephant meaning refers to Erawan of the Hindu Deities – the Elephant God.
Buddhist Prayer in Progress
Climbing barefooted into the belly of a three headed elephant statue is quite the experience, Bangkok is full of surprises.
We’re following a Buddhist chant, which gets louder the higher we go. A little dizzy from a spiral staircase climb we step into a softly lit temple; a blue astrology mural covers the entire curved room.
Devotees bow in prayer to a Buddha statue standing centre stage. It feels quietly sacred, not just because we’re in the belly of a 3 headed elephant but because this is ‘Heaven’ and the ‘Universe’… No, I’m not on drugs!
What Do Elephants Symbolize?
We have ventured a little off the beaten track at the edge of this sprawling city, to Erawan Museum, a colossal monument honouring a mythical Hindu elephant.
It’s a copper and steel construction built in the shape of a three headed elephant, mounted majestically on a pastel pink pedestal.
Erawan aka Airavata, the elephant god served as the god Indra’s mount on his travels to the heavens and on earth where he observed the varying fortunes of mankind. Elephants represent power and wisdom and are associated with rain and water in the mythology of Indra.
According to legend the Airavata elephant reached his trunk down into the watery underworld, sucked up the water, sprayed it into the clouds which brought rain, linking the waters of the sky with those of the underworld.
Elephant Trunk Up
With trunks trumpeting high into the Bangkok skyline, Erawan stands 29 metres tall and weighs a mighty 250 tonnes. The combined structure including pedestal, is 43 metres.
The Erawan museum is the private venture of Thai business mogul, Lek Viriyapant, built to house his vast personal collection of ancient artefacts and to preserve Thai art and culture. Construction started in 1994 and was completed in 2004.
There are three levels inside this museum that is modelled on the depiction of the universe. The first floor is the ‘Underworld,’ second is ‘Earth’ and the top, ‘Heaven.’
Ancient Buddha Statue Thailand
We’re in ‘Heaven’ right now and have just discovered the chanting sounds are coming from a CD player on repeat. We are quietly told by a guard no photography is allowed of the ancient Buddha statues flanking the room, just the view ahead.
The artistic ceiling mural depicts the cosmos, displaying zodiac constellations, a blazing sun and scatterings of gold leaf stars. The Buddhist chant enhances the room’s spiritual vibe. Darrin and I soak up the peaceful atmosphere, lingering to observe families off the Buddha gifts and pay their respects in prayer.
No Shoes Inside the Erawan Museum
We entered the Bangkok museum earlier through the ‘Underworld’ at the base of the pedestal that contains valuable and ancient collections of Ming and Qing dynasty ceramics. It’s a gem for those who appreciate these works of art.
Before entering the middle section we were required to remove our shoes and leave them on a designated shoe rack. I have to admit I am a tad worried if they’ll be there on our return although there’s a watchful ticket collector in the vicinity.
Entering ‘Earth’ has the ‘wow’ factor, it’s absolutely spectacular. Such a feast for the eyes, there’s so much to look at and absorb. And it’s so pink! Sun streams through a stained glass domed roof, illuminating intricate ceramic mosaic patterns that glitter in the light. It seems all surfaces are extravagantly adorned with exquisitely molded stucco.
Climbing The Stairway To Heaven
A white ornamental staircase leads to a wooden statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. She stands under a pagoda, lotus flowers at her feet.
Sculptures of mystical musicians, deities and creatures show remarkable craftsmanship and detail.
Sweeping stairways lead higher to the platform and the start of the long spiral staircase, up the elephant’s leg, that made me dizzy climbing to ‘Heaven’.
A Close-Up View of ‘Earth’
There’s an elevator available for the less mobile which opens onto a viewing platform just below the top floor.
We hadn’t fully appreciated the stained glass pedestal roof earlier depicting an abstract world map, its luminosity showcases the building’s contents perfectly.
I’m drawn to the detailed pictures on the pewter pillars supporting the glass ceiling. There are four in total, each skilfully chased, (engraving technique) representing Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Mehayana Buddhist stories. The mastery is such that it took three years to complete each column.
Praying at the Erawan Museum
The gardens of Erawan are equally superb as the museum. Tall shady trees offer respite from Bangkok’s sticky heat and the tinkling of water features sets a tranquil mood. We explore the grounds wearing our freshly laced shoes and admire whimsical statues that have spilled out from the museum. It’s so beautiful here, I don’t want to leave. This is one of the most unique places I’ve been.
Erawan Museum Entrance Fee
As much as Erawan is a museum it’s clearly also a place of worship possibly acting as a Buddhist and Hindu temple. There’s another shrine outside, in front of the elephant where worshippers burn incense, offer fruit and flowers and kneel at the altar.
To get here we took the BTS Skytrain to Bearing station, the end of the train line, then hired a metered taxi to bring us the rest of the way which cost 80 Baht (£1.60).
As foreigners we were charged 400B (£8) each entrance fee to the museum; Thais are charged 200B.
Erawan Museum Bangkok Dress Code
An audio guide is included in the price although a refundable deposit of 1,000B is required. The guide gives general information on the concept and details of the museum.
Visitors are advised to dress modestly, no shorts or revealing clothes. We noticed there weren’t many westerners present during our visit, mostly locals. The Erawan Museum truly does seem off the beaten track.