What do Erawan, Indra, Zeus and Thor have in common? I started asking these questions after a visit to the Erawan Museum in Bangkok in October 2014. Here is the result of some of my findings.
The Greeks had Zeus. King and father of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the god of the sky, weather, thunder, lightning, law, order, and justice.
The Eastern religions had (maybe still have) Indra and Erawan. Indra is King of the Gods and ruler of the heavens. Indra is the God of thunder and rain and a great warrior, a symbol of courage and strength. Indra’s mount is the elephant Airavata (Erawan to the Thai).
When travelling, and visiting places such as The Erawan Museum in Bangkok, you may start looking at different cultures and religions. If you do, it will soon becomes evident that there has been some blending, borrowing or sharing of Gods and the stories of their deeds (good and bad). Buddhist and Hindu stories are of particular note, as are the Bible and the Koran.
Sometimes even a crossover between east and west occurs. Take the following quote from the Ancient History Encyclopedia for example. It bears some resemblance to the bible story where the sun stood still in order to allow a battle to be won.
Indra’s great friend and protégé Kutsa fought with Sushna (‘the Witherer’) and at the end of the day when the two were still in combat and darkness seemed about to halt the proceedings Indra delayed the sunset by yanking off a wheel of the sun’s chariot. Indra then gave the wheel to Kutsa who used it as a devastating weapon to win the fight.
According to Aryan legends, the god Erawan is huge, white and has 33 heads. Each head bears seven tusks. For each tusk there are seven lotus ponds. Each pond has seven lotus pads, each pad has seven lotus blossoms and each blossom has seven petals. On each petal dance seven angels. Each angel has seven ladies-in-waiting. So altogether this elephant god has 33 heads, 231 tusks, 1,617 ponds, 11,319 lotus pads, 79,233 lotus blossoms, 554,631 lotus petals, 3,882,417 angels, and 27,176,919 ladies-in-waiting.
The main duty of Erawan the elephant god is to serve as Indra’s mount in his travels to different locations in the heavens and on earth, where he observes the varying fortunes for mankind. He is, in particular, associated with the east and the sun’s care for that part of the world. He also serves as Indra’s war elephant in his battles with the demons. Indra, being the chief of the gods and responsible for the world’s weather, uses the lightning bolt as his weapon to fight drought and bring the blessings of rainfall to the world of men. He is thus assigned the task of drawing up moisture from the earth to the sky, whence Indra returns it to the earth in the form of rain. The people of South and Southeast Asia have long had a special regard for the god Erawan due to this life-giving benevolence.
As the beloved companion of Indra, the god Erawan is considered to be the lord of all elephants in the universe. He is, moreover, taken to be a symbol of Indre himself, of virtuous action, and of prosperity. For artistic reasons, he is usually portrayed with only three heads, rather than 33 heads in the myth.
One of the legends concerning Erawan holds that Lord Shiva gave him as a gift to Indra, and that Erawan was originally a god stationed in the Dao-wa-Deaung heaven. Wherever Indra went, Erawan would follow in the guise of a white elephant. Another story is that Makamanop employed this elephant in building a pavilion on earth. When the elephant died, it was reborn as a god in the shape of an elephant, and then taken by Indra to serve as his mount.
Not only is Erawan, the lord of all elephants and the most powerful, he is said to be as large as a mountain of Indian mythology. So brilliantly white is Erawan that he makes Mount Kailasa, made entirely of silver, lood dark by comparison. In the Mahabharata, it is said that “The god Airavata has four tusks and three trunks. He is great in size, and pearly white.”
The above is translated from “the Erawan Elephant Museum and the faith of its maker” and the source of the translation is The Erawan Group
As you can see by the above, there are a few variations on the number of heads, trunks and tusks. However, in general, all seem to agree that Indra rode a rather large white and somewhat strange looking elephant who was also a god in its’ own right.
The Structure of The Erawan Museum
The construction was inspired by Mr. Lek Viriyaphant who was also responsible for The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya. It has been his desire with both these structures to preserve Thai culture history customs and faith.
The museum has three floors. The first floor represents the underworld. The second floor represents the human world and the top floor represents the Buddhist Travatimsa Heaven. The first two floors are located within the pedestal of the building while the top floor is located within the body of the elephant. The three headed elephant statue is made of bronze. It weighs 250 tons, is 29 meters high and 39 meters long. Erawan stands on a 15 meter high pedestal, making the total height of the structure 44 meters.
Indoor photography is restricted and the rules are strictly enforced, so here are just a few photos from unrestricted areas to give you an idea of what you might see inside.
How To Get To The Erawan Museum
The full address of the Erawan Museum is 99/9 Moo 1, Tambon Bang Muang Mai, Amphoe Mueang Samut Prakan, Chang Wat Samut Prakan 10270, but the easiest way is to click view larger map and let Google show you the way.