The Elephant of 33 Heads: The Erawan Museum

Erawan Museum Bangkok

The Erawan museum in Samut Prakan is someplace I’ve been meaning to get to for some time especially since its creator,Lek Viriyaphant, was the mastermind behind another beautiful work of art, The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya.

The elephant of 33 heads, or the elephant of the universe as it is also known, is part of an ancient Buddhist and Hindu myth about the greatest god of paradise, Indre. The myth tells us that wherever Indre goes he mounts his elephant, Erawan, who before each journey transforms himself into a 16,000 meter tall white elephant with 33 heads. Most depictions of Erawan you will see only show him as having 3 heads.

Khun Lek sought to house his rare collection of priceless artifacts safely while still preserving traditional beliefs that the sacred objects housed there would bring blessing and prosperity to the land and its people, and therefore must not be lost to outsiders.

This myth of Indre inspired Lek Viriyaphant to build a museum that is a reproduction of Erawan, and while not quite as big as the mythical beast this monumental museum is still rather large, coming in at 44 meters tall and weighing over 250 tons.

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

Khun Lek’s son, Pagpean Viriyaphant, was put in charge of managing the building project and bringing a host of talented artists together to make sure Khun Lek’s vision was brought to life. One of those artists, Rakchart Srichanken, was the creator of the actual Erawan structure while others were in charge of such details as the magnificent stained glass ceiling and carvings throughout the museum.

Khun Lek wanted Erawan to be more of a symbol of the center of the universe than a vehicle for the god Indre. He wanted the Erawan museum to symbolize the spiritual heart of the land where sacred objects could be housed and revered by all.

The museum consists of 3 separate levels. The base of the museum, “Underworld or Naga World”, plays host to an amazing array of ancient artifacts and artwork that dates back to the Ming Dynasty and beyond. Here you will find detailed carved furniture inlaid with mother of pearl as well as Ming vases and rare Chinese porcelain tea sets. There are also ancient Khmer and Thai artifacts. These objects were collected by Lek Viriyaphant and his family over generations. Unfortunately, to preserve the priceless treasures no photography or filming is allowed in Underworld.

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

The middle section of the elephant is called “Hall of Earth” and is filled with more rare artifacts such as statues and beautifully made furniture but the real show stopper is the magnificently carved grand stair cases and 4 embossed tin columns with religious reliefs that stretch up to the beautiful stained glass ceiling that depicts a map of the world. Where the 2 stair cases meet at the main landing there is a small shrine to make offerings.

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

Further up into the elephants head is the last level or “Tavatimsa Heaven” where you will find even more rare statues and Buddhist icons in another shrine area that can only be described as stunning. Again, no photography or filming is allowed of the individual artifacts but you may take pictures of the room and shrine.

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

Outside the Museum the great elephant is surrounded by a moat of running water where you can make offerings of lotus blossoms that will float around the structure. There is also a large area in front of Erawan where offerings can be made with flowers, incense and bells and gongs that can be rung for good luck.

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

Surrounding all of this is a beautiful park filled with sculptures, flowers and streams to wander through and relax. We spent the afternoon into early evening at the Erawan Museum enjoying all the rare pieces of art and the beauty that the whole park bestows on you. I knew this would be a special place just because of the man who created it, Lek Viriyapant, who spent his life creating wonderful places for all people to enjoy and to lift Thai cultural heritage.

Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok Erawan Museum Bangkok

The Erawan Museum is open daily from 8am to 5pm with guided tours every 30 minutes. Admission price is 150 baht per person. More information can be found at The Erawan Museum Website.

You can find even more pictures ( almost 300 ) of the beautiful Erawan Museum and park  in the Thailand Photo Gallery Erawan Museum,Samut Prakan.

Little known fact:

The Erawan Museum is considered the largest elephant sculpture in the world and it took over 10 years to complete.

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15 Comment(s)

  1. I have been here twice. It is a remarkable place, and, despite being surrounded by expressways, does feel very peaceful. The interior is truly stunning. Funnily enough I rarely seem to see mention of it in popular guidebooks. In fact the first time, 2008, I was taken there by my Thai friend who told me about it. At that time I did not know it existed. The enormous three headed elephant is a magnificent piece of work.

    Peter_M | Nov 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. Talen, I haven’t been there (yet). Sounds wonderful – I’ll have to grab K Pissout and K Phairo to go have a look. When I checked on a map, it’s out of Bangkok (but not by much) in Samut Prakarn province (south east of BKK). And that, I can do (just not real soon).

    Catherine | Nov 25, 2010 | Reply

  3. Cat, You are correct, it is in Samut Prakan province…I thought we were still in Bangkok as it was so close. You’ll love the Erawan Museum…it’s beautiful.

    Talen | Nov 25, 2010 | Reply

  4. Peter, I can see myself going back again because as you say it is remarkable. I only knew about the Erawan museum from doing research on the Sanctuary of Truth…I have nver seen it in any guide either.

    Talen | Nov 25, 2010 | Reply

  5. Hi Talen, I haven’t been to the ‘Sanctuary of Truth’ or this museum in Samut Prakan. I’ve heard about them both before and you have rekindled my interest in visiting. I like going to places like this but I only get one day off a week and I worry that my young son will be bored (he’s only three and a half). This museum is not too far from Minburi.

    Paul Garrigan | Nov 25, 2010 | Reply

  6. Talen, great article. I’ve never been to the Sanctuary of Truth, but pointed it out to our friends who will be visiting that area later this month. It must have been a little frustrating to not be able to take some photos of such wonderful subjects!

    By the way, I think maybe the elephant’s mahout maybe hanging out in Chiang Mai’s Hard Buak park…I still haven’t identified him…or her.

    Snap | Nov 27, 2010 | Reply

  7. Thanks, Snap. The Sanctuary of Truth is spectacular…pictures don’t do it justice. It was very frustrating not being able to take pics of the beautiful Ming Vases and Chinese tea sets…but understandable.

    Interested in hearing more about your mahout find.

    Talen | Nov 27, 2010 | Reply

  8. Talen, she/he is in the third photo down in this post.
    …and that should have read ‘Nong Buak Hard Park’ :(

    Snap | Nov 27, 2010 | Reply

  9. Snap, Beautiful pictures & park…

    Talen | Nov 27, 2010 | Reply

  10. Hi Talen,

    been there and loved it. It’s an amazing building and totally unique.

    Nearby is also the Thai navy museum, which I really enjoyed and up the road is the Muang Boran or ‘the ancient city open air museum, all well worth checking out.
    We visited them all in one day.

    Sanuk Maak!

    Camille | Dec 1, 2010 | Reply

  11. Camille, The Earawan Museum is definitely amazing.

    The Navy museum and the Ancient City museum are still on my list…didn’t have time this trip.

    Talen | Dec 3, 2010 | Reply

  12. The navy museum is worth it, well, maybe if you’re a diver or a ship fanatic, to be honest! I liked it nonetheless though.

    My wife’s cousin and me ended up in a weaponry room and the guard basically just stuck guns in our hands so we could take pix, interesting since my wife’s cousin considers himself a pacifist!

    The Ancient City museum is really nice, take a full day is my advice and if you have a car, you can take your car inside. If I remember correctly, there were also bikes for rent?

    Camille | Dec 5, 2010 | Reply

  13. Camille, I am a diver so the navy museum would be right up my alley. The Ancient city is definitely one of the next stops on my list too.

    Talen | Dec 5, 2010 | Reply

  14. The pictures of the museum are really beautiful. I will be visiting this museum next month. I can’t wait.

    Thailand Girl | Mar 6, 2011 | Reply

  15. Thailand Girl, You’ll love the museum…pictures don’t do it justice and the artifacts in the bottom of the museum are amazing.

    Talen | Mar 6, 2011 | Reply

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