A fairly big proclamation one would think, but reserve some comments till you read the rest of the articles! You would not believe it that all three monuments have been visioned, financed and under the patronage of one individual that some may deem him to be either an eccentric billionaire or Thailand’s greatest benefactor. This is actually his second project in a series of three. The name Erawan Museum may not ring many bells as yet but a visit to this place will remain in your mind hopefully forever. This is also the reason why it is a “Must See” place when you visit Thailand and take a tour of Thailand.
There is no mistaking the sight of a behemoth 3-headed elephant sitting atop a roof as you approach from the road. You can actually see it from miles around. At first glance, one might think it is a temple of sorts, honoring the great Elephant God, Ganesh or locally known as “Papikanea”. It was not intended to be so but as the elephant is a symbol of a much revered animal, it comes as no surprise that eventually people do flock to this place to worship this huge effigy. Located just 30 minutes from Bangkok city in the district of Samut Prakan, it is an easy drive. Plus the fact that you can’t really get lost when all you have to look for is this huge pachyderm figure once you get into Samut Prakan.
At the entrance of Erawan Museum not only are you greeted by a walled and gated property but also a sight of the elephant figure standing atop a domed roof under an elaborate crafted pastel pink building with a pavilion and intricately carved doorways. According to the history behind the creation of Erawan Museum, it was to be a place where the national treasures of Thailand such as old antiques and other collectibles were to be housed and appreciated with the main intention to prevent it from being sold away to the outside world and to symbolize the heart of the land where the national treasures and ancient heritage are the wealth and culture of the country.
Tickets to Erawan Museum can be purchased at the doorway entrance of you can book your tickets to Erawan Museum through a travel agent who will provide all the required transportation to make it easy for you. The museum (yes, a museum and not a temple) is located in 6 rai of land, so that means it is not only the museum but also a great sculpted garden, dining patio and loads of places for you to sit and enjoy the place. Entering the museum grounds opens a whole new world to the visitor. An understanding of the importance of the elephant to Thai culture and society where the pachyderm is revered is evident from the number of visitors who just come to venerate the holy elephant in the small shrine placed at the entrance and the front interior of the grounds. Here you can see a vendor selling joss sticks, flowers and lotus flowers for the worshippers to place at the alter which has a miniature version of the actual God Papikanea. It is believed that this Deity bestows good luck, wisdom, prosperity and benevolence hence the worshipping and most often than not, the asking of a fortune through the fortune sticks at the shrine. It is interesting to observe the rituals and some say that the results of one’s destiny holds true when asked in reverence and sincerity. Anyone can pay their respects at the alter but most of the visitors who do this are the local Thais. You can buy a lotus flower at the vendor stall to place into the moat around the museum later to ward off bad luck and bring in the new.
Walking towards the main building, you can place small gold leaf stickers on another statue of Papikanea at the pavilion which is the entrance to the second floor, the gold leaf is complimentary and available from the little box on the left of the pavilion, and this is so that you will have good fortune and prosperity. A guide will direct you to the first level, which is a small stairway leading to the “basement” of the building known as the Suvarhnabhumi level or Underworld level. This was only recently opened on the 29th April 2012 and houses the precious collections of porcelain and antiques in Thailand dating as old as the 1st reign of Thailand’s monarchy. This is the only collection available for viewing and salvaged by the owner himself Lek Virayaphant “Khun Lek“, the creator of the museum. Here, you can see the various influences of artwork in the pottery through the ages of Thai culture and the most precious collection to date in Thailand. The next level is the 2nd floor also known as the Earth level, where you see beautiful and opulent sculptures of the human-world and a magnificent stained-glass dome. Each figure and mural has been meticulously hand-crafted revealing the different age of man in Eastern and Western influences, and the lessons of creation in relation to man’s existence. You can make your way up all the way into the
elephant body where inside is housed ancient relics of Buddhism and numerous images of Buddhas salvaged through a lifetime of collection. It is believed that this is where the Gods reside and symbolizes Heaven. Everything in the building has taken a painstaking 10 years to complete. The figure of Erawan, the Elephant of the Universe stands 43 meters tall, crafted entirely out of bronze and weights 250 tons, lifted and anchored to the top of the dome by four pillars that form the foundation of the building. A truly amazing feat in itself. The elephant represents the idea of Airavata the Hindu holy elephant that was believed to be the trusty chariot bearer of the God Indra, of which the sculptures in the building are somewhat themed to this concept as well.
Outside the building, you can float your lotus flower in the moat and maybe offer a little prayer in your own words for luck and to wash away all bad karma. Take a walk along the garden grounds, there are many wonderful stone sculptures strategically located that makes great photo shots. Quench your hunger and thirst at the outdoor café that sits amidst shaded trees and a waterfall. The food is great and really cheap for a tourist designated area. Next to the café is a little museum dedicated to the owner which showcases his life. Some might find him a very interesting and yet simple person. If you were to see him on the streets before, he might just seem to be another ordinary Thai old gentleman but behind it all is a person with a benevolent vision and unfortunately did not live long enough to see the completion of his creations.
So make it a point to take a tour of Erawan Museum, there is a story to tell behind each sculpture and item on the grounds the moment you enter the gateway. Have an open mind and relish the fact that this is the legacy left behind by a simple man to educate and tell to the world the importance of preserving a country’s national treasures in the hope that it will instill lost traditions and culture back to the Thai new generation.