The Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan

The Erawan Museum is located on Sukhumvit Road in Samut Prakan province, south of Klong Samrong, Thailand. In fact, it is a museum and a temple combined created by Khun Lek Viriyapant (1914-2000) who is also the architect of the Ancient City (Mueang Boran). Thus, it can be considered a place preserving Thai heritage through visual arts and religion. In addition, the museum is surrounded by an amazing tropical garden including some unique Thai sculptures.

The Erawan Museum

The Erawan Museum*

The Erawan Museum*

Even though this place is outside Bangkok, it is merely a few kilometres away from Bang Na BTS station. This museum is famous for its gigantic three-headed elephant which is 43,6 metres high and weights around 250 tons. There are Hindu gods in Thai culture and Erawan is the vehicle of Indra, the god of Tavatimsa heaven which is located on top of Mount Meru in Buddhist cosmology.

Upstairs to heaven*

Upstairs to heaven*

In fact, the inside of the museum is constructed to represent the Hindu image of the universe. Hence, there is the underworld (1st floor), earth or human world (2nd floor), and heaven (top floor). The latter is located in the elephant’s belly whereas the other two are inside the pedestal.

The pedestal, caption the beautiful colours*

The pedestal, caption the beautiful colours*

The first floor or the basement section, which is supposed to stand for the underworld, contains a private collection of ceramics and art belonging to the museum owner Lek Viriyapant. Hence, there is a great collection of Chinese vases from the Ming and Qinq dynasties and a history and overview of the museum’s construction in the form of photographs and wall placards.

Statue and Chinese vases*

Statue and Chinese vases*

In the second floor that represents the earth, there are precious arts and antiques stored. Among the collector pieces there are also European ceramics. What is more, there is Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess with a thousand arms, who is the female representation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion. This floor includes also the area around the rounded staircase and the stuccowork.

The intricate staircase*

The intricate staircase*

Indeed, the cream and blue colours are reminiscent of an Italian or more specifically, a Venetian design 🙂 This impression is reinforced by the stunning rounded stained glass window which was created by the German artist and glass painter Jakob Schwarzkopf (1926-2001).

The glass window reminscent of an Italian design*

The glass window is reminiscent of an Italian design*

The top floor representing the Tavatimsa heaven is rather cool, dark and cave-like. There is a Buddhist shrine which reaches towards heaven, some Buddha relics and old Buddha images from different eras like Ayutthaya, Lanna, Lopburi and Rattanakosin. There are paintings on the wall depicting the cosmos which were also designed by the German artist Schwarzkopf.

The Buddha shrine on the top floor*

The Buddha shrine on the top floor*

I think this is an amazing but also versatile place. Hence, apart from the museum, you can also enjoy a stroll around the marvellous tropical garden.

The tropical garden at the museum*

The tropical garden at the museum*

Summing up, we can say that the Erawan Museum with its three-headed elephant is one of the most unique and awesome places to visit near Bangkok.

Yours, Sirinya

(*photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)




Mythical Creatures in Thai Culture

If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ve probably come across some representations of mythical creatures in Thai temples. These beings are said to be living in the Himaphan Forest on the mythical Mount Meru which is considered the centre of the Buddhist and Hindu cosmos. For instance, there is the mythical snake, the lion, crocodile and swan.

Thai Mythical Creatues

Naga, the Mythical Snake

Naga the semi-divine snake (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

Naga the semi-divine snake (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

The Naga is a semi-divine serpent who is a Wat guardian. As a being of the waters and the underworld, the snake is used as a decoration on barge boards, eave brackets, windows, doors, gates and arches. The legends say that Naga can also transform into a human being. In addition, the Naga can control the rain and thus affects the prosperity of a region. Therefore, it also guards the hidden wealth of the earth and protects Buddhism.

Naga-Makara, the Mythical Snake & Crocodile Composite

Naga emerging from mouth of Makara (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

Naga emerging from mouth of Makara (photo: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan)

On balustrades, the Naga is often combined with the Makara which is a crocodile-like being. It is interesting to note that the open mouth of the Makara often disgorges the angry Naga. The head of the Makara frequently resembles an elephant trunk while the neck is encircled by three ruffs.

The Mythical Mom, an aquatic being

Mythical creatures, the Mom, an aquatic four legged guardian (photo credit: unseenthailand.org)

Thai mythical creatures, the Mom, an aquatic four legged guardian (photo credit: unseenthailand.org)

Apart from the Naga and Makara there is another similar creature called the Mythical Mom which is a mighty aquatic creature with scales and four legs. This representation can be occasionally spotted at the entrance of temples in Northern Thailand.

Singh, the Mythical Lion

Singh, the mythical lion (photo taken by myself)

Singh, the mythical lion (photo: Sirinya’s Thailand Blog)

Another common guardian is the mythical lion that is referred to as Singh or Singha. This figure usually comes in pairs at the entrance to a temple or another sacred structure. In the Chinese-Thai version, the female lion is on the left side with her cub while the male lion is on the right side having a ball under his paw.

Khochasi, the Mythical Lion & Elephant Composite

Khochasi next to Buddha statue (photo credit: jeffenjane.com)

Khochasi next to a Buddha statue (photo credit: jeffenjane.com)

This creature, the Khochasi, is a composite of a lion with an elephant’s trunk, ears and tusks. It guards sacred places and in particular portals in the North of Thailand.

Hong, the Celestial Swan

Sao Hong, the mythical swan (photo credit: Saad Akhtar, Flickr)

Sao Hong, the mythical swan (photo credit: Saad Akhtar, Flickr)

The Hong (or Hamsa) is a celestial swan with a long and graceful neck, an extended beak, wings, and a gorgeous flowing tail. Many Thais believe that when the lotus-leaf clapper of the bell (that is held on a long string from his beak) is moved by the breeze, prayers are lifted to heaven. The Celestial Swan often occurs on the roof ridges in northern temples.

Kinnara & Kinnari, the Mythical Swan & Divinity Composite

Kinnara at Wat Phra Kaew (photo credit: Michael Janich, wikimedia.org)

Kinnara at Wat Phra Kaew (photo credit: Michael Janich, wikimedia.org)

In the female (Kinnari) and the male (Kinnara) form, this creature is a half celestial dancer and a half celestial swan (hong). They occur in architectural decoration and mural paintings. The female Kinnari symbolizes feminine beauty, grace and cultural accomplishment in singing and dancing. There is also the Shan dance of the Kinnari and Kinnara which is the Thai Yai (Shan) bird dance. The following clip shows you an example of the Kinnari & Kinnara dance.

Garuda, the Mythical Bird

Garuda detail at the Grand Palace in Bangkok (photo taken by myself)

Garuda detail at the Grand Palace in Bangkok (photo taken by myself)

Garuda is a mythical bird. It is the king of the birds and natural enemy of the Nagas. It has a human body but the wings, legs and beak of a bird. It is the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Finally, we can say that Thai mythical creatures show how intricately the strands of Buddhism, Hinduism and animism are intertwined in Thai culture and tradition. What is more, mythical beings are also a popular subject in classical Thai art and painting. For instance, Thai National Artist Chakrabhand Posayakrit created amazing pictures of the Kinnari. In this context, I also suggest you check out my Thai Art Motifs Glossary for more general information, if you like 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference, Carol Stratton, What’s What In A Wat, Silkworm Books, 2010)