I found this place when looking for a modern art museum to visit. As it turns out this is technically a “Modern Art Museum” only in the sense that it is a museum of antiquities which is itself modern art. See, a few years ago, an eccentric billionaire Thai businessman named Lek Viriyapant commissioned the construction of a museum in the shape of a giant three-headed elephant on a pink pedestal, containing a rich collection of Thai antiquities and artifacts. Well, I had to check that out. I’m very glad I did. I was one of the only foreign tourists among a sea of local visitors. It felt great to be off the beaten path a bit. Besides, the energy of the place was so good, so joyful and peaceful. It is a shrine as well as a museum (Thais are fond of turning all sorts of places into shrines), and it really felt very holy there.
Erawan, by the way, is the Thai name for Airvata, an elephant in Hindu mythology who carries Lord Indra.
There are three levels to the building – one is the basement, which contains the most ancient artifacts, mostly pots and ceramics, but there’s one exhibit of jade which is breathtaking. Then there’s the interior of the pedestal – the architecture of this space completely overshadows the relics on exhibit here. Here’s a view of the domed ceiling:
There are two staircases leading up towards the legs of the elephant. They wind like elephant trunks.
At the top of the balcony inside the pedestal, a spiral staircase travels upwards through one of the elephant’s legs. It’s covered with paintings of mermaid-like creatures and water lillies. It was too dark in here to get a good photo, though. Entering the stair brings a welcome blast of super-cold AC — the interior of this holy elephant is air-conditioned.
Arriving at the top of the stairs, I stepped out into the inside of the elephant. An oddly shaped room because it is in the shape of an elephant’s belly, this temple is dimly lit by a glowing night sky scene. And it is filled with Buddhas.
Just as breathtaking as the interior of the elephant are the surrounding gardens.
The reason, so I understand, that this museum is also a shrine, or perhaps just the reason it’s such a popular one with locals, is that a thai girl won the lottery shortly after visiting here. Now people believe the elephant is very lucky and come to pray and meditate and ask Erawan for boons. There is a specific process you can follow to do this. First you light a bundle of incense and kneel before the outside shrine, in front of the elephant. Then, you take a lotus blossom and float it on a pond that encircles the elephant. Finally, you can take a piece of gold leaf and press it onto a smaller statue of Erawan that sits in front of the shrine. I felt moved to perform this ritual myself. I lit the incense and knelt and meditated for a while. Then I took a lotus blossom to float onto the pool. The lotus blossoms were being given out at a nearby stand, included with each ticket to the museum. Each was floating in a bowl of water. I took one of the bowls and walked over to the pool.
I experienced a rather wonderful revelation while doing this. Since part of the ritual is to make a wish, I pondered what I should wish for. I realized that I was in a state of tranquility, accepting things that came to me, and quite free of need – at least in that particular moment. I felt so centered that to make a wish at that point would actually have been to re-introduce need and desire, and imbalance myself. So I decided not to wish for anything in particular. I felt perfectly happy just to clear my mind and focus on sending positive energy out into the world, and to those around me. I knelt by the pool and meditated for a couple minutes. Then I dipped my bowl reverently into the pool, watched the water of the pool merge with that of the bowl, and gently carry the lotus off along the current.