The three headed Elephant, Airavatham

The proverbial white elephant is an actual reality in Indian literature. This noble creature is the vehicle of the King of the Devas ( celestials)…Indra …. a la Zeus with his Thunderbolt. Not only is he white but has 33 heads.

Here is a depiction from a mural painting …

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Though there are other white elephants.. the Airawatam ( Erawan in thai/cambodian culture )is said to be the most powerful of all. Described as a huge elephant with silvery white body of 33 heads, each head has 7long ivory tusks. Each of his tusk is 16 million meters long, so huge that it can house 7 large lotus ponds, within each tusk also live thousands of angels and their servants.

This massive modern sculpture greets visitors at the entrance of the Erwan Museum in Thailand.

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Without doubt its almost impossible depict this creature in stone…and hence quite rare to see the full version of Erawan elephant with 33 heads, instead, many artists prefer to draw Erawan as a 3 headed elephant instead.

The Irrawaddy River in thailand is also named after Erawan …

We find the workship of indra and airavatam among the temples of ankor,
prasat preau, siam reap …

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In india some wonderful depictions exist…. in a cave at Bhaja not far from Mumbai that was the site of a Buddhist monastery – there is a stone relief carving showing Indra, king of the gods.

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He is seated upon Airavata with his thunderbolt in hand …in somnathpur.

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In The famous chola murals of tanjore big temple…there is airavatham…oh thats the subject of an entire new post….

Whats amazing is that the indian sculptor restricted to just one head while his cambodian couterpart depicts him with three heads.

3 thoughts on “The three headed Elephant, Airavatham

  1. hi lakshmi,

    Sundarar ascending to the heavens on airvatam along with cherman perumal ( who is on a beautiful horse) is one of the most celebrated chola fresco panels – this painting has been the subject of much research – including why the depiction of the ocean and also the fact that there is someone hanging on to airvat’s tail. will post in detail shortly.

    rgds
    vj

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