Categories: Hindu Mythology

Airavata:The Majestic Elephant of Mythology

Airavata, also known as Erawan or Indra’s elephant, holds a significant place in Hindu mythology. This magnificent creature symbolizes power, strength, and prosperity. With its association to various gods and epic tales, Airavata has captivated the imagination of people throughout history. In this essay, we will explore the fascinating mythological stories related to Airavata, highlighting its divine connections and celestial origin.

The Birth of Airavata

Airavata’s origins trace back to the churning of the cosmic ocean, known as Samudra Manthan. According to Hindu mythology, during this event, the gods and demons joined forces to extract the elixir of immortality, Amrita, from the depths of the ocean. As the ocean churned, a wondrous white elephant emerged, bearing the name Airavata. It was a symbol of purity, grace, and majesty.

Upon receiving permission from Lord Vishnu and the Asura King Bali, King Indra accepted Airavata as his celestial vehicle. Airavata also took on the role of guarding Indra’s kingdom, known as Swarga.

Another account, described in the Matangalila, tells of Lord Brahma chanting sacred Vedic hymns within the infinite universe known as Brahmanda. As he did so, a golden egg materialized. From one half of the egg, Garuda, the divine bird, was born, while Airavata emerged from the other half. Alongside Airavata, seven other male elephants and eight female elephants also came into existence. The eight deities responsible for guarding the cardinal directions sat upon these eight female elephants, providing protection to each region.

Subsequently, the elephant siblings became the guardians of the eight directions of the world, with Airavata being designated as the patron of the East due to his prominence. King Prithu, revered as the first righteous ruler and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, proclaimed Airavata as the king of all elephants.

Different Names of Airavata

Airavata, the divine elephant in Hindu mythology, is known by various names, each carrying its own significance and meaning. Here are some of the different names of Airavata and their meanings:
Abhramatanga: The Cloud-maker
Nagamalla: The Battle Participant
Arkasodara: The Sun’s Brother
Erawan: (Specific to Thailand)
Shwethasti: The White One
Gajragrani: The Elephant King

Appearance of Airavata in Hindu Texts

According to sacred Hindu texts, Airavata is described as being born with either four tusks and seven trunks or ten tusks, five trunks, and ten teeth, each representing the ten directions. Regardless of the specific count, Airavata is depicted as having a pristine white color. Although some versions mention that he possessed three or five heads, his overall appearance is described as ordinary despite these additional features.

Airavata and Indra

Airavata’s close association with the king of gods, Indra, further elevated its significance. Indra chose Airavata as his vehicle, granting the elephant divine status. With Airavata’s immense strength and wisdom, Indra rode into battles against demons and protected the celestial realms from evil forces. Airavata became a symbol of Indra’s authority and divine power.

The Curse of Sage Durvasa

Sage Durvasa, known for his unwavering devotion, received a lotus from Lord Shiva as a reward. He decided to gift it to Indra, the king of Devas. However, Indra unintentionally dropped the lotus while fending off bees on his elephant, Airavata. Feeling insulted, the sage cursed Indra to lose his kingship, and Airavata to be reborn on Earth as an ordinary elephant.

As years passed, Airavata wandered until he reached a forest with Kadamba Trees, where he discovered a radiant Shivling. Transfixed, a tear fell from his eye onto the Shivling. He then entered a nearby pond, and in an instant, his wild form disappeared, and he regained his original majestic appearance. The grateful Airavata performed an abhishekam of the Shivling with the water from the pond, attracting the forest animals as witnesses.

Airavata then created two Shivlings: Airavatesvara, dedicated to himself, and Indreswarar, dedicated to Indra. Having redeemed himself, Airavata returned to heaven, serving once again as Indra’s vehicle.

Airavata in the Ramayana

According to the Valmiki Ramayana, the mother of Airavata, the divine elephant, was named Iravati. It is said that Airavata got his name from his mother. During Lord Rama’s exile, Jambavan, an immense sacred bear created by Lord Brahma, compared Lord Hanuman’s tail to Airavata’s trunk. This comparison highlights the significance and grandeur of both Lord Hanuman’s tail and Airavata’s trunk in the epic tale.

Airavata in the Mahabharata

According to the Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata story, the northern region of Aryavarta, which is the land of the Aryans, is referred to as Airavata instead of Kuru.

In the epic Mahabharata, there is a tale where King Dhritarashtra seeks the counsel of the sage Ved Vyasa on how to preserve his kingdom’s wealth and fame. Ved Vyasa advises him to worship Gajalakshmi (one of Ashtalakshmi or eght forms of Goddess Lakshmi), emphasizing the significance of venerating the Airavata elephant. Acting upon this advice, Queen Gandhari organizes a grand gathering of distinguished women to worship Airavata, but unintentionally omits to invite Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas. Sensing her mother’s distress, Arjuna employs his divine weapon, calling forth the celestial elephant Airavata from heaven. Upon witnessing this remarkable event, all the women, previously assembled in Gandhari’s palace, hasten to Kunti’s abode to pay homage to the awe-inspiring Airavata. In this way, Arjuna’s intervention preserves his mother’s honor with the assistance of the mighty elephant Airavata.

Airavata in the Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter:10, Verse:27) Lord Krishna described himself as the Uchhaishrava, the divine horse with seven heads, and the Airavata, the celestial elephant.
uchchaihshravasam ashvanam viddhi mam amritodbhavam
airavatam gajendranam naranam cha naradhipam
[Meaning:Among horses, know Me to be Uchchaihshravas, the divine horse produced during the churning of the Milk Ocean. Among elephants, I am Airavata, the king of elephants. Among humans, I am the king.]

Airavata and the Rainfall

Another fascinating aspect of Airavata’s mythology lies in its association with rainfall. It is believed that when Airavata flaps its enormous ears, it creates thunderclaps, and the clouds gather, bringing rain to the earth. In this context, Airavata’s significance extends beyond its celestial connections, as it becomes a symbol of fertility and agricultural prosperity.

Temple Dedicated to Airavata

The temple dedicated to Airavata, also known as the Airavatesvara Temple, is an ancient Hindu temple located in Darasuram, near Kumbakonam in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites collectively known as the “Great Living Chola Temples.” The temple is renowned for its architectural beauty and historical significance.

The Airavatesvara Temple was built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century during the Chola dynasty. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is named after Airavata. According to the legend, it is said that after suffering from the curse of sage Durvasa, Airavata immersed himself in the sacred water of the temple and offered his heartfelt worship to Lord Shiva.


Airavata, the majestic elephant of mythology, has etched its presence in Hindu lore through its association with gods, epic tales, and symbolic representations. From its divine birth during the churning of the cosmic ocean to its pivotal roles in battles against demons and as the mount of gods like Indra, Airavata has remained a revered and powerful figure.


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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