Water Color On Silk
Garuda 'the devourer' is the mythical 'Lord of birds' in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In the Hindu Puranic legends, Garuda is the son of Kashyapa and Vinata. He is said to have emerged, fully grown, from an egg, after incubating for five hundred years.
Garuda has always been the sworn enemy of snakes and nagas. The archetypal legend of the enmity that exists between birds of prey and serpents occurs across a wide spectrum of transcultural mythologies. Such birds include the Sumerian and Greek eagle, the poison-transmuting peacock of Persia and India, the Chinese peng-niao, and the gigantic snake-eating simurgh or rukh of Sinbad's adventures in Arabian nights.
Literally, the word Garuda means 'wings of speech'. He actually personifies Vedic knowledge. On his wings,as it were, Vedic knowledge has come down to us. He is also known as Suparna (beautiful wings), Garutman (the solar bird), Sarparati (enemy of serpents), and Khageshvara or Pakshiraj (Lord of birds). The female bird is known as Garudi.
Originally the Indian Garuda was represented as a bird. Later his form assumed that of a 'bird man'- a creature half eagle and half man, combining a human body with a bird's head, beak, and wings. Zoomorphic variations of the Garuda's artistic representation diffused throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and South East Asia. In Bali his animalistic image assumed great popularity.
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
Harshananda, Swami. Hindu Gods and Goddesses: Madras, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1987.
Paperback Comic Book (Edition: 2002)
Garuda, the Holy Bird
This brass statue represents Garuda, the legendary bird of sky and the venerable vehicle of Lord Vishnu. His legendary form is unusual for both, a bird and a man. He has been described in texts as having a bird like forehead, feathers, beak and nails and a man like figure and senses. His wings had the brilliance of gold and he was born with a crown on his head. Garuda has been invoked in 'puranas' by various names - Kashyapi, Vainateya, Suparna, Takshya, Sitanana, Gaganeshvara, Sudhahara, Vishnuratha, Chirada, Khageshvara, Nagantaka, Kamayusha etc.
The mighty Garuda has his earliest reference in Vedas, where he has been invoked by the name of Shyena. In Vedic literature Shyena had brought nectar to earth from heaven; in 'puranas' the bird that brought it is Garuda. Thus, Shyena and Garuda are the same. Garuda has an independent Upanishada and a 'purana', namely, Garudopanishada and Garuda-Purana, devoted to him. This depicts Garuda's legendary magnitude and leads the mind to deduce that Garuda could be the name of a race of birds instead of an individual being.
As the legends have it, Garuda was born to Vinata by sage Kashyapa. He was the younger brother of the illustrious Aruna. It is said that Valakhilyas did great penance so that Indra was born. Later they gave the fruit of their penance to Kashyapa who handed it over to Vinata. She bore an egg and thereby Garuda who, straight from the egg, rose on his wings and stormed the sky with a terrific speed. Later for people's relief he reduced his pace and lustre. His brother Aruna was born without legs. He hence carried him on his back and placed him eastward, where by the power his penance Aruna swallowed sun and released him only when gods mediated and made them friends. Sun then nominated Aruna as his vehicle.
The most popular Garuda legend relates to his stealing 'amrat' from Indra's capital for his mother's release. Her mother Vinata was enslaved by Kadru, his step-mother, who had defeated her, though by deceit, in a wager. She demanded 'amrat' as ransom for her release. Garuda flew to Amaravati, Indra's capital, for securing 'amrat'. Gods' army obstructed him, but after defeating them all he reached the well containing 'amrat'. There rose flames of fire all around. He extinct the fire by flapping his wings, beguiled the dragons on guard, brought 'amrat' and sought his mother's release, though without giving Kadru and her serpent sons any 'amrat' and answering her deceit in her own terms. It was during this event that he met Vishnu who was highly impressed by his honesty, as he had not even touched 'amrat' despite being in its possession for quite long. Vishnu wished that Garuda became his 'vahana', the vehicle. Garuda agreed but on condition that he was held higher to Vishnu and became immortal without drinking 'amrat'. Vishnu accepted and placed him on his flag. Later all Vishnu temples had as an essential element a Garudadhvaja in front of sanctum. The 'dhvaja', usually a tall pillar, enshrined upon it Garuda on an altitude higher to that of the enshrining deity.
This inflated Garuda with ego. Once Indra blessed the serpent Sumukha with immortality. Garuda treated serpents as his food and Indra's boon deprived him of it. He hence not only quarreled with him but also challenged and boasted that he was mightier even to Vishnu. For purging him of his ego Vishnu just pressed one of his fingers on his person. Garuda felt unbearable pressure and prayed Vishnu for relief. Vishnu released the pressure but to keep Garuda reminding of the event garland-like placed serpent Sumukha on his breast.
This metal-cast of Garuda manifests this legendary Garuda tradition quite elaborately. Though born of his step-mother, the great serpent Shesha was his brother and loved and protected him. In this icon the great serpent holds his hoods over Garuda like a halo. The serpent Sumukha lies on his breast. He has towering heights but with his folded hands he is the image of humility and service. Despite his human form and figure, as described in texts, he has a bird's beak, nails, forehead and feather. His entire body bears a fur like look. May be, the caster wished to cover it by feathers or by fur like garment. This magnificent brass-statue has been cast by lost wax technique and is an excellent example of craftsmanship.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
Garuda and Nagaraja (The Eagle and the Serpent)
Like a river winding its way, the serpent creeps along the ground; it dwells in the earth and stars forth like a fountain from its hole. It is an embodiment of the water of life issuing from the deep body of the Mother Earth. Earth is the primordial mother of life; she feeds all creatures out of her substance, and again devours all; she is the common grave. She clasps to her bosom the life she has brought forth, denying to it the unbound freedom of celestial space. In contrast, the infinity of heaven denotes the free sway of the unbound spirit, freely roaming as a bird, disentangled from the fetters of earth. The eagle represents this higher, spiritual principle, released from the bondage of matter and soaring into the translucent ether, mounting to its kin, the stars, and even to the supreme divine being above them. On the other hand, the serpent is life-force in the sphere of life-matter. The snake is supposed to be of tenacious vitality; it rejuvenates itself by sloughing off its skin.
Whereas in Western tradition the spiritual antagonism of bird and serpent is commonly understood and stressed, the opposition, as symbolized in India, is strictly that of the natural elements: sun force against the liquid energy of the earthly waters. Ablaze with the heat of the glowing sun, drying up the moisture of the land, the "fair-feathered" (suparna), golden-winged, griffon-Iike master of the sky violently attacks, ruthlessly and eternally, the embodier and guardian of the vivifying liquid of the all-nourishing earth. The bird is addressed as "He who kills nagas or serpents" (nagantaka, bhujagantaka), "He who devours serpents" (pannagasana, nagasana). His proper name is Garuda, from the root gri, "to swallow." As the relentless annihilator of serpents, he is possessed of a mystic power against the effects of poison; hence is popular in folklore and daily worship. At Purl, in the Indian province of Orissa, persons suffering from snake bite are taken to the main hall of the Great Temple, where they embrace a Garuda pillar filled with the magic of the celestial bird. Garuda is represented, generally, with wings, human arms, vulture legs, and a curved, beaklike nose.
Here Garuda stamps in a wrathful gesture of triumph upon Nagaraja, the king of serpents. He grips in his right hand the head of another serpent, the tail of which extends over to his other arm, extending across his frame like a drape. His outstretched wings, sharp-pointed lower talons and beak lend to him an awesome appearance.