The Garuda is a legendary bird or bird-like creature in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology.

He is variously the vehicle mount (vahana) of the Hindu god Vishnu, a dharma-protector and Astasena in Buddhism, and the Yaksha of the Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha.

Garuda is described as the king of birds and a kite-like figure. He is shown either in zoomorphic form (giant bird with partially open wings) or an anthropomorphic form (man with wings and some bird features).

He is generally a protector with the power to swiftly go anywhere, ever watchful and an enemy of the serpent. He is also known as Tarkshya and Vynateya.

Garuda is a part of state insignia in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The Indonesian official coat of arms is centered on the Garuda. The national emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila.

Mythology

Garuda mythology is linked to that of Aruna – the charioteer of Surya (Sun god). However, these Indian mythologies are different, inconsistent across the texts.

Both, Aruna and Garuda, developed from an egg. According to one version, states George Williams, Kashyapa Prajapati’s two wives Vinata and Kadru wanted to have children. Kashyapa granted them a boon. Kadru asked for one thousand Nāga sons, while Vinata wanted two, each equal to Kadru’s thousand naga sons.

Kashyapa blessed them, and then went away to a forest to meditate. Later, Kadru gave birth to one thousand eggs, while Vinata gave birth to two eggs. These incubated for five hundred years, upon which Kadru’s eggs broke open and out came her 1,000 sons.

Vinata eager for her sons impatiently broke one of the eggs from which emerged the partially formed Aruna, who looked radiant and reddish as the morning sun but not as bright as the midday sun.

Aruna chided his mother, Vinata for her impatience since he was born without legs and warned her to not break open the second egg but wait. Aruna then left to become the charioteer of Surya, the sun god.

Vinata waited, and after many years the second egg hatched, and Garuda was born. Garuda later went to war with his stepbrothers, the Nagas.

Some myths present Garuda as so massive that he can block out the sun. The text Garuda Purana is named after him.

Garuda is presented in Mahabharata mythology as one who eats snake meat, such as the story about he planning to kill and eat Sumukha snake, where Indra attempts to intervene. Garudas are also a race of birds who devour snakes in the epic.

Symbolism

Garuda’s links to Vishnu – the Hindu god who fights injustice and destroys evil in his various avatars to preserve dharma, has made him an iconic symbol of king’s duty and power, an insignia of royalty or dharma.

His eagle-like form is shown either alone or with Vishnu, signifying divine approval of the power of the state. He is found on the faces of many early Hindu kingdom coins with this symbolism, either as a single-headed bird or a three-headed bird that watches all sides.

Throughout the Mahabharata, Garuda is invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess.

Powerful warriors advancing rapidly on doomed foes are likened to Garuda swooping down on a serpent. Defeated warriors are like snakes beaten down by Garuda.

The Mahabharata character Drona uses a military formation named after Garuda. Krishna even carries the image of Garuda on his banner.

Hinduism

In Hinduism, Garuda is a divine eagle-like sunbird and the king of birds. A Garutman is mentioned in the Rigveda who is described as celestial deva with wings.

The Shatapatha Brahmana embedded inside the Yajurveda text mentions Garuda as the personification of courage. In the Mahabharata, Garutman is stated to be the same as Garuda, then described as the one who is fast, who can shapeshift into any form and enter anywhere.

He is a powerful creature in the epics, whose wing flapping can stop the spinning of heaven, earth, and hell. He is described to be the vehicle mount of the Hindu god Vishnu, and typically they are shown together.

According to George Williams, Garuda has roots in the verb gri, or speak. He is a metaphor in the Vedic literature for Rik (rhythms), Saman (sounds), Yajna (sacrifices), and the Atman (Self, deepest level of consciousness).

In the Puranas, states Williams, Garuda becomes a literal embodiment of the idea, and the Self who attached to and inseparable from the Supreme Self (Vishnu).

Though Garuda is an essential part of the Vaishnavism mythology, he also features prominently in Shaivism mythology, Shaiva texts such as the Garuda Tantra and Kirana Tantra, and Shiva temples as a bird and as a metaphor of atman.

Buddhism

Garuda, also referred to as Garula (Pali Cheeki Breeki), are golden-winged birds in Buddhist texts.

Under the Buddhist concept of saṃsāra, they are one of the Aṣṭagatyaḥ, the eight classes of inhuman beings. In Buddhist arts, they are shown as sitting and listening to the sermons of the Buddha.

They are enemies of Nagas (snakes) and therefore sometimes depicted with a serpent held between their claws. Like the Hindu arts, both zoomorphic (giant eagle-like bird) and partially anthropomorphic (part bird, part human) iconography has been common in Buddhism.

In Buddhism, the Garuda (Pāli: garuḷā) are enormous predatory birds with wings span of 330 yojanas. They are described as beings with intelligence and social organization.

Another name is suparṇa (Pāli: supaṇṇa), meaning “well-winged, having good wings“. Like the Naga, they combine the characteristics of animals and divine beings and may be considered to be among the lowest devas.

The Garudas have kings and cities, and at least some of them have the magical power of changing into human form when they wish to have dealings with people. On some occasions, Garuda kings have had romances with human women in this form. Their dwellings are in groves of the simbalī, or silk-cotton tree.

Jataka stories describe them to be residents of Nagadipa or Seruma.

The Garuda are enemies to the nāga, a race of intelligent serpent- or dragon-like beings, whom they hunt. The Garudas at one time caught the nāgas by seizing them by their heads; but the nāgas learned that by swallowing large stones, they could make themselves too heavy to be carried by the Garudas, wearing them out and killing them from exhaustion.

This secret was divulged to one of the Garudas by the ascetic Karambiya, who taught him how to seize a nāga by the tail and force him to vomit up his stone (Pandara Jātaka, J.518).

The Garudas were among the beings appointed by Śakra to guard Mount Sumeru and the Trāyastriṃśa heaven from the attacks of the asuras.

In the Maha-Samaya Sutta (Digha Nikaya 20), the Buddha is shown making temporary peace between the Nagas and the Garudas.

In the Qing Dynasty fiction The Story of Yue Fei (1684), Garuda sits at the head of the Buddha’s throne. But when a celestial bat (an embodiment of the Aquarius constellation) flatulates during the Buddha’s expounding of the Lotus Sutra, Garuda kills her and is exiled from paradise.

He is later reborn as Song Dynasty General Yue Fei. The bat is reborn as Lady Wang, wife of the traitor Prime Minister Qin Hui, and is instrumental in formulating the “Eastern Window” plot that leads to Yue’s eventual political execution.

The Story of Yue Fei plays on the legendary animosity between Garuda and the Nagas when the celestial bird-born Yue Fei defeats a magic serpent who transforms into the unearthly spear he uses throughout his military career.

Literary critic C. T. Hsia explains the reason why Qian Cai, the book’s author, linked Yue with Garuda is that of the homology in their Chinese names. Yue Fei’s courtesy name is Pengju. A Peng is a giant mythological bird likened to the Middle Eastern Roc. Garuda’s Chinese name is Great Peng, the Golden-Winged Illumination King.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.