Tamanon Temple Siem Reap, Cambodia

Name: Tamanon Temple

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The Garuda

The Garuda (Sanskrit: Garuda ????, eagle; Pali Garuda) is a large mythical bird or bird-like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Garuda is the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila and the Brahminy kite is considered to be the contemporary representation of Garuda. Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle's beak and with a crown on his head. The ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun.

Various names have been attributed to Garuda - Chirada, Gaganeshvara, Kamayusha, Kashyapi, Khageshvara, Nagantaka, Sitanana, Sudhahara, Suparna, Tarkshya, Vainateya, Vishnuratha and others.

The Vedas provide the earliest reference of Garuda, though by the name of Syena, where this mighty bird is said to have brought nectar to earth from heaven.

The Puranas, which came into existence much later, mention Garuda as doing the same thing, which indicates that Syena (Sanskrit for Eagle) and Garuda are the same. Worship of Garuda is believed to remove the effects of poisons from one's body. In the Bhagavad-Gita (Ch.10, Verse 30), in the middle of the battlefield Kurukshetra, Krishna explaining his omnipresence, says - Of birds, I am the son of Vinata (Garuda) indicating the importance of Garuda. Garuda plays an important role in Krishna Avatar in which Krishna and Satyabhama ride on Garuda to kill Narakasura.

On another occasion, Lord Hari rides on Garuda to save the devotee Elephant Gajendra. According to the epic, when Garuda first burst forth from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno equal to the cosmic conflagration that consumes the world at the end of every age.

Frightened, the gods begged him for mercy. Garuda, hearing their plea, reduced himself in size and energy. One day, Vinata entered into and lost a foolish bet, as a result of which she became enslaved to her sister. Resolving to release his mother from this state of bondage, Garuda approached the serpents and asked them what it would take to purchase her freedom. Their reply was that Garuda would have to bring them the elixir of immortality, also called amrita. The amrita at that time found itself in the possession of the gods, who guarded it jealously, since it was the source of their immortality. They had ringed the elixir with a massive fire that covered the sky. They had blocked the way to the elixir with a fierce mechanical contraption of sharp rotating blades. They had stationed two gigantic poisonous snakes next to the elixir as deadly guardians.

Garuda hastened toward the abode of the gods intent on robbing them of their treasure.

Knowing of his design, the gods met him in full battle-array. Garuda defeated the entire host and scattered them in all directions. Taking the water of many rivers into his mouth, he extinguished the protective fire the gods had thrown up. Reducing his size, he crept past the rotating blades of their murderous machine. He mangled the two gigantic serpents they had posted as guards. Taking the elixir into his mouth without swallowing it, he launched again into the air and headed toward the eagerly waiting serpents.

Vishnu promised Garuda the gift of immortality even without drinking from the elixir, and Garuda promised to become Vishnu's mount. Flying onward, he met Indra the god of the sky. Garuda promised that once he had delivered the elixir fulfilling the request of the serpents, he would make it possible for Indra to regain possession of the elixir and to take it back to the gods. Indra in turn promised Garuda the serpents as food.

At long last, Garuda alighted in front of the waiting serpents. Placing the elixir on the grass, and thereby liberating his mother Vinata from her servitude, he urged the serpents to perform their religious ablutions before consuming it. From the day onward, Garuda was the ally of the gods and the trusty mount of Vishnu, as well as the implacable enemy of snakes, upon whom he preyed at every opportunity. Also according to the Mahabharata, Garuda had six sons from whom were descended the race of birds. The members of the race were of great might and without compassion, subsisting as they did on their relatives the snakes. 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 field marshall Drona uses a military formation named after Garuda. Krishna even carries the image of Garuda on his banner.

Another name for the garuda is ?????? suparna (Pali: supanna), meaning well-winged, having good wings, having beautiful wings.

The exact size of the garuda is uncertain, but its wings are said to have a span of many miles. 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. The garudas are enemies to the Nagas, a race of intelligent serpent- or dragon-like beings, whom they hunt. The garudas at one time caught the nagas by seizing them by their heads; but the nagas 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.

The secret was divulged to one of the garudas by the ascetic Karambiya, who taught him how to seize a naga by the tail and force him to vomit up his stone (Pandara Jataka, J.518). The garudas were among the beings appointed by Sakra to guard Mount Sumeru and the Trayastri?sa. In the Mahasamyatta Sutta, the Buddha is shown making temporary peace between the Nagas and the garudas.

Thai the word for a garuda is Krut (????).

In Burmese, garudas are called ga-lon.

In Kapampangan the native word for eagle is Galura.

In Japanese a garuda is called Karura (the form Garuda ????)

For the Mongols, the garuda is called Khan Garuda or Khangarid (Mongolian: ????????). Before and after each round of Mongolian wrestling, wrestlers perform the garuda ritual, a stylized imitation of the Khangarid and a hawk.

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) farts during the Buddha's expounding of the Lotus Sutra, Garuda kills her and is exiled from paradise.

 Angkor's North Gate Siem Reap, Cambodia Map


This webpage was updated 27th January 2020