If you travel to Bali, you will see him everywhere … templates, at the front door entrance of the houses, in the masks hanging on the walls of most souvenir shops etc. That’s not without a reason … Balinese people believe Garuda will protect them from all bad things and evil.
In Kecak Dance story I’ve shared with you there’s a character named Garuda, a large bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism. When researching a little bit about him, I realized he deserves special attention as Garuda represents the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu.
Mahabharata identifies Garuda as the younger brother of Aruna, the charioteer of the sun god, Surya. His mother, Vinata, mother of the birds, was tricked into becoming the slave of her sister and co-wife, Kadru, mother of the nagas (serpents). The lasting enmity between the birds, particularly Garuda, and the serpents is attributed to this. The nagas agreed to release Vinata if Garuda could obtain for them a drink of the elixir of immortality, the amrita, or soma. He performed that feat, thus giving the snakes the ability to slough off their old skins, and, on his way back from the heavens, he met Vishnu and agreed to serve him as his vehicle and also as his emblem.
The one who drives the aways the evil
Garuda is Lord Vishnu’s vehicle, as the King of Birds, he knows the secrets of death and the beyond. He drives away evil spells, black magic influences, negative spirits and removes all poisonous effects in one’s body.
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.
Garuda is also the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila. The brahminy kite and phoenix are considered to be the contemporary representations of Garuda.
When you travel to Bali you cannot help being dazzled by the amazing detailed wooden statues and masks of Garuda. Both there and in Java, the mythical creatures has become a cultural symbol.
It is worth mentioning that in Bali, you can see the tallest Garuda statue in Wisnu Kencana complex. It’s about o18 meters tall and made from tons of copper and brass.
The modern symbolism of Garuda
In Indonesia, India and the rest of Southeast Asia Garuda stands for the eagle symbolism. Garuda is today a national emblem of Indonesia.
The Coat of Arms of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila and it was designed by Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak. On February 11, 1950 it was adopted as the national coat of arms
The main part of the Coat of Arms is the golden mythical bird Garuda with a shield on its chest and a scroll gripped by its leg bears the national motto: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, roughly means “Unity in Diversity”. The shield’s five emblems represent Pancasila, the five principles of Indonesia’s national philosophy. The numbers of feathers were meant to symbolise the date of Indonesian Proclamation of Independence; 17 feathers on each wing, 8 tail feathers, 19 upper tail feathers (under the shield, above the tail), and 45 neck feathers; all symbolise 17-8-1945; 17th August 1945. Garuda Pancasila was designed by Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak and was adopted as the national coat of arms on February 11, 1950.
To conclude this brief story about the king of birds, there’s one more thing I do have to mention especially for those travelling to Hindu countries. Don’t be surprised if you’ll see him along the way. With the spread of Hinduism to Nepal and to Southeast Asia, where Garuda is frequently depicted on various monuments, sculptures or temples.