Continuing my survey of magical bird creatures from West to East, the next stop is India. Garuda is the mount of the Hindu deity Vishnu, but also regarded as a deity in his own right. He is most commonly depicted with a human body and a bird’s beak and wings, though he can also take true bird form. His size is enormous – he can darken the sun.
Like the Simurgh, Garuda is perpetually at war with snakes – the Naga of Indian mythology. He is also credited with successfully stealing the elixir of immortality from the Gods – motives that seem to link this legend to the Sumerian Gilgamesh epos.
Garuda features in several Hindu religious texts, and in the Indian epic Mahabharata. There, it is told that “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.” [source: Wikipedia]
Legends of Garuda are also found outside India, and not limited to Hinduism: in Buddhist legend, the Garuda are a race of predatory birds, rather than just one individual creature. Stories of Garuda can be found all through Southeast Asia, as well as in Mongolia, and in Indonesia, which has adopted Garuda as their national symbol.
Browsing for contemporary images on DeviantArt, this time I came up with a crop of mainly Asian artists: from Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, China, and the Philippines. Also in the mix are artists from Russia, Croatia, Luxembourgh, Venezuela, Canada and Australia, but the USA is under-represented this time. So is the Garuda’s native country India: only one artist contributed one of the photos of traditional representations of Garuda.
Many of the artists – particularly those from South and East Asia – emphasize Garuda’s strength: several of these images appear to fall somewhere between Conan the Barbarian and the Balrog. Others picture him more gracefully, and several artists have decided that Garuda is after all female. I have also chosen a few more abstract depictions, and one that appears to be inspired by Giger! Plus, there is also Lego Garuda.
All images are copyright the respective artists, and may not be reproduced without permission.