Garuda: King of Birds
In Bali, Garuda is believed to be the king of birds, ruler of the sky, and personification of power. In Balinese culture, Garuda is always depicted as a man with bird head and a pair of wings sometimes with bird’s tail though in sacred Garuda incantation, it describes in quite different way, the translation of this incantation into English will be as follow:
“Garuda is a fascinating and terrifying bird with strong teeth, red eyes, big beaks, and long neck. His speed is as fast as the wind.”
“Both of his knees are golden in color, his stomach is in the shape of mountain, his neck shine as bright as sun and his head look is glowing.”
“Impressing yellow is the color of his feathers from feet up to knees. The color of his body is white from thighs up to navel.”
“Radiant silver from the heart up to under his beak, and black from beak up to his head.”
In Hindu myth, Garuda serves as vehicle of Vishnu, since in this world only Vishnu can subdue Garuda in a battle. The coat of arm of Indonesia is also Garuda, well known as Garuda Pancasila. The flagship airline of Indonesia named after this mighty bird, Garuda Indonesia.
To Balinese, Garuda is a never-ending source of fascination and inspiration. The birth of Garuda and his quest for the elixir of life in order to be used to free his mother from slavery are favorite stories of shadow puppet performances. Thousands of Garuda reliefs decorate the temple walls all over the island. In Balinese architecture Garuda has a special place; he placed on the back of God’s throne shrine (Padmasana), on the back temple treasure room (gedong bata), and on the back of papier-mache pagoda (bade) that is used to carry the corpse in cremation ceremony.
In Balinese house, the statue of Garuda is also used as base of pillars which support the roof. But the pinnacle of all is the intricate Garuda Vishnu statue that can be found in virtually all art shops on the road from Denpasar to Ubud. In early 80s the intricate Garuda Vishnu statue was considered the hallmark of Balinese wood carving, but in late 80s the simplified version of this statue appeared and dominated the whole scene, drowning the good old one.
Garuda also has special place in the art of offering. Many woven coconut leaves offering decorate with Garuda ornament. There even a meat offering in the form of Garuda known as satay Garuda used in a grand ceremony. Some decorated bamboo poles that are erected in front of the gate on Galungan holyday (penjor) are decorated with palm leaves Garuda ornament.
Amulets for strength and invincibility use mainly the picture of Garuda combines with sacred characters, since as said earlier, Garuda is the personification of power, and it is hoped that his power will strengthen the user of the amulet.
Through these depictions the image of Garuda penetrates deeply into the life of Balinese and becomes the part of it.