Garuda has always been the sworn enemy of snakes and nagas. The archetypal legend of the enmity that exists between birds of prey and serpents occurs across a wide spectrum of transcultural mythologies. Such birds include the Sumerian and Greek eagle, the poison-transmuting peacock of Persia and India, the Chinese peng-niao, and the gigantic snake-eating simurgh or rukh of Sinbad's adventures in Arabian nights.
Literally, the word Garuda means 'wings of speech'. He actually personifies Vedic knowledge. On his wings,as it were, Vedic knowledge has come down to us. He is also known as Suparna (beautiful wings), Garutman (the solar bird), Sarparati (enemy of serpents), and Khageshvara or Pakshiraj (Lord of birds). The female bird is known as Garudi.
Originally the Indian Garuda was represented as a bird. Later his form assumed that of a 'bird man'- a creature half eagle and half man, combining a human body with a bird's head, beak, and wings. Zoomorphic variations of the Garuda's artistic representation diffused throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and South East Asia. In Bali his animalistic image assumed great popularity.
In Tibet, the Indian Garuda became assimilated with the Bon khading (Tib. mkha'lding), the golden 'horned eagle', king of birds, and the Bon bird of fire. Tibetan iconography depicts Garuda with the upper torso and arms of a man, the head, beak and legs of a bird, and large wings which unfold from his back. His curved beak is like that of an eagle. The hair on his head blazes upwards, and his eyebrows twist like fire.
Garuda is commonly evoked to ward off snakes and snakebites. Here he is shown holding two of them in his hands.
This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999.
Harshananda, Swami. Hindu Gods and Goddesses: Madras, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1987.
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