A few weeks ago, we featured the Naga. This week, lets take a look at its enemy the Garuda.
The garuda is a bird-like creature that appears in Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. Just as eagles frequently eats snakes, the garuda is considered the enemy of the serpentine naga. It is commonly represented as having a man’s arms and torso, but a bird’s head, wings, and legs. Variations of garuda imagery can be found throughout southeast Asia.
In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, the garuda is said to have hatched from an egg that incubated for 500 years. The garuda burst from the egg with a burning light. The god Vishnu gave the garuda immortality in exchange for being his mount.
In Buddhist mythology, the garuda are a group of intelligent predatory birds who are ruled by four garuda kings. They live in silk-cotton trees, and can take on human form if they choose. They guard Mt. Sumeru (the world mountain) and the Trāyastriṃśa heaven
Related creatures: pheonix, naga (commonly depicted holding a serpent)
So neither the garuda and naga (though enemies) is evil, which I find interesting. The emnity between the garuda and naga is due to a disagreement between them, but both are revered, guardian, creatures.
The creature compendium is back and we’re off to Asia again. I’ve seen images of the naga plenty of times, but never knew what they represented until now.
The naga is the name for a group of serpentine creatures associated with bodies of water and the king cobra. The naga is sometimes treated as a minor-deity, and representations of the naga can be found guarding temples throughout Asia. The naga may change between human and serpent form at will. Its legends have roots in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
In Hindu mythology, the naga are creatures that guard rivers and springs, and can influence the weather. Therefore, the naga are also associated with fertility (rain), floods, and droughts. They are said to guard treasures, and are the also the enemy of the Garuda. They are protectors of the environment, and will punish those that abuse it.
In Buddhist mythology, the naga is also said to guard bodies of water, and is sometimes equated with the Chinese dragon. In one story, a naga protected the Lord Buddah from a storm. Wise nagas also consulted with the Lord Buddah about how to be reborn as humans, and follow the path to enlightenment.
Traditional representations of the naga vary from country to country:
Obviously, this was a very pared down summary. I am sure there are legends local to each country and region. The first painting is also obviously a modern, stylized interpretation of the naga. I’m actually a fan of the Indian version. I’m not sure walking around in the dark and stumbling across a giant seven headed cobra statue would be very reassuring, guardian or not.