Garuda Deva, an integral part of Vaishnavism - a brief note

Garuda Deva in a Vishnu temple, Tn.

Garuda, also known as Suparna or  Pakshiraja, a mythological bird (eagle), has attained divinity, grace and fame being the vahana of Lord Vishnu, the trinity god in Hinduism in charge of protection of the universe and living things on it. He is Nityasuri eternally liberated attendant of Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha, ever in the divine shadow of the lord, thus holding a holy and exalted status. To honor him  we celebrate  Garuda Panchami Pooja  on an auspicious day - 5th day of Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of the Moon) in Shravan month (Naga Panchami is also held on the same day).  On this day Mothers worship Lord Garuda for the well being of their children.  Also described as Khagesvara, the king of birds in Indian mythology,  he represents courage and fighting prowess.

It is mentioned that Garuda  is the son of the sage Kashyapa and Vinata,  half brother of  Devas and Yakshas and the younger brother of Aruna, the charioteer of the Sun. There  are references to him in other faiths such as  Jainism and  Buddhism. H was the one who helped his mother escape from the slavery under the Nagas - serpents.  

Ichnographically, Garuda is depicted as half bird and half-human or as a big bird with large wings. He is often portrayed as being vigilant, swift and a sworn enemy of snakes. According to the Yajurveda text  Garuda is  the personification of courage and power and his powerful flapping wings could temporarily ''stop the spinning of heave, earth and hell''.  Some puranic scholars say  from the rhythm caused by  flaps of Garuda's large wings emanates the soul-stirring hymns of Sama Veda (chanting of Sama Veda mantra is itself musical).  Alavandar celebrates Garuda as the embodiment of the Vedas - Vedatma Vihageshwaro.  Saint Nammazhwar in his tribute to Garuda’s speed says, ''He is ‘vega paravai.''To the followers of Vaishnavism, he is  known as Periya Thiruvadi (the Big Sacred Patha/ Feet)

The details of Garuda iconography may vary as the bird with wings open is ready to fly out in a jiff.   In  anthropomorphic form Garuda -half human and half bird - has sharp eyes, eagle like curved nose/ beak, legs with sharp talon. His body in emerald green can carry the lord and his consorts on the sides. He may be shown with two or four hands and when not carrying God Vishnu, he holds a pot of Amrita - the nectar of immortality. In the case of four hands, the front ones may be in an anjali posture - holding the hands together in supplication. But for Garuda, Indira would not have recovered the pot of Amrita (ambrosia) Garuda  with meticulous plan got him and his mother freed from Kadri- mother of snakes and saw to it the treacherous snakes never got the Amrita.  

Quite amazing are Garuda's  firm determination, resoluteness  and enormous power and eye-sight that came to the fore when he  saved his mother from slavery under the Nagas. The traits of his ability to conquer heights, besides his humility and humbleness had cast him to play a graceful, but divine role -  being that of carrying Lord Vishnu and his consorts to any place.  

There is no Vishnu or Sri Krishna temple  in India that does not have an image of Garuda right in  front of the main shrine. Like wise, as per Vaishnava Samprathyam, none of the temple festivals will be held without  the presence of Garuda. Every Vishnu temple has a temple flag  with a holy  image of Garuda Deva  implying how Garuda is intertwined with the lord of the universe- Jagannatha. 

There are temples where the is a separate shrine for Garuda Azhwar.  However,  there are just a few temples. may be less than  three  in South India, exclusively dedicated to Garuda.  Can we worship Garuda is a moot question every body asks.  

Garuda  is worshipped by devotees for the following  reasons:

01. Mothers worship Garuda as a protector of their children. If Garuda Panchami Pooja (normally falls in August)  is conducted on that day, it is good for the well being of  children.

02. Garuda  is believed to be a protector of dharma. His close association with lord Vishnu, the Hindu god who fights injustice and destroys evil forces in his various avatars to preserve dharma, has made Garuda  an iconic symbol of king's duty and power, an insignia of royalty or dharma,

03. Garuda is a yaksha (good natured spirit)  or guardian for Shantinatha (16th Thirthankar saint in Jain iconography and mythology. Jain iconography shows Garuda as a human figure with wings and a strand-circle.

04. It is believed by praying to Lord Garuda regularly, particularly when facing hardship in life, a person can overcome fear and anxiety that retard progress in life.

05. Worshipping Garuda, the divine vahana will get rid of evil eyes, spells, black magic, etc.  

06. People with Sarpa Dosha - bad effects of Naga (serpent) can get rid of it if they regularly  visit the Garuda shrine in the Vishnu temple and offer prayers. Diseases caused by the ill effects of Sarpa Dosha will be cured over a period of time. 

07. Garuda will protect the person from the fear of snakes and other reptiles. 

08. Regular worship of Garuda with trust will help the devotees gain wealth, name and confidence. Nammazhwar, who  sees himself as Parankusa Nayaki, a young girl says about Garuda vahana of Varadaraja perumal, Kanchi as it passes through the street-  a great site  boosting  her sagging spirit. 

09. Worshippers not only gain positivity, but also gain discretionary power and firm determination to achieve their goal as Garuda is an  embodiment of courage, wisdom and resoluteness. He soars at dizzy heights. Like him you can achieve your goals and passing with overwhelming confidence.  

10. God Garuda stands for courage and valor.  During the reign of the medieval Hoysala kings (of part Karnataka), their  elite bodyguards  were called  Garudas.

Srirangam temple flag with Garuda image.

Above image; Garuda image on the temple flag of Sri Rangamntha swami temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu. Flag-hoisting ceremony being  held by the Bhattars - Dwajaroanham on the flag-pole Dwajasthambam before the beginning  of a festivity. March 20 2021.......

Garudasevai, Akshayathritiya day.  Kumbakonam, TN.

Above image: Kumbakonam, TN. Garudasevai, 2015. Garuda carrying Vishnu and his consorts  is an annual festive event in Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and other places. In Kumbakonam normally, 12 Vishnu temples will normally participate. In the Garuda Sevai held in 2015 on the Akshayathritiya day the famous Sarangapani, Ramaswami and Chakrapani temples did not participate because of renovation work going on there. The deities are lined up on the the Big Street here for darshan.

Garuda vahana, Jagadish Vishnu temple, Udaipur, Rajasthan.

Garuda image. Vittala temple, Hampi, KA.

Vishnu and Garuda - Nanjangud, Karnataka

Garuda sevai Thirunarayur,-Nachiyar temple,

Nachiyar kovil,TN Kal Garuda.
old image Garuda shrine, Srirangam,

Srirangam, temple, Garuda Azhwar.

Above image:  Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy temple. Garuda Azhwar in the shrine. The Garuda statue,  half  human and half bird is a huge one, perhaps the tallest in India about 14 ft. high on a pedestal that is about 5 ft.  It is not made of hard stone, it seems to be  masonry work. He is  in a seated posture with his hands showing the anjali-mudra. He is adorned with snakes. Before praying to the main deity, it is a custom to pray to Garuda at his shrine which is just across the entrance to the main shrine.......... 

Garuda vahana Srirangam temple.

Garuda statue, Ranganatha Swamy temple,

Garuda statue in Belur temple,

Garuda statue in Nepal.

Garuda statue. Woodland museum, Nakhon, Thailand,

Mythical bird, Garuda, Thailand.