The Garuda Story

Yesterday, my friend Pavitra Srinivasan put up a photo of a religious icon on Facebook.

garudaThe picture was so good that I requested her to use it as my Cover Photo. I inadvertently called the picture Dwarapalaka, a figure that can be found at entrances to temples and the shrines inside temple complexes.

Dwarapalakas (literally dwara=door; palakka=guards) are fearsome looking figures who guard the presiding deity of that temple. They are the devotees as well as the protectors of their masters and are typically envisioned as huge and robust warriors. The figure will tell you which god can be found inside the garba graham or sanctum sanctorum. Each Hindu God has specified figures.

The figure in this picture is Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu from the Hindu Trinity who is the caretaker and preserver of the universe. Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle’s beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun. Garuda is also the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila. The Brahminy kite and Phoenix are considered to be the contemporary representations of Garuda.

Brahminy Kite

This bird has appeared in my life many times and I considered it as a great blessing. By the way, religiously speaking, I belong to the Iyer sect of Tamil Brahmins..we call ourselves Sanathanis or Smarthas as we worship all representations of the divine from the six agamas (ways) of worship—Saiva, Vaishnava, Sakta (Goddess), Saura (Sun), Ganapatya and Kaumara (Muruga). We are given the choice to worship any one primarily or all. These are not purely theological divisions but include spiritual philosophy and methods of sadhana. Vaishnavas restrict their worship to all forms of Vishnu.

It was the early 90’s and we had moved to Chennai from Mumbai. My husband was refurbishing, renovating and rebuilding ANZ Grindlay’s Bank premises all over India. He had moved specifically to Chennai to redevelop their property in Haddows Road into an international hub for the bank’s activities. There was a branch of the erstwhile Grindlay’s Bank in Eldorado building and we would visit it for our banking needs. I was attracted to the over 7 foot wood carving of a mythical creature that was polished in a dark varnish. I found out that it was a representation of Garuda and I would make it a point of walking up to where he was standing, in a corner of the basement and visit with him.

When the new branch was built and inaugurated in Grindlay’s Garden on Haddows Road, my husband saw to it that this magnificent Garuda was given pride of place at the entrance with a earthenware uruli (flat bottomed wide, mouthed pot) with flowers floating in it.. And that is where he was until my husband retired. His secretary, Penny Smith, continued to be on the premises and would give us updates. Whenever I visited the branch, I would search for him for you see, even though he was wingless, he led a peripatetic life and was moved around quite a bit.  Nowadays, with internet banking, I do not visit the branch at all. Penny too moved out to OMR Road and I have no news of the Garuda….but he lives on in my mind, majestic, benign and spreading his blessings and good will.

Eagles are not a common sight in urban environments. We used to see vultures hovering around Malabar Hills, especially on the days there was a funeral in the Tower of Silence.

vultures

A couple of years ago, we were house sitting for a friend in Koramangala, Bengaluru. There was a huge construction going on outside our living room window that we could watch and monitor. There were enough pigeons and the occasional crow that visited us. One day I had just finished reading my regular chant of Vishnu Sahasranamam when I spotted an eagle/kite soaring from that construction and then landing on a corner of a floor. I did not have a pair of binoculars nor am I qualified to identify the bird species, but I made up my mind that it was indeed Garuda who had come to bless me. I saw the bird and its partner for a couple of days or so and then they disappeared.

Pavithra Srinivasan ‘s comment in Facebook, “Padmini: Indeed it (garuda) can. And they’re vehicles that carry you too, to the past.” Her picture of a Garuda Vahanam, a kind of chariot shaped like the vehicle of Vishnu that is used to carry the processional image of Vishnu around the temple on festive days, has truly given wings to my memories. Thank you Pavithra!

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest is acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays.
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9 Responses to The Garuda Story

  1. Interesting as always ! Yesterday I saw 3 owls while coming back home. The place was damp and a little shady but I chose it as it saved me half a mile. We don’t see owls often and people have such superstitions about birds such as owls, eagles and crows. I have always been fond of Hedwig(Harry Potter’s owl) :P

  2. A beautiful write-up. So glad the pic moved you. You’d have liked the temple too, I think. Garuda-viewing is lucky indeed. May you have many more. Sharing this on my FB page. :)

    • padmum says:

      More pics from your nomadic camera and more stories will emerge….what an idea Sirjee? By the way I have written about over 350 temples in the site Hikeezee…..covering South India. I wish I had to physical stamina to go with you…you should look at the book Palma tharum Thirumurai Padikangal…a clutch of temples that are paadal Petra sthalam…no one has written I think about them in English…the poetry is amazing.

  3. Maxi says:

    It is the superb color and detail of these figures that impress me, Padmini.
    blessings ~ maxi

    • padmum says:

      Thanks Maxi…all these figures in temples are made from detailed instructions that were prescribed in our ancient texts that were passed down orally or in palm-leaf manuscripts. These guidelines are still adhered to in the arts and performing arts scene in the classical traditions.

  4. B.Ramana Kumar says:

    Great, and outstanding exposition of a ‘dame,’

  5. Rummuser says:

    One of the places to visit on picnics during my youth in Chennai was to Thirukazhukundram and till date I am fascinated by the story and the visits to the temple by those kazhugus. Where we live now, we have a lot of them and we can see them circling over head almost every day. They are a grand sight to watch.

  6. Milind Joshi says:

    Padmum – Congrats on a very impressive blog. I stumbled upon this while Googling the Chakor mythology and found that and a lot more. All the best!

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