Sri Garuda, Part Four


Sri Garuda, Patan Durbar Square, Nepal

Jan 10, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial exploration of Sri Garuda, the transcendental carrier of Lord Visnu.

Garuda in the North

Along the northeast ridge of India lies the nation of Nepal, whose cities and ancient villages were built in amongst the great Himalayan range. Best known to international travelers is the capital city of Kathmandu, which has long been an exotic destination. But for the devotees, there are hundreds of temples and holy sites throughout the country of great interest.

Outside of Kathmandu is the broad region of Laitpur, which is comprised of Bhaktapur and Patan. Hundreds of Hindu temples and Buddhist Vihars are found here, including many worshipable Vaisnava sites. The presiding Deities of these sites include Krishna, Visnu and Lord Nrsimhadev, along with many Shiva sites. But most surprising are the great number of murtis and stambhas erected in honor of Sri Garuda, whose presence is felt throughout Nepal, even in the heart of its Buddhist enclaves.

Lalitpur was founded by King Veer Deva of the Kirat dynasty in 299 A. D. It was later expanded by Lichhavis in the sixth century, then by the Malla rulers during the medieval period. Patan is said to be the oldest of all the cities in Nepal. Patan is laid out in a complex design of stupas and temples, water conduits, spouts and tanks, and beautifully adorned gateways into the various city sectors.

An endless stream of pilgrims and tourists arrive at Patan's Durbar Square, where they are greeted by a famous stambha of Garuda (shown above). This is perhaps the single most photographed and recognized murti of Sri Garuda anywhere in the world.

Patan Durbar Square is one of a group of sites named by UNESCO as 'the seven monument zone of Kathmandu Valley'. Included on the World Heritage List in 1979, there are dozens of important religious shrines in the area, and the Garuda stambha is one of them. Patan is situated at a high elevation in the Kathmandu Valley, on the south side of the Bagmati River, which separates it from the Kathmandu City on the northern side.

Patan, Nepal

The Garuda stambha in Durbar Square is surrounded by holy sites, including two Krishna temples, the Vishwanath temple, Temple of Bhimsen, Jagannarayan Mandir, and Hari Shankar Temple.

Lalitpur has produced the greatest number of renowned artists and the finest craftsmen in all of Nepal's art history. Almost without exception, the focus of their artistic expression has been sacred, including both Vaisnava and Buddhist subjects. Not surprisingly, many images of Garuda are found that have been done in Buddhist iconography, rather than the traditional Vaisnava style. These are easily identified by the crown and the flame motif on the stella or murti background. Nepalese Buddhist Garuda's typically have a prominent hooked beak, clawed feat, and various styles of naga. The Vaisnava depictions, on the other hand, tend to show Garuda's human form in face, arms and hands, with prominent wings behind him.

Garuda on the Sun Dhoka Golden Gate, Durbar Square

The Vaisnava presence in Nepal undoubtedly began in its earliest days, and has continued over the centuries. All the early sculptures of large dimension in Nepal are of Vaisnava devotional themes, and all the heroic themes are centered on Visnu. The avowed Vaisnava ruler Visnugupta, c. 640, appears to have had his hand on the power in Nepal even while the local Licchavi ruler, Bhimarjuandeva was the seated ruler.

Patan was initially designed in the shape of the chakra, which is also a primary Buddhist icon for the Wheel of Dharma, or Righteousness. On the perimeter of Patan are four mounds, or thurs, on which are inscribed various historical data. These are popularly known as the Ashoka Stupas, in honor of the visit by the Emperor Ashoka, a legendary King of India who visited Kathmandu with his daughter Charumati, in 250 B.C. He erected a number of stupas around Patan.

As is the case throughout India, the Vaisnava and Buddhist presence are well blended - not surprising, given that Lord Buddha is understood to be an incarnation of Sri Krsna, Himself.

Sri Garuda, Patan Square


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