Garuda, 10th century
Stone 22 in. (55.88 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, anonymous gift2005.98.1
The Cham kingdoms dominated the central and southern coast of Vietnam from the 5th until the 15th century. Influenced by Indian religions and ideas of statecraft, the Cham built Hindu and Buddhist temples of brick that were elaborated with stone sculpture of the gods. A multitude of minor divinities adorned the spires and bases of the temples. This dynamic Garuda would likely have been placed on the spire.
Each of the Hindu gods has a mount, and the bird Garuda is the ever-popular mount of Vishnu, the Preserver. In Southeast Asia, Garuda attained independent popularity and appeared frequently without Vishnu, so this sculpture may well have adorned a temple dedicated to a Hindu deity other than that god. Similar images have been identified as coming from the important Cham city of Tra Kieu in central Vietnam (Quang Nam province), and this one is dated based on those images.
Garuda has a human body, but a bird’s beak and talons. In this example, he wears a sarong, just as any male deity of the period would have worn, and a headdress. His wings rise up around him like a flaming arc, a possible allusion to his association with the rays of the sun. His right talon grasps a snake, a bird’s natural enemy, and a reference to Garuda’s theft of amrita (the nectar of immortality) to save his mother from the bondage of two enormous snakes guarding the amrita in Indra’s heaven. Based on this feat, Vishnu granted Garuda a boon, and he asked to be Vishnu’s vahana (mount).