Monday, May 21, 2018

Garuda and the magic of Hindu mythology

So I've just had a very short, but beautiful sojourn to Bali.

As I walked about the humid, crowded streets of Kuta, some thing struck me. No, it wasn't the phenomenal number of Australian tourists sporting shiny fresh tattoos, nor was it the multiple calls to plait my hair or give me a massage. It was the fabulous, elaborate statues of Hindu Gods and mythological creatures. They are everywhere, and they are amazing.

Bali is a Hindu state in the Muslim country of Indonesia - and the story of the Bali Hindu Dharma is as fascinating as everything else is in this tropical paradise. In short, Balinese Hinduism as a monotheistic form of Hinduism. It incorporates animism (the religious believe that things inanimate and animate contain a spiritual essense) and ancestor worship and you can see evidence of their beliefs everywhere in the form of little canang offerings (small woven palm leaf tray filled with offerings of incense, betel nut leaf, lime, gambier leaf/flowers and may also contain other things like cigarettes, biscuits, etc).These offerings are to praise the Supreme Indonesian Hindu God Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, or as a thanks giving for peace.

In addition to the offerings, you will see demonic monster-like statues everywhere. They may be standing guard next to the toll booth, or at a little roadside shrine, outside a shopping centre, or lining someone's driveway. These demons are referred to as Butas or Kalas, and like many creatures of mythology can be good or bad depending on the mood. You will often find a canang sari offerings at their feet, and you may also notice that sometimes a wrapping of cloth has been draped around their waists to preserve their modesty.

However it wasn't the Butas and Kalas that really took my interest on this trip, it was the enormous depictions of Garuda. Garuda is a bird-like creature from Hindu beliefs. Traditionally depicted with the torso and arms of a man, Garuda has the wings, head, beak and talons of an eagle or vulture. His body is gold in colour, wings are red, and his face is white. He is often referred to as the King of the Birds, and is used by the Hindu God Vishnu (Wisnu in Indonesia) to fly around. Garuda is the enemy of all snakes (which symbolise death and the underworld). Symbolically, Garuda represents birth and heaven and has associations with sun and fire.

If you are fortunate enough to fly into Denpasar, and look out the window you will see an enormous statue of Wisnu and Garuda being built, once completed it will be the largest statue in the world, some thirty metres taller than the Statue of Liberty.

I Just love how the depictions of Garuda are so fierce, often the statues have teeth in his beak. I also love how alive and vivid the faith is in this country. It really does make it a very magical place to visit.

Have a great week.

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