08 June 2013

Wats and garudas

Wat Chedei
I have been fascinated by these guys since I visited my first Buddhist temple here in Cambodia almost four years ago. I had no idea what they represented – and from questioning many locals, I can report that most of them don’t know either. Until recently, I just thought of them as decorative roof supporters, and I took photos of them whenever I visited a new wat.

Not all temple buildings have these as it depends on the architectural style, though if the temple building itself doesn’t have them, then other buildings in the wat often do, if only in a stylised form.


Two different designs at Wat Kesararam
Stylised form on the administration building at Wat Bo

They are, in fact, representations of the Garuda, a divine being who appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology (garuda is the Sanskrit word for eagle).

Combining characteristics of both birds and humans, the Gardua is usually depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face but an eagle’s beak, he has wings and wears a crown on his head. He often wears winged boots, with toes that resemble an eagle’s claws, and he functions like a Cambodian Atlas, supporting a superstructure.

Garudas can be found in many other forms of Cambodian architecture, often in conjunction with the naga, a seven-headed hooded serpent – more on that in a future blog. 

As you will see from the images here, the depiction of the Garuda motif varies greatly on the local temples, presumably at the whim of the maker.

Wat Bakong (note the different head on the Garuda on the right)


Two slightly different designs at Wat Polangka

A corner cluster at Wat Kong Mouch (with pigeon nest) (and it looks like someone got the measurements wrong!)

Two designs at Wat Preah Enkosa and black garudas on an administration building at Wat Damnak

Another from Wat Kesararam

A plain version at Wat Run and a glorious Garuda at Wat Svay

A much more human-like depiction at Wat Chork