The Garuda Emblem
We have seen the Garuda emblem on Thai official letters, on buildings or on the flag. Many people may wonder why Garuda? Some may know Garuda as a divine animal or have seen it in a movie or on literature but may not know the details of why it is so important and even why it became an emblem of the government’s document and also other documents. So, how is it related to Thailand?
Garuda has appeared on many significant pieces of literature such as the Great Epics, Mahabharata which is literature and scriptures of Brahmin – Hinduism. There is also another Puranas scripture called “Garuda Purana” which is one of the scriptures of the people who believe in Hinduism and it is a story that has been passed from generation to generation. These pieces of literature and beliefs also have passed to Thailand and influenced Thai culture since ancient times.
According to literature, Garuda was the son of Kashyapa (father) who had many wives including Vinata and Kadru (they are biological sisters). Vinata gave birth to two eggs, she waited for 500 years and the two eggs still had not hatched. Through curiosity and impatience to see her children, she could not wait anymore, so she broke one of them. It appeared that the child had only an upper body. He was named Aruna. He was very angry with his mother who caused him to have an abnormal body and broke his egg before its timing. So, he cursed his mother to be a slave of Kadru and the second born child would be the one who could release her from slavery. As a result, Vinata did not dare to break the egg. She waited for 1,000 years until Garuda was born. Garuda was born with power and might. Later on, Vinata and Kadru bet on the colour of the horse of the god Surya. Vinata bet it would be white and Kadru bet that it would be black. The loser of this bet would be a slave of the winner for 500 years. Vinata lost the bet because of Kadru’s trick by exploiting her child ‘Nagas’ to turn the horse into black. As a result, Vinata had to serve Kadru for another 500 years. When Garuda found out about it; he wanted to kill Nagas but he could not because Nagas made a condition that in order to break the curse on Vinata, Garuda had to bring the elixir of immortality (water of life) and offer it to Nagas. Therefore, Garuda flew to heaven where the water was kept near the moon. However, Garuda did not just take the water, he also stole the moon and hid it under his wings. On his way back, Hindu gods followed him to take the moon back and they began a battle. God Vishnu also named Naraya, flew to stop Garuda as well and joined the battle. The fight seemed endless and without a hint of a victory for either side. Finally, they made an agreement to end the battle provided that Vishnu blessed Garuda to be immortal and Garuda promised that he would be Vishnu’s vehicle and be a flag on the chariot of Vishnu.
To show the power and the might of Garuda, people normally built statues of Garuda spreading his wings. It has been symbolic of the royalty since the Ayutthaya era because, during that time, Thailand had received the king-cult from India which exalted the king as an avatar of Naraya (incarnate Naraya). So similarly, Garuda who was a symbolic image of Naraya had become the symbol representing the king as it appeared on the emblem of each king. The Garuda has been used as an emblem of the king or authorized person of the king. There was evidence of the king’s emblem in the Ayutthaya era on documents of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs showing the printing of a mimic emblem which looked like a god with 4 hands. It was assumed that it was Naraya riding the Garuda which represented the King Narai. There was other evidence of a letter of (French: Du Royaume de Siam) written by Simon de La Loubère. However, most of the documents in the Ayutthaya era were burned with its city when Ayutthaya lost the battle to the Burmese the second time. That is why it’s unclear to know what the emblem of each king looked like.
In the reign of the Great King Rama V of the Rattanakosin era, (the current era) he brought back the usage of an emblem of the country in 1873 by applying the same principle of the Heraldry called ‘Coat of arms’ as in Western countries.
Coat of arms
Later on, the king thought the emblem was quite western and he recognized that the emblem of previous kings in Ayutthaya era, looked like Garuda. He thereafter changed the design of the emblem to the Garuda image.
The emblem of the Great King Rama V
However, the King Rama VI changed it slightly by adding the king’s name on the circles around the Garuda image. After that, the successors to the throne would have only changed their names in the circles. This has been applied accordingly until nowadays.
The emblem of the King Rama X
Furthermore, a Garuda emblem is used in Thai governmental organisations and official documents including any other official organisations or institutions.
Garuda with straight feet
In summary, Thai people respect Garuda because of its powerful and immortal look. People believe that Garuda can protect them from all kinds of evil things. For places that are haunted by ghosts or witchcraft, just hanging Garuda in the place, will eliminate the power of the ghosts or witchcraft. You can see this Garuda in front of the Police hospital, Ratchaprasong intersection or Mahathep intersection, Bangkok, these places are well-known for “strong local gods” and you will see Garuda there as well. If anyone knows about the history of the Garuda emblem, please feel free to share or comment below.