Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Carved and painted figure of Vishnu riding Garuda
Bali, Indonesia, 20th century AD
The more important Hindu gods are associated with particular animals who become their vehicles. Here, Vishnu is riding Garuda, a giant creature with the features of a human and of a bird. In Indonesia, Garuda appears in carvings on the roof beams of temples or large houses. On textiles, Garuda is often represented by his wings alone. His many powers are also illustrated in episodes of the great Hindu epic Mahabharata. Hinduism spread to Indonesia through trade and the image of Garuda continues to be very popular. The motif of wings has even been adopted by the Indonesian state and put on the national flag and Garuda is the name of the national airline.
There are many myths about Garuda - one story is that he was hatched from an enormous egg laid by Didi, mother of giants. Didi lost a bet and was held prisoner by demon snakes. To free her, Garuda had to bring an elixir from a mountain surrounded by fire. He drank up the water from many rivers to put the fire out and finally brought the elixir back to the demons. Vishnu is said to have chosen him as his vehicle because Garuda was able to resist drinking the elixir himself.
J. Fisher, The folk art of Bali: the narr (Oxford University Press, 1998)
F. and M. Eiseman, Woodcarvings of Bali (Berkeley, Calif., Periplus Editions, 1988)
U. Ramseyer, The art and culture of Bali (Oxford University Press, 1977)