In the dense jungles of Cambodia hide the remains of an ancient and grand civilization. Inhabited by a people known as the Khmer, nowadays millions of tourists visit the temples at Angkor to get a glimpse of the majesty of this once proud city. Though most visitors focus on the beauty of the city’s towering temples, others are intrigued by the intricate stone carvings adorning the buildings. The inscriptions tell of everyday life, grand military conquests and perhaps most intriguing of all, strange mythological creatures. And the question is whether all the fantastic animals depicted at Angkor are purely myth, or some of them are based on real creatures that once lived.
The Khmer dwelled in Cambodia with its unique culture around 2000 years ago. The contact with Indian traders had a tremendous influence on this developing society, bringing agricultural, mathematical and literary knowledge to the coastal regions of Cambodia. They also filled their lives with Hindu beliefs, in particular the worship of Vishnu and Shiva.
Later Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to the Khmer, followed by Theravada Buddhism in the 13th century. Even a casual examination of the stone carvings at Angkor shows the importance that Hindu and Buddhist beliefs had to these ancient people.
Most creatures represented at Angkor come from Hindu mythology. The Garuda is one of the most unique of these, it is a creature comprised of the head, wings and talons of an eagle with the body of a man. It is one of the three principle animal deities in Hindu mythology. The Garuda is the king of the birds and enemy of the serpent.
The most impressive examples of the Garuda at Angkor can be found along the outside walls at Preah Khan. This site also contains many wonderful examples of giant trees fused with the natural stonework of the site.