Saturday, 16 February 2019

Chavara Parukutty Amma, a pioneering female artiste in a male-dominated Kathakali dance form, Kerala

Kathakali artiste Chavara Parukutty Amma, New Indian Express
Chavara Parukutty was a Kathakali artiste of great repute and her passing away recently in Kollam at  the age of 76 due to age-related health problems had  left a void in the world of theater and art  and dance form of Kerala.  None can forget her outstanding  and impressive female presence in kathakali in the last 50 years. She was  one of the pioneering women in Kerala in art form, where  the tradition has been that the popular dance form -Kathakali  is conventionally dominated by males who also don the roles of females in the puranic episodes drawn from the great epics of Mahabharata, the  Ramayana and others.  
Kathakali, Parukutty playing mother. Onmanorama - Manorama Online

Parukutty Amma, Kathakali artiste. Niyogi Books
 Born to N Shankaran Achary and Naniyamma, of Chekkattu Kizhakkethil, on February 12, 1943,  as the youngest child, she had to struggle right from the beginning to move upward in her chosen field. Being a courageous woman with burning passion, Parukutty became a kathakali artist  at a time when women were reluctant to join the art genre because it was  a male-dominated domain. She took training in  kathakali when she had begun attending pre-university at SN Women's College and later for BA Economics at Fatima Matha National College. Her mentor was  Mathupilakattu Gopala Panicker and her Guru's holistic training gave her a good foundation in this field.  She gave her debut performance at the Devi temple of Kottankulanagara at the tender age of 14. Her additional training under maestro  Mankulam Vishnu Namboodri  stood her in good stead and gave her the needed confidence  and ability to play any female roles from the Puranas. Besides holistic approach, the tricky techniques imparted by her Guru gave her  more trust to play out any female role. Yet another challenge was to perform the whole night as the only female artiste far away from home and  she had to be content with minimum facilities meant for women.
Chavara Parukutty Amma, Onmanorama - Malayala Manorama
In the last 50 years She had not only played the roles of important women characters but also made an indelible mark in Kathakali by dint of hard work and sincere dedication. Through her impressive improvisation, innate skills and subtle dance movements, she won the audience including numerous critics.  That she was a successful artiste in a male-dominated world of Kathakali  proves how best she sustained her talents to remain visible to the  sensitive audience and how much hard work she would have put in to become successful in this field. By her  dedicated participation she added  aesthetic beauty and dignity  to this native art form  of Kerala.  

Kathakali artiste Chavara Parukutty. Onmanorama - Manorama Online
Parukutty played a variety of roles taken from the Hindu mythology. It is mentioned that she had donned most costumes in kathakali, except the red beard (chuvanna thadi). The one that is close to her heart was that of  Kacha Devayani, her most favorite character. She won the heart of  good-looking katcha who descended from the heaven to study under her father. Fallen in love with him at the very first sight,  her enthusiasm for him was full to the brim and her enticements and facial expressions  that changed from aversion to affection toward Katcha would make the audience spell-binding, a difficult act in which she was an adept.  Her role as Kunti, mother of Pandavas in the Mahabharatta was  equally a  challenging one, particularly when she tried hard to win over her son Karna to the side of Pandavas. It would be packed with emotions and anxiety at the very thought that Karna would draw swords against her own sons in the great  Kurushetra war.

She was also an expert in the role of Malathi  in NIzhalkoothu and it was  is a difficult role showing abundant affection for her husband  and son initially. Then she turned into a monster and tore her own son into two halves as a punishment for her sorcerer husband who would rather save his own life than the lives of Pandavas.

When performing with veterans and others in kathakali, never had she failed to draw the attention of her rasikas throughout her performing career. The special talent about Parukutty is her improvisations and imaginative gestures  that always fell within the limit of grammar of that art form.  Parukutty's maiden performance was that of  Lalittha  which  normally any female artiste  would  prefer to play.  A charming and bewitching woman, a boothakana (a female demon) who was sent by king Kamsa to kill infant Krishna who would kill him if he grew up to be a man. 

 In the later years, Parukutty  played several female roles such as Urvasi, Panchali, Damayanthi, Chitalekha, etc and each one of them is a memorable performance with a perfusion of various emotions ranging from joy to sorrow, and ecstasy to aversion.  No body can question her versatility when she stands before the stage and transforms herself into that  given character. 

 She was conferred Kalamandalam award for excellence in acting besides Mathrubhoomi Grihalakshmi award, she received many awards for her contribution to  kathakali. It is a fact that kathakali is not women's forte, but Chavara Parukutty Amma, who is survived by only daughter, a well known dancer,  impressed on the young prospective  girls that '' if you have  will power, passion and determination backed by hard work  you can compete with men in  any field and made a lasting mark on it. All you need is patience and the ability to face criticisms with a positive mind''. Chavara Parukutty approached certain difficult characters  with stark contrast  to unveil the subtleties of Kathakali she had grasped in a career spanning more than 60 years.

Srivanchinathar temple, Srivanchiyam, TN where Lord Shiva's vahana (mount) is ''Yama'', the god of death!!

Though there are  thousands of  Hindu temples  across India dedicated to many gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, there is none whatsoever  for the god of death, Yama.  Here at Srivanchisvara Swamy temple, Srivanchiam, TN Yama is honored with a separate shrine and  and puja is done to him on a regular basis.  Brahmandam, Skandam, Samboban and Agneya Puranas speak, at length, of the sanctity of this temple. 

The Sri Vanchinadha Swamy temple  in Srivanchiyam village, Thiruvarur distrct of Tamil Nadu is  a popular Hindu temple on the banks of the river Cauvery dedicated to Lord Shiva who goes by the name of Sri Vanchinatha Swany or Vanchinathar. It is about 6 km from the small town Nannilam off Nachiyarkovil-Nagapatnam Highway.  Here, his consort is Mangalanayaki. Built by the famous Chola ruler king  Rajendra Chola in the year 850 CE, this 1100 year old temple has a unique mount/vahana for the lord. It is that of Demgod Yama  who is in charge of death and justice and he has a separate shrine/sannidhi  here. The main tower -gopuram is 110 feet tall.
Sri Vanchinadha Swamy temple  in Srivanchiyam, Tiruvarur distt. TN.  ePuja

The tradition of this temple has been that devotees visit the main temple  after  taking  a bath in Gupta Thertham and then worshipping  God Yama first, a deviation from the standard tradition whereby devotees worship God Ganapathi first.  The main features of this temple  are  the presence of two stone carved  nandis (bulls), one after the other  on the east side and one on the west  before the sanctum and lord's vahana is not the bull, but it is Yama Dharma Raja. The temple therthams are Yama theertham and Gupta Ganga Theertha.

Yama as vahana, Srivanchiyam, Tamil Nadu. Dinamalar Temple
 Devotees, in large numbers, visit this temple  and conduct Pithru Tarpanam  to secure salvation for their forefathers (pithrus). It is believed that people who die in Srivanchiyam get the blessings of God Shiva and get Moksha (salvation); they get eternal bliss under the shadow of the lord. They won't be haunted by birth and death cycles. As death is sacred here, visiting this  temple is as good as visiting  Sri Viswanath temple of Kasi (Varanasi). It is a common practice among the Hindu temples  to close the temple when a dead body is carried past the temple, but here, the temple is wide open. Besides, on the day of solar or  lunar eclipse, the temple is open, yet another deviation from the common tradition of other Hindu temples.
 Thirthavari Utsavam - the purani episode of God Vanchisvara Swami appearing before demi God of death Yama -in Kirthaatha kundam  on Tamil  month of Masi -Bharani accepting Yama's fervent desire to be the lord's mount/vahana - is a great event at this temple celebrated with dedication  and intense devotion. This annual event is played out at Gandharranya Kshetram (a place full of sandalwood trees) as part of Masi Mahaotsavam which took place recently. The God's procession with Yama as his Vahana is taken around the temple - all through the four Mada streets. In no other place will you  see God Yama acting as the mount of God Shiva, the cosmic dancer.

Yama, once caused the untimely death of sage Markandaya over which many celestial and sages got angry as God Yama did injustice to Markandaya. Depressed as he was, God Yama wanted to get himself absolved of his sin by making amends. So, Yama came to Srivanchiyam created ''Yama Kundam'' and began to meditate on God Shiva.  Pleaed with his gesture, lord appeared on  Masi Bharani and granted him the honor of being his Vahana.  Every year on the second day of  Masi Mahotsavam, Vanchinatha Sway, with his vahana, Yama is taken in a procession around the Mada streets.

Yet another interesting but rare feature of this temple is both Raghu and Ketu are carved out  in one composite sculpture and like the Ragu's stone image at Sri Thirunageswaram temple near Kumbakonam,  here the stone also turns blue when milk is poured on it as part of puja.  Shiva is in the form of swayambu linga - self-manifested and is the oldest among the 64 in the world. There is no Navagraha shrine in this temple but for Saneeswara (saturn) who is housed in a niche  A visit to Srivanchiyam will be complete without a darshan of Kalyana Varadaraja Perumal with Sridevi and Bhudevi in the temple, north of Vanchinathar temple.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Historical St. Catherine's Chapel, old Goa, one of the earliest Catholic Chapels in India

St. Catherine's Chapel located in  Old Goa was the  first ever Christian ecclesiastical structure  built in Goa. The size of the chapel may be small, but visitors  may not come out of this oldest chapel without being   impressed by its elegance and grandeur.
The Chapel of St. Catherine, Goa. Sree is travelling

The Chapel of St. Catherine, Goa. Alamy
It was the Portuguese 'governador' Afonso de Albuquerque who had built  it originally in 1510 and dedicated it  to St. Catherine  as an honor because  it was on her feast day (November 25, 1510) he came out victorious in his battle against the local Muslim ruler Adhil Shah of Bijapur Sulnanate  and recaptured  Goa from him.  During the hey day of Adil Shah, there stood a mosque from where Afonso de Albuquerque and his army  entered the city. The mosque is gone now  and there are remnants of the old fort of Adil Shah  just across the Chapel in old Goa.  Albuquerque had the mosque  demolished  on November 25, 1510  and in that place built a modest Chapel  with mud, palm leaves, etc to serve the Christian community there temporarily.
Afonso de Albuquerque as governor of Goa,
Above image:   Afonso de Albuquerque, Duke of Goa ; c. 1453 – 16 December 1515)  was a Portuguese general, a "great conqueror", a statesman, and an empire builder. On 10 September 1512, Afonso sailed from Cochin to Goa with fourteen ships carrying 1,700 soldiers. Determined to recapture the fortress and Goa, he ordered trenches dug and a wall breached.  It was again a  victorious war with perfect timing as the senior  Muslim ruler was sick at that time. Under his dynamic command,  Goa came  under the control of the Portuguese  rule  and developed into  the most prosperous Portuguese settlement in India. He vastly improved the quality of life for the colonists and expanded the trade activities.... ...............

Governor George Cabral  expanded it in 1550 and later  in 1952 rebuilt it with laterite blocks with lime mortar. It was 
partially plastered with lime. and the fusion of white  lime and the brown color  of  the laterite   adds extra beauty to this Chapel. It is perhaps the second or the third oldest Christian structures in entire Asia then. With a plain interior and one altar, it has a tower on either side of the facade.  The Chapel has rectangular window panes of the Old Portuguese style dressed in mica shells. Close to it stands  'The Church of St. Francis of Asisi' . Though the Chapel is not functional now,  from historical perspective, its significance goes back to the  early years of  the Portuguese rule in the Indian subcontinent. Gov. George Cabral,  installed   an inscribed slab in Portuguese meaning: "Here on this spot and by door entered the Governor Afonso de Albuquerque reconquered this city from the Moors (Sultan  Adil Shah) on the day dedicated to St. Catherine in the year 1510 in whose honor and memory the Governor Jorge Cabral raised this house in the year 1550."
Photo gallery of Chapel of St Catherine, ,
:Chapel of St. Catherine in Old GoaWikimedia Commons
 It was  from  here the central governing  body of the  Catholic authorities controlled the religious activities in the Portuguese colonies in the East Indies. You may say that Goa was the major Catholic seat of power east of the Suez.  In the 18th century, there were  as many as sixty churches and, of them,  only seven have survived, the rest fell into ruin. In the later period, their power diminished as the the British became a major colonial power in India. 
Ali Adil Shah of Bijapur.Alamy
 Above image:  The Adil Shahi or Adilshahi was a Shia Muslim ruler. The Adil Shah  dynasty, founded by Yusuf Adil Shah  ruled the Sultanate of Bijapur, present day  Bijapur district, Karnataka in India from 1489 to 1686...........

The old Chapel is being visited by lots of tourists.and  is the legacy of early catholic history in India  and also  the beginning of Portuguese rule in the entire region of  Goa.Well-connected by train and road, old Goa is a major tourist destination for the foreigners because there are countless beaches in this small state. Panaji, the capital of the state is close-by and has nice lodges for accommodation.

Sri Sankaranarayana temple in Sankarankovil, Tamil Nadu - a temple of great antiquity

Sankaranarayanar koil, Sankarankoil,
Sri Sankaranarayana temple in Sankarankovil, Titunrlveli district is a  large Hindu temple  and the presiding deity is Sankaranarayana -half Vishnu and half Shiva.  Once upon a time, the ignorant devotees of Lord Hari (or Vishnu) and Lord Shiva, not knowing both gods are one, had a heated debate on  as to who was more powerful than the other. The discussion continued unabated  and this confused other devotees who worshiped both gods. With no recourse available, both Gods Shiva and Vishnu  appeared as Sankaranarayanar to  tear off their veil of  ignorance and idiocy and to impress on them that both Hari and Shiva are one and the same. The question of superiority or inferiority does not exist among the Gods and goddesses and only the narrow-minded humans draw a line between the Gods.
Sankaranarayanar koil, Sankarankoisankarankovil
This temple was built in the 11th century AD by king Ukkira Pandiyan who ruled over Ukkirankottai. The legend has it  once Punnai forest was taken care of  by one  "Manikkeerivan", a Devan (celestial) who was cursed by Goddess Parvathi, consort of Shiva to tend the forest here. 

One day while he was clearing the bushes, etc he saw a snake in  a pit with its tail cut. Besides he also saw a  Sivalingam close to the snake. Suspecting divinity in that place, Manikkeerivan informed about this to king Ukkira Pandiyan who happened to pass through the forest. The ruler  also suspected divinity in that place and made a decision to have a temple  built in that area with a temple tank, halls (mandapams), etc. 
Sankaranarayanar koil, Sankarankoil sankarankovil
The huge entrance tower (Rajagopuram)  with  9 tiers  was built by  Seevalaramapandian in the 12 th Century.  He also built the front mantapam. There is a separate shrine for Vinayaka who is referred to as  Anugnai Vinayaka. The deities of this temple are Sri Sankareswarar, Sri Gomathi Amman and Sri Sankara Narayanar. It is said it was Uma Devi who requested lord Shiva to prove the people that both Shiva and Vishnu are actually one god.
God Shankaralingam  Sankaranar kovil. Dinamalar Temple
The ant-hill ( in local parlance ''puttumann'' ) soil, found in the Amman shrine,  is believed to have medicinal properties and is offered as Prasad to the devotees.  People who consume it with water  report improvements in their ailment.  Devotees in this temple offer  silver pieces embossed with the images of such creatures s snakes, scorpion, etc to ward off their problems. It may be superstitious, but people do find relief.

The snake pit (Ant Hill) is called "Vanmeekam" (Tamil:). Hence the deity Sri Sankaralingar is also called "Vanmeeganadhar"
The Nithya Annadhanam is being conducted in the temple  to feed around  100 devotees. Navarathri, Thiruvenpavai and Shivaratri are major festivals here.  Sankarankoil is  30 km from Rajapalayam and 56 km from Tirunelveli. Bus and rail facilities are available from Madurai.Lord

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

New building construction close to the heritage site Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple, Tamil Nadu invites court intervention!!

When we think of the iconic monuments in India, images of the Taj Mahal, Ajanta Caves, The Great Stupa at Sanchi and the Sun Temple of Konark, among others, flash across our  mind. But there are thousands of amazing historical treasures and heritage sites  lying across our country and each one of them is a treasure of historical value and grandeur. Among them, the Hindu temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Tamil Nadu is  an amazing heritage site and recently it drew the attention of the media people over the illegal construction work going on near this site.

11th century AD, Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple, Tamil Nadu

Above image:  Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva , Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu was built by Rajendra Chola in 1035 AD It was  a part of his new capital, this Chola dynasty and this temple  is similar in design and style to the older 11th century, Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur about  about 70 km (43 mi)  from here.  Though  smaller in size, it is more refined than the Thanjavur Temple. Both these Chola temples are among the largest temples in South India and examples of Dravidian style temples.

The main temple dedicated to Shiva is based on a square plan and a distinctive feature here is the  reverential display of other Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Durga, Surya, Harihara, Ardhanarishvara, and others in the Hindu Pantheon. The sanctum/garbagriha and the other parts of this temple follow  an east-west axis just like the big temple at Thanjavur. The temple is well-known for  its  beautiful bronze sculptures, artwork on its walls, the depiction of Nandi and the scale of its tower. The temple being active, there four puja rituals are done daily.
Shivarathri during the Tamil month of Masi (February–March) and  Thiruvadirai during Margazhi (December–January) are  major festivals here. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2004, along with the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur and Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram near the temple city of Kumbakonam. They are collectively  referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples. ....................................
Shiva's bull -nandi 11th century AD, Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple, TN
As per provisions in the  Ancient Monument and Archeological  Sites and Remains (AMASR) section 2, act 1858 construction of any structure within the specified space around  the monument is illegal and will invite court action. The construction of a multi-story building complex within the protected area (in this case 100 meters from the outer boundary of the monument) from the famous Brihadeehvara temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Ariyalur district is a shocking news to the historians and monument lovers. The foundation for the structure fall roughly 77 meter away from   a UNESCO world heritage monument that is being visited by people in thousands daily. The  wanton and illegal structure, if completed, will obstruct the view of the temple, heritage conservationists say. Section 19 of the act provides powers to the central government to remove such illegal and unauthorized structure if it violates such provision. The main features of the new amendment act of 2010 are the creation of a “prohibited area” 100 meters around every national monument where no construction, public or private is permitted, “regulated area” 200 meters beyond the prohibited area, where any construction requires permission of a newly constituted National Monuments Authority. 

Quite shocked and irked, a group of conservationists and heritage lovers wrote a memorandum to the District Collector, Chief, ASI, Chennai Circle  and also to the Conservation Assistant, ASI, Thanjavur Sub Circle, seeing their immediate  intervention and action on the proposed illegal construction. Besides, the group also approached the police and the state government Revenue officials for their intervention in this  serious matter. A local resident took so much pain and filed a PIL (public Interest Litigation) in the Madras High Court to take up the case shortly. In the follow-up, the ASI office, Thanjavur Sub Circle had sent a notice to the person who  is constructing the structure. Media reports claim, the builder has a plan to construct a multi-story hotel for the visiting tourists that include many foreigners and researchers. 

There are countless bad apples in our country in the form of real-estate developers whose eyes are ever glued on profit-making  in construction business, no matter  where the  sites are located.  Encroachments and illegal construction close to the monuments are happening, particularly in urban and semi urban areas across the country on a large-scale. The crux of the matter is, the builders violate the building acts with impunity. Part of the reason is the penal provisions in the AMASR Act for endangering ancient monuments  are  not stringent enough to provide effective deterrence. Further, no immediate action is forth coming from the authorities if the are violations near the heritage sites. Consequently, due to  the increased pressure of habitation, especially in urban areas, protected monuments and sites are  getting hemmed in from all sides. The end result is it affects their safety, security and aesthetics. In some cases, it causes structural damages. The most unsavory result is the beauty of such monuments  is obstructed.  The AMASR Act was substantially amended in 2010 to strengthen several of its provisions
to safeguard the monuments. 
 Ref: The Hindu dated 12th February, 2019:  ''Conservationists oppose new building  in the temple's vicinity''.

''Parakkum Kavadi'' a self-torture Hindu ritual not relevant to modern time

Parakkum or Paravai Kavadi
Parakkum Kavdi, Tamil Nadu. Maalaimalar
As to the right definition of religion,  there is no convincing consensus among researchers over what constitutes a religion. Religion is  defined as a cultural system of designated tenets, credo. practices, morals, holy texts, sanctified places of worship, prophecies, ethics, and  organizations. It links  humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. relevant to a disciplined living. However. such practices vary from country to country and state to state within India, depending on the conviction and  cultural fabric of the native communities. 

For any religion, certain simple tradition-bound rituals and practices are important as they promote self-confidence, peace of mind and trust in what one does.  Such spiritual exaltation is essential for people who are leading a stressful life in this competitive world. Hence, chanting of mantras and pujas play a pivotal role in all places of  Hindu worship and have positive elements.   Swami Bodananda, the spiritual head of Samboth Foundation based in New Delhi, is of the view "the mental make up to sacrifice and surrender everything to God is necessary''. It implies  a devotee must be ready to give anything to God. Equally important is the spirit with which it is done with dedication. 

Temple rituals involving self-torture as it is common during Thaipoosam festive days in Tamil Nadu  and elsewhere continues unabated even today in this modern world and many reformers believe  that they need to be done away with gradually over a period of time as it does not have any positive elements.  There are so many ways and means to express our faith in God and it does not mean one should hurt oneself to prove his devotion to God. Justice N. Seshasayee of Madurai Bench of the High Court, Tamil Nadu, responding to  a petition challenging rejecting the usage of cranes in the 
Garudan Thookum, Kerala. WikiVividly
 Above image: Garudan Thookkam (Eagle Hanging) is a ritual art form performed in certain Kali temples in some Central Kerala districts in south India. The people who dress up as Garuda perform the dance. After the dance performance, the hang-designate dangle from a shaft hooking the skin on his back. In some places, the ritual is performed colorfully with Garudas taken in a procession on bullock carts or boats or hand pulled carts.It is performed at Devi temple during the festival of Meena Bharani and Pathamudayam in Thiruvanchoor in Kottayam district.................... 

Parakkum Kavadi procession,  observed that  ''temple authorities should  start thinking of giving up self-torturing faith based practices. After all no God is expecting from anybody to torture his own body for atonement.''  The ruling was made yesterday 11th February 2019. He also impressed on the temple authorities, ''What might have been relevant and consistent in ancient times need not necessarily  have contextual relevance”. He further reiterated,  ''The temple authorities and organizers of the function therefore should take the first step in this direction and bring about necessary awareness among those who perform Parakkum Kavadi to bring about a larger change".

 There are so many physical ways to achieve self-realization to control our mind and body as a way of meditating on God. Commenting on the self-torture Swami Bodananda Saraswati said, ''Rituals and offerings which hurt one's own self is not something the God wants," . Way back in May 2004 the Swamiji made a comment on the banned "thookam" ritual at the Puthenkavu Bhagavathy temple at Elavoor. This ritual is similar to Parakkum Kavadi of Tamil Nadu. Making reference to The Gita, the Swami said, "it hurts the Lord if one of his devotees is hurting himself''. Offerings are given to the Gods as an act of giving something that one loves to the loved ones, he says. "The origin of offerings for the Gods was sacred and beautiful, but human beings made them vile''.

Self-torture is not a healthy way of expressing ones Bhakti or devotion. Nor does it give peace of mind or show the path to salvation. On the contrary, the pain one goes through will negate one' s full focus on god without any intervention.

Monday, 4 February 2019

The Garuda of Bhagalpur, Bihar, India

Greater adjutant
It is quite strange that in  Bhagalpur District, Bihar, India the rare stork is called Garuda (hawk-like), a mythological bird  frequently mentioned in Vishuu Purana as the mount/vahana of God  Vishnu. Here is a brief note on Bhagalpur stork and Garuda,

Bhagalpur city of Bihar has the unique distinction of being the world's largest ''Rescue and Rehabilitation Area for Garuda'' which is according to Indian  mythology, is the vahana or carrier of the god Vishnu. The mythical Garuda is staging a comeback.  More than four years ago, it was an endangered bird listed under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. After continuous rehabilitation program, the birds, belonging to the stork family,  have staged a come back and started nesting and breeding in Bhagalpur district. Now their number has gone up to a comfortable level. In the recent past it has increased manifold -  over times  from 78 to over 500. It is said its world-wide population is just 1200-1300. Places they are found in are in  Cambodia and the other two are in  Assam and Bihar, India. In the former, the garuda population is about 150; in Assam it  is about 650, and in the Bhagalpur district (close to Kadwa Diyara or Naugachia) the garuda population is about 500.

The Garuda population plummeted to a low level in the late 2000s due to loss of nesting habitat and feeding sites primarily caused by drainage and pollution coupled with collection of eggs, hunting and lack of public interest.  The garuda birds were rarely spotted in Bihar during breeding period  after the loss of their habitat.  

The garuda, biologically known as greater adjutant Leptoptilos dubius, breeds during winter in colonies that may include other large waterbirds such as the spot-billed pelican.This huge stork has a naked pink head, a very thick yellow bill and a low-hanging neck pouch. The neck ruff is white. The bird looks like a vulture. Other than the pale grey edge on each wing, the rest of the greater adjutant's body is dark grey.  A Garuda bird measures 145–150 cm (about three feet) in length and four to five feet in height.

Kite is revered as Garuda in India
God Vishnu an his consort.
 Above images: Garuda may be shown as a kite (top) alone or
carrying Vishnu.. A painting by Raja Ravi Varma (bottom image) showing Garuda and Vishnu.....................................

The Garuda, a legendary bird or bird-like creature in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology, is  the vehicle /mount (vahana) of the Hindu god Vishnu, a Trinity God in charge of protection and sustaining life and Astasena in Buddhism, and the Yaksha of the Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha.   In Hinduism, it is a divine eagle-like sun bird and the king of birds. In Rigveda Garuda is described as celestial deva with wings, whereas the  Yajurveda text (Shatapatha Brahmana) mentions Garuda as the personification of courage.

Considered as  the king of birds, Garuda  is actually kite-like bird often shown in the mythology as  either in zoomorphic form (giant bird with partially open wings) or an anthropomorphic form (man with wings and some bird features). He is believed to be a powerful creature in the epics, whose wing flapping can stop the spinning of heaven, earth and hell.  It  is believed to be a protector with power  and agility to fly over to  anywhere. Ever watchful and swift in action  he is an enemy of the serpent, hence he is known  as Tarkshya and Vynateya. In the Puranas, Garuda is ever associated and inseparable from God Vishnu.  He is an integral part of  Vaishnavite mythology.
Garuda Vahana 9mouny0 in Delhi

It is quite interesting to note that Garuda is a part of state insignia in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. The Indonesian official coat of arms is focused on the Garuda and the national emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila. The Indian Air Force also uses the Garuda in their coat of arms and even named their special operations unit after it as Garud Commando Force.  In Thailand's Garuda  appears as  a more traditional anthropomorphic form, while in Indonesia  as a heraldic style with traits similar to the real Javan hawk-eagle.
Garuda as national symbol of
Garuda as national symbol of
The Hindu texts on The Garuda iconography  is quite interesting  and the details may vary.  In  the bird form, he almost resembles an eagle (sharp nose, beak or legs, his eyes wide open and big, his body the color of emerald, his golden-yellow wings spread widely as if he he is ready to take off in any direction. He is also depicted as having  either two or four hands. When he is carrying Vishu on him  he holds a pot of Amrita (nectar of immortality ) in one hand in the rear and an umbrella in the other, while the front pair of hands are  held in supplication in (anjali)  posture. His rear  rhands provide the support for Vishnu's feet. In some forms of  Garuda iconography,  he also carries  consorts  of God Vishnu (Lakshmi and Bhumi Devi  with the lord.
Garuda at Srivilliputur Temple, Tamil Nadu, India
There are countless temples in south India, where you can see various forms of Garuda iconography.  One of the earliest temple  is the Badami cave temple of Karnataka and it is  on the underside of the eave at Cave 3 entrance (6th-century).
Garuda in a Hindu temple in Tamil nadu. Tamilnadu Tourism
God Vishnu, the protector and preserver of  Dharma,  has made Garuda'an iconic symbol of king's duty and power, an insignia of royalty or dharma. His eagle-like form is shown either alone or with Vishnu, signifying divine approval of the power of the state. The early Hindu kingdom had minted coins with Graruda's face, showing either as a single headed bird or a three-headed bird that watches all sides, symbolic of guarding the kingdom.
In Thailand's Garuda  appears as  a more traditional anthropomorphic form, while in Indonesia  as a heraldic style with traits similar to the real Javan hawk-eagle.
In the Indian Air Fprce, Garuda Commando Force is a Special Forces unit specializing in operations deep behind enemy lines.
Brigade of the Guards of the Indian Army uses Garuda as their symbol. The mythology of Garuda cuts across many countries in SE Asia.