Karura And Garuda Tattoos
Imagery from the Eastern world has often been the inspiration for art in the Western World, especially when it comes to tattoos.
While it’s easy to be drawn in by the ethereal creatures you might find in Japan, China, India, Thailand or Indonesia- it’s important to note that many of these characters have divine meaning in the daily lives of Buddhists, Shintoists, and Hindus.
One popular tattoo that can be done in many styles thanks to its many origin stories is a Karura, or Garuda tattoo.
This is a striking choice to be sure, but you should research a divine creature before striking an alliance with them!
Firstly, the tattoo will have so much more meaning when you understand it.
Secondly, after researching the Karura, you may realize this is not the image for you.
And lastly, some cultures find certain images as tattoos offensive.
If you’re a world traveler, or like to show off your tattoos in public, this is something you may want to look into.
Who is Garuda in Hinduism?
Karura is perhaps more well known as Garuda- an animal deity in Hindu mythology.
Garuda is one of 3 animal deities, and you’ve probably heard of the other two.
Garuda is in good company with Ganesha- the elephant headed being, and Hanuman- the monkey god.
Garuda is a bird man with expansive golden wings.
It is said that Garuda hatched from a giant egg that may have burned the entire world to a crisp when it hatched, but Garuda was merciful.
He put the fire out, and shrunk himself down to a less intimidating size.
This is a good example of the duality of Garuda.
To put things in modern terms, Garuda is “chaotic good.”
Garuda is the enemy of evil, but is a fierce warrior and relentless in battle.
Basically, you wouldn’t want to get on Garuda’s bad side.
Garuda has a particular rivalry with snakes.
His enormous wings allow him to fly at amazing speeds.
Depending on the legend in question, Garuda’s wings may grow or shrink in size.
In some stories they are miles long, in others they are large enough to block out the sun.
Because of his ferocity and benevolent nature, Garuda was chosen to be the vehicle for Lord Vishnu- a central god in Hinduism.
Who is Karura in Japanese Mythology?
Karura made his way over to Japan through China, and is now a figure in Japanese Buddhism.
The name change has simple origins- it comes from the way Japanese people would pronounce Garuda.
You may also see Karura referred to as konjichō, which translates to golden winged bird.
Karura is not so much one divine being, but a species of demi-gods.
Karura breaths fire and lives on a steady diet of dragons and venomous snakes.
There are not many differences between the Karura and Garuda.
Karura, for example, are slightly more human like and less bird like than Garuda.
But as time has gone on, depictions of Garuda have become slightly more human, so the two adjacent creatures have evolved together.
Similarly to Garuda, Karura are also said to be enormous in size.
The flap of a Karura’s wings sounds like thunder, and can create gusts of wind strong enough to dry up lakes and knock over houses.
They can cast entire cities into darkness with their giant wings.
Don’t worry though, the Karura don’t really spend much time on earth.
They inhabit the heaven-like realm known as Tendō on a mountain called Shumisen (Mount Meru in English).
What does Garuda and Karura Symbolize?
The Karura and Garuda have a natural rivalry and aversion to serpents, known as Naga. (to read more about Naga, go to Naga tattoo!)
Though serpents have their own divine symbolism- they are a representation of death and darkness.
Conversely, Garuda and Karura soar through the sky with golden wings, making these mystical creatures a natural image of birth and life.
Within Buddhism, there are four main virtues.
These are known as the four dignities, and are represented by animals.
There is a dragon representing power, the snow leopard representing fearlessness, the tiger representing confidence, and finally our friend Garuda/Karura representing wisdom.
The Garuda is a symbol of wisdom because of his “bird’s eye view” on the world.
If you are to look at a situation objectively from a distance, the answer will usually come to you.
Garuda is also the national symbol of Thailand and Indonesia.
Garuda imagery is often associated with the military, due to the figure’s violent but benevolent nature.
Common Themes in Garuda and Karura Tattoos
Because Karura is a Japanese Buddhist figure and Garuda is a Hindu figure, you may see them represented with different art styles in tattoos.
Depending on your own spirituality, this may sway you in one direction or another.
Garuda Tattoo Imagery
Garuda is described in Hindu tradition as a man with golden skin and large red wings that glimmer in the sun.
He has golden scales all down his legs, and eagle like talons for feet.
In some countries he is depicted as more human, in others he has a bird’s head and beak.
Karura Tattoo Imagery
In Japanese Buddhist imagery, the same colors are present, but reversed.
In this tradition, Karura has red skin with red and gold feathers.
He is more human in appearance and will often be surrounded by fire or breathing fire.
There is so much to consider when deciding on your Garuda or Karura tattoo.
Which discipline will you draw your inspiration from, and what meaning does it have to you?
In most Asian countries, these tattoos are thought of as a sign of respect and protection.
However if someone is older or more conservative, they may see a tattoo of a divine symbol as flippant and disrespectful.
If you aren’t sure if this tattoo is right for you, or don’t think you could ever understand enough about these ancient religions to comfortably get one- search your own lineage!
You may find a fierce protector in your family’s traditions.
If you’ve chosen this spectacular winged figure and know it’s the right decision, then go for it!