The Khmer civilization, today embodied by the temples and ruins of Angkor, one of mankind's most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements, flourished from 802-1431 A.D. From the great citadel of Angkor, the kings of the Khmer empire ruled over a vast domain that reached from what is now southern Vietnam to Yunan, China and from Vietnam westward to the Bay of Bengal. The original city was built around the Phnom Bakeng, a temple on a hill symbolizing the mountain that stands in the center of the world according to Hindu cosmology. Successive kings enlarged the city, building other temples devoted to various Hindu deities and large reservoirs used for irrigation, which also symbolized the ocean surrounding the holy central mountain.
This masterful pair of bronze finials depicts the mythological composite creature Garuda, the divine bird with a human body that was the mount of Vishnu. Here, Garuda is depicted with one prominent central head and three smaller flanking heads. An impressive feathered crown radiates from the beaked visage. As well, the back and arched shaft are decorated with incised stylized feather patterns. This finial pair would have fit over the tips of a wooden pole. However, whether these works would have been placed over a chariot shaft or decorated the carrying pole of a palanquin is questionable. It may even be possible that this pair served as furniture decorations. Clearly though, the intricacy of the detailed modeling suggest that, whatever their function, this pair served within the realm of the sacred. Remarkably, traces of gilding have survived the ravages of time, revealing that these works, as luxurious as they may be, were once covered in gold. We can picture the King being carried in a veiled palanquin, lofted high upon the shoulders of his servants. The tips of the pole would be decorated with this gorgeous pair of sculptures. Garuda, the mount of Vishnu, would thereby be associated with the palanquin and the King, with the god himself.