In researching the phoenix for my Prophecy 2007 presentation, I was struck by Newt Scamander’s (JKR’s) description of where the phoenix lives from Fantastic Beasts:
It nests on mountain peaks and is found in Egypt, India, and China. (p. 32)
Egypt I knew about; the Bennu from the Book of the Dead is the original mythological phoenix. China I expected to see, because I’ve read about the Feng-huang. But I was sure, before ever turning to Fantastic Beasts, that I’d find the location of the phoenix to be “Egypt, China, and Arabia.” After all, Greek mythology, which Rowling taps on at least one occasion (with Fluffy), claims that as the home of the phoenix.
So I had to go digging for the India reference, and what I found was fascinating. Garuda “is one of the three principal animal deities in the Hindu Mythology that has evolved after the Vedic Period in Indian history” (Sanyal). This Hindu version of the phoenix is attached to an intriguing story about its opposition to snakes. You see where I’m going with this. You can read the whole story here, but the significant details are these:
- Garuda must fly to a celestial mountain to retrieve ambrosia in order to release his mother from the captivity of snakes.
- On the way, Garuda passes three tests, one of which is a battle against two “fire-spitting” snakes in which he “flapped his wings rapidly and blew dust into the eyes of the monsters and blinded them.” You see the parallel to the battle with the basilisk in Chamber, of course.
- The serpents from which Garuda rescued his mother were the Nagas, Hindu symbols of evil and clearly the inspiration for Voldemort’s snake, Nagini.
Looks like I need to spend more time with Hindu mythology. The image above is a picture of Vishnu and Lakshmi riding Garuda, circa 1700. Click on it for a larger image.