Garuda Wisnu Kencana is the tallest statue in Indonesia, the world’s tallest statue of a Hindu deity, and if you include its massive base, the fourth-tallest statue in the world. But it took a long, long time to seat Vishnu on his faithful bird.
Back in 1990, the Indonesian artist and sculptor Nyoman Nuarta came up with the design for a truly ambitious project: the construction of a gigantic statue of the Hindu deity Vishnu riding his eagle-like mount, Garuda, to be built in southern Bali. He quickly gained some influential backers, and by 1993 the president of Indonesia, General Suharto, was also on board.
Opposition by the local Balinese was ignored. Locals were against the statue, as they felt such a huge object would cause a spiritual imbalance. Primarily, they worried that all the profits from the statue would not benefit Bali at all, but end up in Jakarta.
Construction of the statue began in 1997. But financial crises and other setbacks resulted in years-long periods of limbo. It wasn’t until September 2018 that the finished statue was finally inaugurated, after a full 28 years from conception to completion and at a total cost of around $100 million.
Upon its inauguration, Garuda Wisnu Kencana became the tallest statue in Indonesia and the tallest statue of a Hindu god in the world. And if you include the huge base on which the statue stands, its total height of 397 feet (121 meters) ranks it as the fourth tallest statue in the world.
The statue alone is 246 feet (75 meters) tall, almost 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. It represents Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism, riding on the back of his faithful mount Garuda, a bird-like creature who promised to serve Vishnu after the god freed Garuda’s mother from slavery.
The entire structure was built from 754 modules, pieced together to form a gargantuan statue weighing more than 3,000 tons, with a steel frame covered in a copper and brass skin. On top of Vishnu’s head sits a 3.5-ton crown covered with gold-plated mosaics.
And apart from its impressive height, the statue is also remarkably wide compared to more standard up-down sculpted figures. Garuda has a wingspan of 210 feet (64 meters), which might well make Garuda Wisnu Kencana the largest statue in the world in terms of sheer bulk.
There were—and still are—concerns as to the use of the statue. Bali is, after all, famous on its own and attracts enough tourists without the statue. It is also unclear whether the huge cultural park surrounding the GWK serves any real purpose. However, it is at least an impressive sight in its own right. Some visitors find it more impressive than the statue itself. Though visible from much of Bali’s southern coast, the statue is usually shrouded in haze and its details are not discernible.