Being found throughout government buildings, emblazoned on signage lining highways, airing at the end of television broadcasts, and sewn into sporting jerseys, one might encounter the widely-utilized Garuda Pancasila emblem anywhere in Indonesia. Designed by Sultan Hamid II from Pontiak, and implemented by then-president Sukarno, the Garuda Pancasila was adopted as the national symbol of Indonesia on 11 February 1950. The emblem depicts a Garuda, a heraldic shield on its chest bearing the five components of Pancasila (Indonesia's philosophical doctrine), and a scroll gripped by the claws of the Garuda inscribed with the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which is a stanza of the epic poem Sutasoma attributed to Empu Tantular, a 14th-century poet sage of the Javanese Majapahit Empire.
The poem explicated a doctrine of reconciliation between the Hindu and Buddhist faiths: meaning literally 'Although diverse, both truthful to Dharma — thus there exists no duality in Truth'. This spirit of religious acceptance was an essential element in the foundation and security of the newly emerging State of Majapahit and, thus, the fledgling Republic of Indonesia. The text was rediscovered by the Dutch scholar Jan Laurens Andries Brandes from among many lontar manuscripts looted from the Lombok palace in 1894. Today, the motto is translated to English simply as 'Unity in Diversity'.
The Garuda, a majestic chimera and legendary bird-like creature, is a symbol of might, power, and martial prowess. In the Mahabharata, one of two primary Sanskrit epics (the other being Ramayana), the field marshal uses a military formation named after Garuda and Krishna carries the image of Garuda on his banner. Appearing throughout Hindu and Buddhist mythology, the Garuda is often expressed in carvings and paintings as showing immense strength and fortitude of spirit. In Hinduism, the Garuda is used as the chosen vahana, or mount, of one of the principle deities, Lord Vishnu. In Buddhist cosmology, the ruler of the highest Earthly heaven enlists Garudas to guard Mount Meru, the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual centre of all the universes. Mount Semeru in Java is belived to be the 'Abode of the Gods' and the Meru towers positioned in the innermost sanctum of Balinese temples are often dedicated to the highest Gods of the Hindu pantheon. The Garuda is an icon and all Indonesians know, identify with, or relate to in some way as being part of their own cultural identity and its depiction on the national emblem is a source of great pride.
The total number of feathers on each wing total 17, the feathers on the tail total 8, the feathers at the base of the tail total 19, and the number of feathers on the neck total 45. Combined, the feathers of the Garuda correspond to the 17-08-1945, the date of the proclamation of Indonesian independence.
In its preamble, the 1945 constitution of Indonesia set forth the Pancasila as the basic principles of an independent Indonesian state. These five principles were announced by Sukarno in a speech known as 'The Birth of the Pancasila', which he gave to the Independence Preparatory Committee on June 1, 1945. In brief, and in the order given in the constitution, the Pancasila principles are: belief in one supreme God; humanitarianism; nationalism expressed in the unity of Indonesia; consultative democracy; and social justice. Sukarno's statement of the Pancasila, while simple in form, resulted from a complex and sophisticated appreciation of the ideological needs of the new nation. In contrast to Muslim nationalists who insisted on an Islamic identity for the new state, the framers of the Pancasila insisted on a culturally neutral identity, compatible with democratic or Marxist ideologies, and overarching the vast cultural differences of the diverse population. Like the national language - Bahasa Indonesia --which Sukarno also promoted, the Pancasila did not come from any particular ethnic group and was intended to define the basic values for a distinctly "Indonesian" political culture.
The shield is a martial symbol, standing for the defence of the country. The four quarters of the larger shield are red and white in background, the colours of the national flag, with a smaller, concentric shield, black in background, representing nature. A thick, black line lies horizontally across the shield, symbolising the equator which passes through the Indonesian archipelago.
The black shield bearing the golden star at center corresponds to the first Pancasila principle: 'Belief in One Supreme God'. Upon this shield at centre is a golden, five-pointed star. This is a symbol common not only among Indonesia's sanctioned religions of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, but of the secular idealogy of socialism as well. Supporters of Sukarno's legacy believe that this tenet was meant to unify Indonesia's diverse population, who have varied faiths and beliefs rather than to suggest compulsory religious belief and monotheism.
In the bottom right quarter, on a red background, is a chain made up of square and round links. This chain represents successive human generations, with the round links representing women and the square links representing men. The chain corresponds to the second principle of the Pancasila, the principle of a 'Just and Civilized Humanity'.
At the upper right quarter, on a white background, is the banyan tree. This symbol corresponds to the third Pancasila principle, the principle of 'The Unity of Indonesia'. The banyan is known for having expansive above-ground roots and branches. The Republic of Indonesia, as an ideal conceived by Sukarno and the Nationalists, is one country out of many far-flung cultural roots.
In the upper left quarter, on a red background, is the head of the banteng, a Javanese bull. This represents the fourth principle of Pancasila, the principle of 'Democracy that is Guided by the Inner Wisdom in the Unanimity Arising Out of Deliberations Amongst Representatives'. The banteng was chosen to symbolise democracy as Indonesians saw it as a social animal. The banteng was also adopted as a symbol of Sukarno's Nationalists.
In the lower left quarter, on a white background, are a gold-and-white rice stalk and cotton. There are 17 seeds of rice and 5 cotton buds. These represent the fifth Pancasila principle, the principle of 'Social Justice for the Entire People of Indonesia'. The rice and cotton represent sustenance and livelihood.
The Garuda Pancasila was designed to unify the country, to bring all of the islands together, and to establish a common set of principles that the whole country could identify with. Today, it is recognized as a symbol of pride.