The text revolves around Vishnu, as recited by Garuda. Above: Vishnu and Lakshmi on Garuda (Delhi National Museum).
The Garuda Purana is a Vaishnava Purana and has, according to the tradition, 19,000 shlokas (verses). However, the manuscripts that have survived into the modern era have preserved about eight thousand verses. These are divided into two parts, a Purva Khanda (early section) and an Uttara Khanda (later section). The Purva Khanda contains about 229 chapters, but in some versions of the text this section has between 240–243 chapters. The Uttara Khanda varies between 34 and 49 chapters. The Uttara Khanda is more often known as Pretakhanda or Pretakalpa.
The Garuda Purana was likely fashioned after the Agni Purana, the other major medieval India encyclopedia that has survived. The text's structure is idiosyncratic, in that it is a medley, and does not follow the theoretical structure expected in a historic Puranic genre of Indian literature. It is presented as information learned from Vishnu by Garuda (the man-bird vehicle of Vishnu), and then narrated by Garuda to sage Kashyapa, which then spread in the mythical forest of Naimisha reaching sage Vyasa.