The story of Garuda
Posted by Fredsvenn on October 3, 2015
The brahminy kite (left) is considered as the contemporary representation of Garuda. Garuda may be also identified with an eagle. Vishnu riding Garuda, depicted as a complete bird in this painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
The Garuda is a large bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Garuda is the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu. Garuda is the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila. The brahminy kite and phoenix are considered to be the contemporary representations of Garuda.
In India, Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia the eagle symbolism is represented by Garuda, a large mythical bird with eagle-like features that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology as the vahana (vehicle) of the god Vishnu.
Garuda became the national emblem of Thailand and Indonesia; Thailand’s Garuda is rendered in a more traditional anthropomorphic mythical style, while that of Indonesia is rendered in heraldic style with traits similar to the real Javan hawk-eagle.
The story of Garuda’s birth and deeds is told in the first book of the great epic Mahabharata. According to the epic, when Garuda first burst forth from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno equal to the cosmic conflagration that consumes the world at the end of every age. Frightened, the gods begged him for mercy. Garuda, hearing their plea, reduced himself in size and energy.
Garuda’s father was the creator-rishi Kasyapa. He had two wives, Vinata and Kadru, who were daughters of Prajapathi Daksha. Kasyapa, on the pleadings of his wives, granted them their wishes; Vinata wished for two sons and Kadru wished for thousand snakes as her sons.
Both laid eggs, while the thousand eggs of Kadru hatched early (after steaming the eggs to hatch) into snakes, the hatching of two eggs of Vinata did not take place for a long time.
Impatient, Vinata broke open one egg, which was half formed with the upper half only as a human and was thus deformed. Her half formed son cursed her that she would be slave for her sister (she was her rival) for a long time by which time her second son would be born who would save her from his curse; her first son who flew away and came to prominence as Aruna, the red spectacle seen as the Sun rises in the morning, and as also charioteer of the Sun.
The second egg hatched after a long time during which period Vinata was the servant of her sister as she had lost a bet with her. When the second egg hatched, a fully grown, shining and of mighty sized bird form emerged as Garuda, the king of birds. Garuda was thus born.
One day, Vinata entered into and lost a foolish bet, as a result of which she became enslaved to her sister. Resolving to release his mother from this state of bondage, Garuda approached the serpents and asked them what it would take to purchase her freedom.
Their reply was that Garuda would have to bring them the elixir of immortality, also called amrita. It was a tall order. The amrita at that time found itself in the possession of the gods, who guarded it zealously, since it was the source of their immortality. They had ringed the elixir with a massive fire that covered the sky. They had blocked the way to the elixir with a fierce mechanical contraption of sharp rotating blades. And finally, they had stationed two gigantic poisonous snakes next to the elixir as deadly guardians.
Undaunted, Garuda hastened toward the abode of the gods intent on robbing them of their treasure. Knowing of his design, the gods met him in full battle-array. Garuda, however, defeated the entire host and scattered them in all directions.
Taking the water of many rivers into his mouth, he extinguished the protective fire the gods had thrown up. Reducing his size, he crept past the rotating blades of their murderous machine. And finally, he mangled the two gigantic serpents they had posted as guards.
Taking the elixir into his mouth without swallowing it, he launched again into the air and headed toward the eagerly waiting serpents. En route, he encountered Vishnu. Rather than fight, the two exchanged promises. Vishnu promised Garuda the gift of immortality even without drinking from the elixir, and Garuda promised to become Vishnu’s mount.
Flying onward, he met Indra the god of the sky. Another exchange of promises occurred. Garuda promised that once he had delivered the elixir, thus fulfilling the request of the serpents, he would make it possible for Indra to regain possession of the elixir and to take it back to the gods. Indra in turn promised Garuda the serpents as food.
At long last, Garuda alighted in front of the waiting serpents. Placing the elixir on the grass, and thereby liberating his mother Vinata from her servitude, he urged the serpents to perform their religious ablutions before consuming it. As they hurried off to do so, Indra swooped in to make off with the elixir.
The serpents came back from their ablutions and saw the elixir gone but with small droplets of it on the grass. They tried to lick the droplets and thereby split their tongues in two. From then onwards, serpents have split tongues and shed their skin as a kind of immortality. From that day onward, Garuda was the ally of the gods and the trusty mount of Vishnu, as well as the implacable enemy of snakes, upon whom he preyed at every opportunity.
According to the Mahabharata, Garuda had six sons (Sumukha, Suvarna, Subala, Sunaama, Sunethra and Suvarchas) from who were descended the race of birds. The members of this race were of great might and without compassion, subsisting as they did on their relatives the snakes. Vishnu was their protector.