Cor Hendriks – The Macaws (31): Garuda and The Quest for Amrita

How Garuda Brought the Nectar of Heaven to Earth (foto storytimeyoga)

The Macaws (31): Garuda and The Quest for Amrita

The Greek ambrosia has its counterpart in the Indian amrita, meaning also ‘immortal’. According to Dowson’s Dictionary of Hindu Mythology, it is ‘a god’, and it is ‘the water of life’. The term was already known to the Vedas, and seems to have been applied to various things offered in sacrifice, but more especially to the Soma juice. (It is also called Nir jara and Pīyūsha). In later times it was the water of life produced at the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, the legend of which is told with some variations in the Rāmāyana, the Mahā bhārata, and the Purānas. The gods, feeling their weakness, having been worsted by the demons, and being, according to one authority, under the ban of a holy sage, repaired to Vishnu, beseeching him for renewed vigor and the gift of immortality. He directed them to churn the ocean for the amrita and other precious things which had been lost [Dowson 1973, p. 12].

This amrita is also linked to an eagle, Garuda, a name nowadays well known as that of the Indonesian National Air Travel Company, based on the myth of this bird being the airplane of Vishnu. Dowson concludes his article on amrita with the remark ‘In after times, Vishnu’s bird Garuda is said to have stolen the amrita, but it was recovered by Indra’ [Dowson 1973, p. 14]. According to Vollmer, Garuddha is an great, eagle like bird, often portrayed with a human face, on whom Vishnu used to travel. He is himself a god, and has next to Vishnu’s temples always his own. He was able to gain the victory over Indra and to take from him the drink of immortality, the amrita, which he fed to the snakes, children of the black Diti, in order to stop them from pursuing him [Vollmer, p. 212]. He adds, that also a bird named Garuddha is part of Tibetan mythology; he is also the mount of Bisnae Taengri [= Vishnu Heaven]; as long as he don’t need the bird, it rests on the tree Pausengi, on which it brings whole herds of elephants, tigers and rhinoceroses as nurture for its young. An egg, falling out of the nest, flooded half the earth, and the shell built a half sphere over it, under which all cities and countries were buried in eternal darkness (Vollmer, 212f; 371: Pausengi, the enormous tree growing in the West-sea, on which the bird Garuddha nests). Conferatur (meaning ‘compare‘) Sindbad and the egg from the bird Rukh; also the conclusion of Aladdin’s tale.

The story of Garuda is told extensive in the first book (Adi Parva) of the Mahabharata, starting in section xvi and continuing to section xxxiv. Prajapati, the Creator, had two daughters, Kadru and Vinata, both beautiful, whom he married to Kasyapa, who (being a creator god like Prajapati) was so gratified, that he gave each of them a boon. Kadru wished to have as sons a thousand snakes all of equal splendor, and Vinata wished to bring forth two sons surpassing the thousand off springs of Kadru in strength, energy, size of body, and prowess. Both wishes were granted. ‘Bear the embryos carefully,’ said Kasyapa, and then he went into the forest. After a long time, Kadru brought forth a thousand eggs, and Vinata two. Their maid servants deposited the eggs separately in warm vessels. Five hundred years passed away, and the thousand eggs produced by Kadru burst and out came the progeny. Vinata became jealous, and therefore she broke one of the eggs and found in it an embryo with the upper part developed but the lower one undeveloped. The child was angry and cursed his mother: ‘Thou shall serve as a slave. Should thou wait five hundred years (…), then the illustrious child within the other egg will deliver thee from slavery!’ Thus cursing his mother, the child rose to the sky, and became the charioteer of Surya (the Sun), always seen in the hour of morning (= morning star).

The sisters saw a steed coming, named Uchchaisravas, that was arisen at the churning of the ocean for amrita, and they made a wager about the color of the horse: according to Vinata it was white, but Kadru asserts that the horse has black in its tail. They will check this the next day. And Kadru, bent on deception, ordered her thousand sons to change into black hair and cover the tail of the horse, but they refused and she cursed them. Eventually the Nagas decided to comply to the wish of their mother in order to be released from her curse, and they became hairs in the tail of the horse. And the two daughters of Daksha, Kadru and Vinata, went the next day along the sky to the other side of the ocean, that was mightily agitated and roaring tremendously. And then they both beheld that foremost of steeds of great speed, with body white as the rays of the moon but having black hairs in its tail. And so Kadru put Vinata, who was deeply dejected, into slavery.

The birth of Garuda is told twice: then at the expiration of the five hundred years, bursting open the other egg, out came Garuda, [already called] the serpent eater. Immediately on seeing the light, that son of Vinata left his mother and, feeling hungry, took wing in quest of the food assigned to him [already called ‘lord of birds’]. The second time Garuda burst forth from the egg without (help from his) mother, enkindling all the points of the universe. Effulgent like a heap of fire, he shone terribly. Of luster equal to that of the fire at the end of the Yuga, his eyes were bright like the lightning-flash. And soon after birth the bird grew in size and increasing his body ascended the skies. Fierce and vehemently roaring, he looked as terrible as second Ocean-fire. And all the deities seeing him, sought the protection of Vibhavasa (Agni). And they bowed down to that deity of manifold forms seated on his seat and spoke unto him these words: ‘O Agni, extend not thy body! Will thou consume us? Lo, this huge heap of thy flames is spreading wide!’ And Agni replied: ‘O, ye persecutors of the Asuras (demons), it is not as ye imagine! This is Garuda of great strength and equal to me in splendor, endued with great energy, and born to promote the joy of Vinata. Even the sight of this heap of effulgence hath caused this delusion in you. He is the mighty son of Kasyapa, the destroyer of the Nagas (snakes), engaged in the well being of the gods, and the foe of the Daityas and the Rakshas (other demons). Be not afraid of it in the least. Come with me and see.’ Thus addressed, the gods along with the Rishi (Teacher, here Agni) wended their way towards Garuda and adored him from a distance.

The gods said: ‘Thou are a Rishi (this is cognizant of all mantras, meaning the Veda formula’s), sharer of the largest portion in sacrifices, ever resplendent, the controller of birds, the presiding spirit of the animate and the inanimate universe. Thou are the destroyer of all, the creator of all; thou are the very Hiranyagarbha [= the Golden Egg]: thou are the progenitor of creation in the form of Daksha and the other Prajapatis; thou are Indra (the king of the gods), thou are Hayagriva [https://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-the-macaws-23-the-grateful-animal-manus-fish/], the steel necked incarnation of Vishnu; thou are the arrow (Vishnu himself, as he became such in the hands of Mahadeva [= Shiva] at the burning of Tripura); thou are the lord of the universe; thou are the mouth of Vishnu; thou are the four faced Padmaja; thou are the Brahmana (this is wise), thou are Agni, Pavana et cetera, (this is the presiding deities of every object in the universe). Thou are knowledge, thou are the illusion to which we are all subject: thou are the all pervading spirit; thou are the lord of the gods; thou are the great Truth; thou are fearless; thou are ever unchanged; thou are Brahma without attributes; thou are the energy of the Sun; thou are the intellectual functions; thou are our great protector; thou are the ocean of holiness,’ et cetera, et cetera. All these praises of the gods amount to the plea that Garuda will diminish his body resembling Agni. ‘At the sight of the splendor resembling that of Yama when in wrath, our hearts lose all equanimity and quake!’ And thus the bird of beautiful feathers reduced his own energy and splendor.

Then that bird capable of going everywhere at will, that ranger of the skies capable of calling to his aid any measure of energy, bearing Aruna [his brother] on his back, wended from his father’s home and arrived at his mother’s side on the other shore of the great ocean. And he placed Aruna of great splendor in the eastern regions, just at a time when Surya had resolved to burn the worlds with his fierce rays [compare Dowson 1973, p. 23f, Aruna, ‘Red, rosy’. The dawn, personified as the charioteer of the sun. This is of later origin as the Vedic Ushas [Greek Eos]. He is said to be the son of Kasyapa and Kadru [? Vinata!]. He is also called Rumratawny’, and by two epithets of which the meaning is not obvious, An uruthighless’, and Āşmanastony,’ Vollmer, p. 69 calls him Arun, the charioteer of the Sun. He came from an egg, with only the upper part fully developed, as son of Kasyapa and Aditi (here identified with Vinata; Kadru is Diti). He is sitting before Surya, the god of the Sun, and steers the seven green horses that pull the car, while spirits hover around and sing songs of praise. According to the Law book of Menu (= Manu), he is both the protection god of the morning and the evening twilight. His bed is the eastern ocean; and the play by Sakontala lets him dispel the shadows of the night, because the god with thousand beams has placed him before the chariot of the day [compare Milcham, et cetera] (Surya was angry because of the hostility the demon Rahu had towards him since his decapitation, when he tried to drink from the amrita).

So Garuda came to Vinata who lived in great affliction. Once Kadru ordered Vinata to bear her to an island in the midst of the ocean. And the mother of that bird took the mother of the snakes (on her shoulders), and Garuda, directed by his mother’s word, carried (on his back) the snakes. And he began to ascend towards the Sun, whereupon the snakes, scorched by the rays of the Sun, swooned away. Kadru, seeing her sons in that state, prayed to Indra, by his showers to be the protector of the snakes scorched by the Sun. And the King of Gods, Indra, having the best of horses for his bearer, covered the entire firmament with masses of blue clouds and commanded them to pour their vivifying and blessed drops. And they poured abundant water (it looked as if the end of Yuga had come). And upon Indra’s causing that down pour, the Nagas became exceedingly delighted. And the Earth was filled with water all around. And the cool, clear water reached even the nether regions. And there were countless watery waves [= tsunamis] all over the Earth. And the snakes with their mother reached (in safety) the island Ramaniaka.

Arrived on this wonderful island, the snakes began to enjoy themselves and they commanded the lord of birds to bring them to some other fair island. Garuda, after reflecting for a few moments, asked his mother Vinata, why he had to do the bidding of the snakes. And she told him about the wager she lost through deception, and Garuda asked the snakes how they could be freed from this state of bondage to them. And they said: ‘Bring thou amrita by force! Then, o Bird, shall you be freed from bondage.’

Garuda said to his mother ‘I shall go to bring amrita! I desire to eat something on the way. Direct me to it!’ Vinata replied ‘In a remote region in the midst of the ocean, the Nishadas [compare Dowson 1973, p.223: Nishāda. A mountain tribe dwelling in the Vindhya mountains, said to have been produced from the thigh of Veņa; the Bhīls or foresters, and barbarians in general. Any outcast, especially the offspring of a Brāhman father and Sūdra mother. ID, p. 224: Nishadha (1) A mythic range of mountains lying south of Meru, but sometimes described as on the east. It is north of the Himālaya. (2) The country of Nala, probably the Bhīl country. ID, p. 354: Veņa, son of Anga, was a descendant of Manu Swāyambhuva, who when he became king, proclaimed that he was ‘lord of offerings’. The sages remonstrated respectfully with him but in vain; they admonished him in stronger terms; but when nothing availed, they slew him with blades of consecrated grass. After his death the sages beheld clouds of dust, and on inquiry found that they arose from bands of men who had taken to plundering because the country was left without a king. As Veņa was childless, the sages, after consultation, rubbed the thigh (or, according to the Hari vanşa, the right arm) of the dead king to produce a son. From it there came forth ‘a man like a charred log, with flat face, and extremely short’. The sages told him to sit down (Nishīda). He did so, and thus became a Nishāda, from which ‘sprang the Nishādas dwelling in the Vindhya mountains, distinguished by their wicked deeds.’ The Brāhmans then rubbed the right hand of Veņa, and from it ‘sprang the majestic Pŗīthu, Veņa’s son, resplendent in body, glowing like the manifest Agni.’ The above is the story as told, with little variation, in the Mahā bhārata, the Vishnu and Bhāgavata Puraņas, and the Hari-vanşa. The Padma Purāņa says that Veņa began his reign well, but fell into the Jaina heresy. For this the sages pummeled him until the first of the Nishādas came forth from his thigh and Pŗīthu from his right arm. Being freed from sin by the birth of the Nishāda, Veņa retired to a hermitage on the Narmadā, where he engaged in penance. Vishnu was thus conciliated, and granted him the boon of becoming one with himself] have their fair home. Having eaten the thousands of Nishadas that live there, bring thou amrita! But never take the life of a Brahmana: he is like fire.’ He asked her how he could recognize such a Brahmana, and she told him that a Brahmana who having entered his throat would torture him as a fish hook or burn him as blazing charcoal. Then she blessed her son: ‘Let Marut (the god of the winds) protect thy wings, and Surya and Soma thy vertebral regions: let Agni protect thy wings, and the Vasus thy whole body!’ Then Garuda stretched his wings and ascended the skies. And endued with great strength, he soon fell upon the Nishadas, hungry and like another Yama. And bent upon slaying the Nishadas, he raised a great quantity of dust that overspread the firmament, and sucking up water from amid the ocean, shook the trees growing on the adjacent mountains. And then that lord of birds obstructed the principal thorough-fares of the town of the Nishadas by his mouth, increasing its cleft at will. And the Nishadas began to fly in great haste in the direction of the open mouth of the great serpent-eater. And as birds in great affliction ascend by thousands into the skies when the trees are shaken by the winds, so those Nishadas blinded by the dust raised by the storm entered the wide-extending cleft of Garuda’s mouth open to receive them. And then the lord of all rangers of the skies closed his mouth, killing innumerable Nishadas following the occupation of fishermen.

A certain Brahmana and his wife had entered the throat of that ranger of the skies. The former began to burn the bird’s throat like a piece of flaming charcoal. Garuda said: ‘O Brahmana, come out soon from my mouth which I open for thee! A Brahmana must never been slain by me, although he may be always engaged in sinful practices.’ The Brahmana said: ‘O, let this woman of the Nishada caste, who is my wife, also come out with me!’ Garuda agreed and told him to hurry before he would be digested by the heat of his stomach. And when the Brahmana had come out with his wife, that lord of birds, fleet as the mind, stretching his wings ascended the skies. He then saw his father, and hailed by him, Garuda of incomparable prowess made proper answers. And the great Rishi (Kasyapa) asked if he was well and had enough food. Garuda complained that the Nishadas he had eaten by the thousands were not enough, and he asked to point him out some food to appease his hunger and thirst. Kasyapa pointed him to a sacred lake: ‘There is an elephant, with face downwards, who continually drags a tortoise his elder brother,’ and he tells in detail about their hostility in former life. The elephant is six yojanas in height and twice that measure in circumference. And the height of the tortoise also is three yojanas and his circumference ten. ‘Eat thou up both of them that are madly engaged in the encounter and bent upon slaying each other, and then accomplish the task that thou desires. Eating that fierce elephant which looks like a huge mountain and resembles a mass of dark clouds, bring thou amrita!’ Then he blessed him: ‘O thou of great strength, when thou are engaged with the gods in combat, let the Richs, the Yajus, the Samas, the sacred sacrificial butter, all the mysteries (Upanishads) constitute thy strength!

Garuda, thus addressed by his father, wended to the side of that lake, seized the elephant and the tortoise, one in each claw, and soared high into the air. And he came upon a sacred place called Alamva and saw many divine trees. And struck by the wind raised by his wings, those trees began to shake with fear; and having golden boughs they feared they would break. And seeing that those trees capable of granting every wish were quaking with fear, went to other trees of incomparable appearance. And those gigantic trees were adorned with fruits of gold and silver and branches of precious gems. And there was a large banyan among them, which had grown into gigantic proportions, that spoke unto that lord of birds coursing towards it with the fleetness of the mind: ‘Sit thou on this large branch of mine extending a hundred yojanas and eat the elephant and the tortoise.’ When that best of birds quickly alighted upon a bough of that banyan tree, the resort of thousands of winged creatures; and that bough also full of leaves shook and broke down, when it was caught by Garuda. Casting his eyes around in wonder he saw Valakhilya Rishis hanging there from with heads downwards and engaged in ascetic penances. Reflecting that if that bough fell down, the Rishis would be slain, he took the bough in his beaks, and rose on his wings. The great Rishis were struck with wonder and gave that bird a name: ‘As this ranger of the skies rises on its wings bearing a heavy burden, let this foremost of birds having snakes for his food be called Garuda (bearer of heavy weight)!’

And shaking the mountains by his wings, Garuda leisurely coursed through the skies. And as he soared with the elephant and the tortoise (in his claws), he beheld various regions underneath. Desiring as he did to save the Valakhilyas, he saw not a spot where on to sit. At last he went to that foremost of mountains called Gandhamadana. There he saw his father Kasyapa engaged in ascetic devotions. And Kasyapa saw his son (of the splendor of Agni himself, capable of splitting mountain summits and sucking the ocean itself and destroying the three worlds, fierce, and looking like Yama himself) and spoke to the Valakhilyas: ‘The task Garuda is striving to accomplish is great! It behooves you to accord him your permission!’ The ascetics abandoned the bough and went to the sacred mountain of Himavat, and Garuda asked his father where to leave the bough, and he pointed him a mountain without human beings. The great bird bearing that branch, that elephant, and that tortoise, proceeded with great speed towards that mountain. There he let fall the gigantic bough (that could not be girt round with a cord made of a hundred [cow] hides). And it fell with a great noise. And that Prince of mountains shook, struck with the storm raised by Garuda’s wings. And the peaks decked with gems and gold adorning that great mountain itself, were loosened and fell down on all sides. And the falling bough struck down numerous trees which, with golden flowers amid dark foliage, shone there like clouds charged with lightning. Then that best of birds, perching on the summit of that mountain, ate both the elephant and the tortoise, rose on his wings with great speed from the top of the mountain summit. On his second voyage Sindbad comes to the Isle of Riha, where the camphor tree can be found. On this island are rhinoceroses who have on their nose a long horn, of which the inside presents the image of a man. When a rhinoceros has pierced the belly of an elephant, he carries him away without being hindered. But he is blinded by the elephant’s blood and then the rokh abducts them both (Chauvin, BOA VII, p. 11). In a note of Keller it is said of the Rokh (as an example of his size) that he lifts an elephant with his claws and from a great height drops him to feed himself with the flesh (III, p. 437). This is a mix up with the tortoise, who is dropped from a great height in order to crash the shield; compare the story of the death of Aeschylus: eagle drops tortoise on his bald head, mistaking it for a rock; Thompson Motif J657.2: Tortoise lets itself by carried by the eagle, is dropped and eaten. The story in Babrius (Nº 115) is that the turtle wants to fly, the eagle offers to take him up high, but then drops him on a mountain, where its shell is crashed (Schwarzbaum 1979, p. 116, 119). The Egyptian story cycle ‘Myth of the Sun Eye’ tells about the griffin: a hornet is eaten by the lizard, who is eaten by the varan, who is eaten by the snake. The falcon dives with the snake in its beak into the sea, where both were gobbled up by the mullet, who when he swam to the shore was eaten by a giant sheath fish, who was dragged by a lion to the beach. The griffin had smelled them both a long time; he struck one claw in the lion, the other in the sheath fish and carried his prey to a place, bathed by the rays of the heavenly sun. There he put them down, tore up both lion and sheath fish on the top of the mountain and ate them both. Who eats the griffin? Nobody, he is the leader of the animals, the shepherd of everything that lives on earth. He is the avenger, against whom no vengeance can be taken. His beak is like that of the falcon, his eye like that of a human, his torso like that of the lion, his ears are like the gills of sea fish, his tail is like a snake. He unites all these five animals in his strength (Brunner-Traut 1974, p. 118f).

And various omens began to appear among the gods foreboding fear. Indra’s favorite thunder bolt blazed up in a fright. Meteors with flames and smoke, loosened from the welkin, shot down during the day. And the weapons of the Vasus, the Rudras, the Adityas, the Sadhyas, the Maruts, and other gods, began to spend their force against one another. Such things had never happened even during the war between the gods and the Asuras. And the winds blew accompanied with thunder, and meteors fell by thousands. And the sky, though cloudless, roared tremendously. And even he who was the god of gods shed showers of blood. And the flowery garlands on the necks of the gods faded and their prowess suffered diminution. And terrible masses of clouds dropped thick showers of blood. And the dust raised by the winds darkened the splendor of the very coronets of the gods. And He of a thousand sacrifices (Indra), with the other gods, perplexed with fear at the sight of those dark forebodings spoke unto Vrihaspati: ‘Why have these natural disturbances suddenly arisen? No foe do I behold who would oppress us in war!’ Vrihaspati answered: ‘O chief of the gods, it is from thy fault and carelessness, and owing also to the ascetic penance of the big souled great Rishis, the Valakhilyas, that the son of Kasyapa and Vinata is approaching to take away the Soma! And that bird, foremost among all endued with great strength, is able to rob you of the Soma! Everything is possible with him.’ Indra then spoke to those that guarded the amrita ‘A bird endued with great strength and energy has set his heart on taking away the amrita.’ The gods hearing of this were amazed and took precautions. And they stood surrounding the amrita and Indra also of great prowess, the wielder of the thunder, stood with them. And the gods wore curious breastplates of gold, and set with gems, and bright leathern armor of great toughness. And the mighty deities wielded various sharp edged weapons of terrible shapes, countless in number, emitting, even all of them, sparks of fire with smoke. And they were also armed with many a discus and iron mace furnished with spikes, and trident, and battleaxe, and various kinds of sharp pointed missiles and polished swords and maces of terrible form, all befitting their respective bodies. And decked with celestial ornaments and resplendent with those bright arms, the gods waited there, their fears allayed.

Soon Garuda, the king of birds, came upon those wise ones. And the gods beholding him of excessive strength began to quake with fear, and strike one another with all their weapons. And amongst those that guarded the Soma was Brahmana (the celestial architect), of measureless might, effulgent as the electric fire and of great energy. And after a terrific encounter lasting only a moment, mangled by the lord of birds with his talons, beak, and wings, he lay as dead on the fields. And the ranger of the skies darkening the worlds with the dust raised by the hurricane of his wings, overwhelmed the celestials with it. And the latter, overwhelmed with that dust, swooned away. And the immortals who guarded the amrita, blinded by that dust, could no longer see Garuda! Even thus did Garuda agitate the region of the heavens. And even thus he mangled the gods with the wounds inflicted by his wings and beak.

The god of a thousand eyes (Indra) commanded Vayu (the god of the wind): ‘Dispel thou this shower of dust soon! O Maruta, this is, indeed, thy task!’ Then the mighty Vayu soon drove away that dust. And when the darkness had disappeared, the celestials attacked Garuda. And as he was attacked by the gods, he began to roar aloud, like the great cloud that appears in the sky at the end of the Yuga, frightening every creature. And he rose on his wings. Seeing him soaring in the skies over their heads all the wise ones with Indra amongst them wielded their arms. And the king of birds attacked them on all sides with showers of various weapons and fought exceedingly hard without wavering for a moment. And blood began to flow copiously from the bodies of the gods mangled by the talons and beak of Garuda. The Sadhyas with the Gandharvas fled Eastwards, the Vasus with the Rudras towards the South, the Adityas towards the West, and the twin Aswins towards the North.

And Garuda had encounters with the Yakshas Aswakranda, Rainuka, Krathanaka, Tapana, Uluka, Swasanaka, Nimesha, Praruja, and Pulina. And the son of Vinata mangled them, like Siva himself, that chastiser of enemies, and the holder of the Pinaka in rage at the end of the Yuga. And those Yakshas of great might and courage, mangled all over, looked liked masses of black clouds dropping thick showers of blood. And Garuda, depriving them of life, then went to where the amrita was. And he saw that it was surrounded on all sides by fire. And the terrible flames of that fire covered the entire sky. And moved by violent winds, they seemed bent on burning the Sun himself. The illustrious Garuda then assumed ninety times ninety mouths and quickly drinking the waters of many rivers with those mouths and returning with great speed, extinguished that fire with that water. And extinguishing that fire, he assumed a very small form, desirous of entering into (where the Soma was).

And that bird, assuming a golden body bright as the rays of the Sun, entered with great force (the region where the Soma was), like a torrent entering the ocean. And he saw, placed near the Soma, a wheel of steel keen edged, and sharp as a razor, revolving incessantly. And that fierce instrument, of the splendor of the blazing sun and of terrible form, had been devised by the gods for cutting into pieces all robbers of the soma. Garuda, seeing a passage through it, stopped there for a moment. Diminishing his body, in an instant he passed through the spokes of that wheel. Within the line of the wheel, he beheld, stationed there for guarding the Soma two great snakes of the effulgence of blazing fire, with tongues bright as the lightning flash, of great energy, with mouths emitting fire, with blazing eyes, containing poison, very terrible, always in anger, and of great activity. Their eyes were ceaselessly inflamed with rage and were also winkless. He who may be seen by even one of the two would instantly be reduced to ashes. The bird of fair feathers suddenly covered their eyes with dust. And unseen by them he attacked them from all sides. And the son of Vinata, attacking their bodies, mangled them into pieces. He then approached the Soma without loss of time. Then the mighty son of Vinata, taking up the Amrita from the place where it was kept, rose on his wings with great speed, breaking into pieces the machine that had surrounded it. And the bird soon came out, taking the Amrita but without drinking it himself. And he then wended on his way without the least fatigue, darkening the splendor of the Sun.

And the son of Vinata then met Vishnu on his way along the sky. And Narayana (Vishnu) was gratified at that act of self denial on the part of Garuda and said: ‘O, I am inclined to grant thee a boon!’ The ranger of the skies thereupon said: ‘I shall stay above thee!’ And: ‘I shall be immortal and free from disease without (drinking) Amrita!’ Vishnu granted these two boons, whereupon Garuda granted him a boon; and the possessor of the six attributes asked the mighty Garuda to become his carrier. And he made the bird sit on the flagstaff of his car, saying: ‘Even thus thou shall stay above me!’ And the ranger of the skies, of great speed, saying unto Narayana: ‘Be it so,’ swiftly wended on his way, mocking the wind with his fleetness.

And while Garuda, that first of winged creatures, was coursing through the air after robbing the Amrita, Indra hurled at him his thunder bolt. Then Garuda, struck with thunderbolt, spoke laughingly unto Indra engaged in the encounter, in sweet words: ‘I shall respect the Rishi (Dadhichi) of whose bone the Vajra hath been made. I shall also respect the Vajra, and thee also of a thousand sacrifices. I cast this feather of mine whose end thou shall not attain. Struck with thy thunder I have not felt the slightest pain.’ And having said this, the king of birds cast a feather of his. And all creatures became exceedingly glad, beholding that excellent feather of Garuda so cast off by himself. And seeing that the feather was very beautiful, they said: ‘Let this bird be called Suparna (having fair feathers).’ And Purandara of a thousand eyes, witnessing this wonderful incident, thought that bird to be some great being and addressed him thus ‘O best of birds, I desire to know the limit of thy great strength! I also desire eternal friendship with thee!’ Garuda then said ‘O Purandara, let there be friendship between thee and me as thou desires. My strength is hard to bear. The good never approve of speaking highly of their of their own strength, nor do they speak of their own merits. But as a friend I will answer thee: I can bear, on a single feather of mine, O Sakra, this Earth, with thee also stationed thereon. Know thou, my strength is such that I can bear without fatigue even all the worlds put together.’

Indra offered him his sincere and hearty friendship and said: ‘If thou hast no concern with the Soma, return it to me. Those to whom thou would give it would always oppose us!’ Garuda answered: ‘Thee is a certain reason for which the Soma is being carried by me. I shall not give the Soma to any one for drink. But, O thou of a thousand eyes, after I have placed it down, thou, O lord of the heaven, can then, taking it up, instantly bring it away!’ Indra is highly gratified by these words and offers a boon. Then Garuda, recollecting the sons of Kadru and remembering also the bondage of his mother caused by an act of deception, said: ‘Let, O Sakra, the mighty snakes become my food.’ The slayer of the Danavas said: ‘Be it so,’ then went to Hari, the god of gods, of great soul, and the lord of Yogins (= Vishnu). And the latter sanctioned everything said by Garuda. Then the lord of heaven (Indra) said to Garuda: ‘I shall bring away the Soma when thou places it down.’ And he bade farewell to Garuda, who went with great speed to the presence of his mother.

And Garuda in joy then spoke unto all the snakes: ‘Here I have brought the Amrita. Let me place it on some Kusa grass. O ye snakes, sitting here, drink of it after ye have performed your ablutions and religious rites. As said by you, let my mother become, from this day, free, for I have accomplished your bidding!’ The snakes having said unto Garuda, ‘Be it so,’ then went to perform their ablutions. Meanwhile, Sakra taking up the Amrita, wended back to heaven. The snakes after performing their ablutions, their daily devotions, and other sacred rites, returned in joy, desirous of drinking the Amrita. They saw that the bed of kusa grass whereon the Amrita had been placed was empty, the Amrita itself having been taken away by a counter act of deception. And they began to lick with their tongues the kusa grass, as the Amrita had been placed thereon. And the tongues of the snakes by that act became divided in twain. And the kusa grass, too, from the contact with Amrita, became sacred thenceforth. Thus did the illustrious Garuda bring Amrita (from the heaven) for the snakes, and thus were the tongues of the snakes divided by what Garuda did. Then the bird of fair feathers, very much delighted, enjoyed himself in those woods accompanied by his mother. Of grand achievements, and deeply reverenced by all rangers of the skies, he gratified his mother by devouring the snakes (Roy, I, p. 63 – 91). The story concludes with the remark ‘That man who would listen to this story, or read it out to an assembly of good Brahmanas, must surely go to heaven, acquiring great merit from the recitation of (the feats of) Garuda.’ Compare Bhattacharji 1970, p. 298: Garuda’s father was Kaśyapa and his mother Vinatā, sold in slavery to Kadrū, the co wife. Garuda was sent by his mother to fetch nectar, the price of her freedom. He meets Vişņu in the sky and is offered a boon. Garuda chooses to stay on top of Vişņu and offers in return Vişņu a boon. Vişņu asks Garuda to be his mount. A compromise is arrived at, Garuda does become Vişņu’s mount but Garuda’s image is placed on Vişņu’s ensign; hence he is called Garudadhvaja (Mbh. 1:29), ID, p. 299: Thus Garuda the mount of Vişņu becomes an ornithomorphic form of Vişņu himself.

Garuda has a purana named after him. In it is told how this came about.

Romaharshana next related how the Garuda Purana had originated. He once went to the hermitage known as vadrikashrama and met Vedavyasa there. He worshipped Vedavyasa and asked the sage to tell him about the true nature of Vishnu. ‘I will,’ said Vedavyasa, ‘I will tell you the Garuda Purana. I, Narada, Daksha, Bhrigu and several other sages had once gone to Brahma’s residence in Brahmaloka to pay our respects. We asked Brahma to relate to us the best form of knowledge. Garuda was the king of the birds. He pleased Vishnu through tapsaya and Vishnu appeared before Garuda. “What boon do you wish for?” he asked Garuda. “Please grant me the boon that I may be your carrier (vahana),” answered Garuda.Grant me the boon that I may be able to prevail over all snakes. And finally grant me the boon that I may know everything so as to be able to compose a Purana.” This boon was granted and Garuda composed the Garuda Purana. He then taught it to the sage Kashyapa. And Vishnu himself recited the Purana to Brahma, Shiva and the other gods. Vedavyasa learnt the Purana from Brahma and taught it to Romaharshana. It was this Purana that Romaharshana was now reciting.

In the Garuda Purana Lord Vishnu blesses Garuda as follows.

Describing how Garuda pleased him with his deep devotion, Lord Vishnu said ‘During ancient times Garuda once did an austere penance to please me. I appeared before him and expressed my willingness to fulfill anything that he wished for. Garuda wanted to liberate his mother, Vinata from the slavery of Kadru – the mother of serpents. He also wanted to avenge his mother’s humiliation at their hands. He also expressed his desire of becoming immortal by having a Purana credited to his name and finally he requested me to give him the privilege of becoming my mount. I blessed Garuda as the result of which all his wishes were fulfilled. Once, on being requested by sage Kashyap, Garuda narrated the divine tales of Garuda Puran to him. Sage Kashyap had once brought back a dead tree back to life with the help of Garudi Vidya – a sacred mantra found in Garuda Puran. Similarly, Garuda too had brought numerous dead creatures back to life with the help of same mantra.’

A story from the Garuda Paruna tells

The king of the snakes is Vasuki. Vasuki accepted the bile (pitta) that came out of Balasura’s body. The snake was traversing the sky when he was suddenly attacked by Garuda. Garuda too wanted to possess the bile. While the two were fighting, the bile fell into the valley of a mountain. This bile gave birth to marakatas (emeralds). Emeralds are generally green in color. The herbs which grow in emerald mines are cures for sorts of poison. A true emerald never fades in color. Several other jewels were created from other parts of Balasura’s anatomy.

Elsewhere in the Garuda Purana it is said.

Romaharshana replied, Let me relate to you the conversation that took place between Garuda and Vishnu. That will remove your doubt. Garuda once went on a tour of the world. He went to heaven, to the earth and to the underworld. But his mind was not pacified, he was greatly depressed. Because all he saw everywhere was unhappiness. So he returned to Vaikunthaloka, the place where Vishnu lives. Vaikunthaloka was a very nice place. Vishnu’s companions were handsome to look and wore pretty clothes. They rode on vimanas. The goddess Lakshmi was there with all her companions. Vishnu sat there on his throne. His visage was calm, his face was smiling and he had four arms. Garuda bowed down before Vishnu. How are you Garuda? asked Vishnu. What are the places to which you have travelled? I have travelled everywhere except to Yama’s abode, replied Garuda. But I have many questions for which I want answers. Why are beings born on earth? And why do they die? What happens to the senses once people die? Where do men go after they die? Why is a shraddha ceremony performed? When the physical body dies, what happened to the papa or punya that the person had acquired? What exactly is death? Please tell me the answers to these questions. This is followed by Vishnu’s answers that make up the bulk of the Garuda Purana.

References

Bhattacharji, Sukumari, The Indian Theogony. A Comparative Study of Indian Mythology from the Vedas tot the Purāņas, Cambridge, 1970.
Brunner Traut, E, Egyptische Sprookjes, Utrecht, Antwerpen 1974 (= Düsseldorf, Köln 1963).
Dowson, John, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology, New Dehli, 1973.
Roy, Pratap Chandra (edited by), The Mahabharata, Volume 1, Calcutta, no date.
Schwarzbaum, Haim, The Mishle Shu’alim (Fox Fables) of Rabbi Berechiah Ha Nakdan. A Study in Comparative Folklore and Fable Lore, Kiron (Israël), 1979.
Vollmer, Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker, 3e Auflage, Stuttgart 1874 (reprint Leipzig, 1978).
The Garuda Purana, Translated by Ernest Wood and SV Subrahmanyam [1911, internet file].

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