Garuda Devours Eelephants, Udaipur, Mewar, North India, circa 1760 (foto Christies)
The Macaws (32): Garuda in Other Cultures
In the story of Bhuridatta, summarized by RF St Andrew St John in Folk Lore, the following episode occurs: about that time a Garula (fabulous eagle) was looking out for Nágas (their hereditary enemies), and having seized one, carried it off towards the Himavanta forest. The serpent, in its struggle, caught hold of a banyan tree in the country of Benares, at the foot of which a hermit was sitting. The Garula carried off both serpent and tree to Himavanta, and, after eating the fat of the serpent, discovered that he had brought the tree too. Recognizing the tree, he was terrified lest the hermit should lay a curse on him. So he went to the hermit and questioned him as to whether the Garula who carried off the tree was to be blamed. Finding that the hermit was not angry with the Garula, he admitted that it was he who had unwittingly done it, and taught the hermit the charm for subduing serpents. Then the story goes on about this charm, that the hermit taught a poor Brahman, who came across a number of serpent ladies dancing on the river bank round the great wishing ruby. The Nágas, hearing the Brahman reciting the charm, thought it was a Garula, and dived into the earth in a fright, leaving the ruby, which the Brahman at once seized with delight. Hereafter the story goes on about this ruby. In a note the author mentions that the Garulas, or Galunas, when they wish to catch a Nága, divide the waters of the sea by flapping their wings over it [RF St Andrew St John, in Folk Lore 2, p. 90 – 98, here p. 94f].
The Birhors in India have a creation myth, involving a kind of contest between Mahadeo (Shiva) and his wife Parvati. Mahadeo was out in the jungle cutting wood to make a plough, plough handle and plough share all out of the same log. At home, Parvati finished cooking their meal of rice and vegetables and was wondering at the delay of her husband in returning home. So she rubbed some dirty excretion off her neck and made a swarm of mosquitoes out of it and told them ‘Go and frighten Mahadeo by your buzz so that he may hasten home.’ The mosquitoes went and began to buzz about the ears of Mahadeo. But Mahadeo took up clippings of wood and made them into a number of dulus or insects that eat up mosquitoes. And forthwith the dulus devoured the mosquitoes. At home Parvati was wondering all the more, and again out of the dirty excretion of her skin fashioned a tiger and sent it to frighten Mahadeo so that he might return home at once. But when Mahadeo saw the tiger he seized a piece of wood and exclaimed ‘At it, Oh Chaonra Bhaoura!’ and the wood turned into a tani (a dog like animal which attacks tigers) and it chased the tiger and put it to flight. Parvati became impatient and again with the dirty excretion of her skin made a number of snakes, and sent them after Mahadeo to frighten him into returning home. But as the serpents went hissing towards Mahadeo, he took up a piece of wood and made it into a ganda garur bird (a kind of vulture) which eats up snakes. And it devoured all the snakes but one which took shelter under the wooden slippers on Mahadeo’s feet. This was a female snake and Mahadeo took pity on it and out of this snake sprang the present race of serpents [Sarat Chandra Roy, The Birhors, 1978 (= Ranchi, 1925), p. 191f, N° IV, ‘The Creation of Mosquitoes, Insects, the Tiger, the Vulture and the Serpent’].
In Thai folklore there are multiple Garudas, mythological birds with great magical power otherwise they could not go to live at the end of the earth on the top of the highest mountain undisturbed by men. A powerful Garuda by name of Wanetai lived in the time of King Prommatat of Paranasi at the top of the highest hill on earth, where no human beings could reach. He had a divine abode at the end of the earth. His palace was very delightful surrounded by gardens and beautiful trees of fragrant odor. The place was full of cool breeze, and there was music in the air. Birds sang everywhere. Everything was so beautiful and delightful all around. Wanetai lived happily on top of this mountain in his very luxurious palace. From this palace, with his powerful wings, he flew to all parts of the earth visiting all lands which would please him. He had heard that King Prommatat was very skilful at playing chess – his fame went far and wide and none could ever win from him at chess – and would like to try his hand. He disguised himself as a young handsome man and came into the palace of Prommatat, where he challenged the latter to a game of chess. They agreed that once every seven days they would play chess together. While playing chess with the king, some of the woman attendants of the queen saw Wanetai from behind a curtain and were quite struck with his very good looking appearance and dignified air. The news reached Queen Kaki and she also came to see Wanetai out of curiosity. While looking at Wanetai it so happened that Wanetai looked up from his chessboard and saw the two beautiful eyes of the queen. Strange feelings ran down the spine of Wanetai with a wish to love and possess the queen. The queen was also quite struck with the handsome face of young Wanetai. After the game Wanetai took leave of the king and left the palace; but he did not go far. He saw the queen through the window going into the bedroom and caused a thick cloud to cover the earth and darken up the atmosphere. Then he flew in through the window, took the queen in his strong arms and flew off towards his abode in the clouds. The queen was quite frightened, but not for so long. The soothing sweet words of Wanetai, the warmth of his body touching hers, the description of the various places she had not seen before, the declaration of love, at last made her quiet and even gave her pleasant feelings of desire. The palace of Wanetai was beautiful. He took her to the bathroom, helped her to wash herself. He gave her divine and delicious food, and placed her softly on the bed. He talked of love, stroke her, touched her here and there; it was love of a new kind which Prommatat had never shown to her. The two enjoyed perfect and complete happiness in the heavenly abode far from everybody, and Queen Kaki completely forgot her husband whom she had left behind on earth. After the darkening clouds had cleared away the attendants of the queen noticed that the queen had disappeared and reported it to the king. A thorough search was made everywhere, yet no trace of her could be found. Now at those times there lived also a kind of divine being called Kontan. The Kontans were heavenly musicians. They played music at court or only for the gods. At the court of King Prommatat there was a Kontan by name of Natkuven. He was present during the game of chess and had seen the exchange of looks between Wanetai and the queen, and he told the king that he suspected Wanetai to have abducted her. But he wants to prove it by following Wanetai the next time he came to play chess. After seven days Wanetai went back to the king in order to avoid suspicion and played chess with the king as usual. When the day was over Wanetai hurried back to a place outside behind a tree where he changed back into a Garuda again. He did not notice however that Natkuven was following closely behind. When he transformed himself back into a Garuda, Natkuven also transformed himself into a small flea and settled down on the wing of Wanetai [cf. the vizier’s son in Tales of a Parrot]. When Wanetai flew back to his palace on the top of the mountain, Natkuven was with him all the time. Outside the palace Wanetai changed back into a young man and went inside. Natkuven also changed back into a man and was close behind him, looking on as to what Wanetai would be doing. Wanetai did not waste time to make love to the queen, and the latter was not lacking in warm response. Natkuven was incited beyond measure and forgot entirely his mission. He could not sleep all night for the thoughts of the sensuous noises disturbed him until it was daybreak and Wanetai had to go out on his errands for the day. The queen was still lying on her backs, without a care whether her body was covered or not. Natkuven stealthily approached her. His desire was so great. He could not stop throwing himself upon her, embracing her, kissing her, touching her everywhere. She thought at first it was Wanetai coming back, but seeing it was Natkuven, she said ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I have been watching and the thing you did to Wanetai incited me to come also to you, to ask love of you.’ She was quite abashed and hid her face. Natkuven moved her face back and kissed her. After some time her love was incited, for Natkuven knew also how to incite her passion and could do anything upon her and she let him do it, until he could fulfill all his desires. It was repeated again and again as though he never could have enough of it until it was time for him to withdraw because Wanetai would soon be coming back. It was now up to Wanetai to play the part of the lover during the course of the evening and the whole night as though nothing had happened during the day. It greatly humiliated the heart of Kontan to see what was his in the arms of another. Hardly Wanetai left in the morning for his daily round than Kontan jumped out quite relieved from his hiding place. And thus the game of love went on from day to night, and from night to day, without ending the pleasure for Kaki. It was no rest for her, but she enjoyed it all the more, because the two kinds of love were quite different. The seven days had passed by and it was time for Wanetai to come back to earth for a game of chess with King Prommatat. Kontak took also his chance of coming back with Wanetai as a flea settled among the feathers of Wanetai’s wing. For the first time Kaki missed Kontan; she could not find him anywhere. It was the first time she threw herself down on her bed, feeling very lonely and crying. Wanetai settled down on earth and hurried to the presence of the king in the shape of a young man, Kontan, Natkuven followed him also closely behind. The king saw Kontan but did not have time to talk with the latter as Wanetai was there, but by signs and gestures from Kontan he knew that Kontan had found his wife up there with Wanetai. After Wanetai had left, the king went to Natkuven, who made intentionally long digressions, boasting of his prowess that a human being would not be able to get to the abode of the Garuda, because the journey was long and hazardous, passing over many obstacles. The abode was so high above the ground. But the king wanted to hear about his queen if she was suffering and thinking of him, but Natkuven had to disappoint him: she was happy up there and enjoyed the love of Wanetai and had no time to think about him. Then Natkuven went on about himself, for the queen was very angry with him because he knew her secret and threatened to tell the Garuda and that would have been the end of him. To appease her wrath he played upon love; the game succeeded and the queen gave him her love. The king was quite angry and touched the hilt of his sword. Natkuven saw it and said that it was the only way to save himself and bring message back to the king. He also had a plan how the king could take his revenge. The next time Wanetai came to play chess with the king, during the game, Natkuven sang a song about the beauty of the Chimplee Palace of the Garuda up in heaven and about the beauty of the queen up there and how he won the love of the queen. Wanetai was quite red in the face and asked how he had gotten there. Natkuven told how he hid as a flee in the wing of the Garuda and had spent seven days with the queen enjoying her love. Wanetai was quite angry but he feigned as though it had nothing to do with him. But he hurried back to his palace as soon as the game was over. Queen Kaki was there to welcome him at the door of his palace, but he would no longer listen to her words of love. He was angry beyond measure. He took her down to earth and left her at the outside of the king’s palace. The king got up the next morning and found his queen with open embraces. The king was angry and would not listen to any of her excuses and warm expressions of love and fidelity. He ordered her to be put on a raft and floated down the river into the sea with some provisions lasting a few days. The love story of Kaki did not end there. While floating in the sea a junk belonging to a merchant picked her up, with whom she had an affair. On shore they were attacked by robbers, but Kaki managed to escape and was found by a king, who married her. Meanwhile her husband King Prommatat had died without successor and Natkuven was invited by the nobles to take over and he called himself King Borom Prommatat. He wanted Kaki back, made war with her new husband, killed him and took her to his palace, where they enjoyed both in their former love again, happier than ever before. Manich Jumsai, 1977, p, 13 – 30, ‘The Love Story of a Notorious Woman Nang Kaki’. Kaki was reputed to be a very beautiful woman and was married to the King of Paranasi (Benares) in olden days. She had everything she wanted as a queen, but she was sensuous. Her beauty and charm were objects of delight and attraction for men. Men wanted her and she always gave in. When the Thai talked of the most vicious of all women, they alluded to Nang Kaki. And any woman alluded to as such, could say that she was insulted and looked down upon by the vilest possible term. Thus Queen Kaki was the origin of the word Ee Kaki, a woman worse than a prostitute.
A story about Garuda is taken up in the Vetalapantchavinsati or ‘The 25 Tales of the Demon’, which has been investigated by Walter Ruben. It concerns the 16th or 15th tale, and I skip the first part of the story, ending in the wedding of Jimutavahana with Malayavati, the daughter of the Siddha ruler Vishvavasu. The Siddhas are a class of semi divine beings of great purity and holiness, who dwell in the regions of the sky between the earth and the sun. They are said to be 88,000 in number (Dowson 1973, p. 292). Viśwāvasu is a chief of the Gandharvas in Indra’s heaven (ID, p. 368). Malaya is the country of Malabar proper; the mountains bordering Malabar (ID, p. 195).
Once Jimutavahana went for a walk with his new brother in law Mitravasu in the Malaya mountains (B, at the seashore) and saw a big white heap. Somadeva (as well as the Hindi version) tells he saw there a heap of bones, asked, and Mitravasu told him about Kadru, Vinatā, Garuda’s animosity with the snakes, and who Vāsuki offers him daily a snake. Then Mitravasu is called home to his father. Jimutavahana dies from the wounds by Garuda, but Gauri revives him, to which she was obligated, because she had promised him as husband to his wife. Next Gauri anoints him as king of the Vidyādharas. The story is a decision story, and the Tamil version decides that Garuda acted most generous, as eagles eat anything, and for them pity is something special (Ruben, p. 118f, N° 9, 13, 15).
He asked his brother in law what that was. ‘Snake bones. From the Underworld daily a snake son comes in turns up (B, Vasuki, the king of the snakes, has made a pact with Garuda), who is devoured by Garuda; already many millions of snakes he has devoured; to them belong these bones.’ Jimutavahana sent his brother in law home, because he wanted to meditate a while there. When he went on, he heard a woman wailing over her son, and she tells him that today her son Sankhacuda will die, because Garuda will eat him. Then Jimutavahana offers himself to save her son, who protests, but to no avail. While the snake boy is off venerating Shiva (the cow eared god), Jimutavahana climbs to the designated spot, and sits down and sees Garuda approaching. Tarkshya [originally a legendary creature, a horse or bird; the name was later applied to Garuda (Dowson, 1973, p. 318; Zimmer 1966, N° 88 ), the for the destruction of the snakes terribly Terrific, who stands with the feet in the Underworld and reaches all heaven areas with his wings , who touches the seven heavens with his belly, the Universe with his throat, whose eyes are the sun and the moon, the lord of the world of birds, with a beak 10 miles long, the devouring, terrifying shaped one. Thus shaped was Tarkshya, who now struck him with the beak. Again with a second assault he struck him and flew with him up in the air. While he now devoured him there flying in circles, Jimutavahana’s jewel signed with his name fell covered in blood down in the lap of Malayavati. When she saw this blood stained piece of jewelry, she swooned; shortly thereafter come to her senses she showed it his parents, and when they also had seen it, they went weeping to that spot, and also Malyavati went with them. In the meantime Sankhacuda came also to that rock of death and shouted: ‘Let go, let go, Garuda! Not that one is your meal, I, the snake son Sankhacuda, am your meal.’ When Garuda heard this, he became doubtful. ‘Have I perhaps consumed a Brahman [see above] or a Kshatriya? What have I done?’ Thereupon Garuda asked Jimutavahana ‘Hey, human, who are you? Why have you taken place on the rock of death?’ Jimutavahana replied ‘Do your thing! Why these second thoughts?’ Thereupon Garuda said: ‘O high hearted one, why do you sacrifice your life for someone else?’ Jimutavahana answered in extended verses and swoons then as a result of the beak strikes of Garuda, and at that moment Malayavati with her heart full of worries came with her escort there. When she saw her swooned husband, she called out ‘Ah, ruler of my life! Ah, my lord! Ah, you helper of others! Ah, you most noble of heart! Ah, you beloved of mankind! Have pity on me and give me answer!’ When the Garuda heard her lament thus, he fetched from the Underworld amrita and sprinkled it over him, through which Jimutavahana’s body again became fully restored. To him spoke Garuda: ‘O high hearted one! I am satisfied with your resolve, make a wish!’ Jimutavahana answered ‘O exalted one! When you are satisfied, then you may from now on no longer devour snakes, and may also those that are already consumed live again.’ Garuda answered ‘Thus it will be done.’ With these words he fetched once more amrita from the Underworld and made all the snakes alive again; then he spoke ‘Jimutavahana, as my boon you will get lordship over the whole earth.’ After he had bestowed this boon, Garuda went to his abode, and also all the others went home. Out of fear for Garuda Jimutavahana’s relatives threw themselves at his feet and gave him the lordship back. Version B is shorter, but has the same detail of the blood stained jewel of Jimutavahana falling in the lap of Malayavati, but not the verses spoken by Jimutavahana. Instead it is Sankhacuda who points to Garuda that he is eating a human, and that he should take him. Then the King of the Birds dropped Jimutavahana, who was almost a skeleton, and was greatly disturbed; in the meantime Malayavati came with her [= his] parents. When she saw her beloved husband in this predicament, she swooned, and also Jimutaketu and his wife fell down by the sight of their beloved son. Garuda brought them back to their senses; and when now the mother touched the son, she complained bitterly. Thereupon this one, as little life as he had left in him, to his mother. ‘What are you complaining, mother, about this mortal body?’ Malayavati thereupon focused all her attention on death, but Devi prevented her, made Jimutavahana alive again and gave him a world ruling position. After she had performed this, Bhagavati disappeared (Devi and Bhagavati are names for Gauri, the wife of Shiva). After that all the Devagandharvas (the divine gandharvas = singers) sang about the hero’s courage of Jimutavahana, and also Garuda became friendly to him to fulfill his wishes. On his request he gave all snakes security of life, and the snakes killed before, of whom only the bones were left, he made alive again [Zimmer 1966: A, p. 86 – 91 (15th tale); B, p. 171-173 (16th tale); compere Ruben, FFC, p. 133, p. 111ff (Vet XVI, Bhv 15). There is no talk about amrita fetched from the Underworld in this second version, and the bringing back to life of Jimutavahana is ascribed to the goddess Devi Bhagavati Gauri who comes as a Shivaitic deus ex machina.
According to Ruben, Jimutavahana appears in recent Hindu beliefs of Northwest India, in the Cenap valley, as vizier of the Snake King Vasuki, who once sacrificed himself for his lord, when he was in a war almost conquered by Garuda. As thanks for that Vasuki made him till today partaker of his cult. Ruben connects this legend with other legends about viziers who sacrificed themselves to river-gods, pointing out that the snakes are keepers of the waters. Comparable stories are also known from China as fairytales, for instance a snake have to be offered one or two persons per year (which is of course the Andromeda story [ATU 300]). A brave man kills the snake and makes an end to the [evil] custom [of human sacrifice]. India specialists will be reminded of Krishna’s adventure with the snake Kaliya, and Ruben thinks that Kaliya used to be a cattle and humans devouring demon, whose sacrifice cult on the Yamuna has been redirected by a heroic child (as surely especially child-sacrifices to water or snake spirits are attested). Of Kaliya is told that out of fear for Garuda he fled to his cult-spot on the Yamuna, and that Krishna chased him again back to the ocean and gave him security from Garuda, through signing him with his holy feet on his head (Ruben: an etiological local legend). [Ruben, FFC 133, 114.] Kaliya was a serpent king who had five heads, and dwelt in a deep pool of the Yamuna, with numerous attendant serpents. His mouths vomited fire and smoke, and he laid waste all the country round. Krishna, while yet a child, jumped into his pool, when he was quickly laced and entwined in the coils of the snakes. His companions and friends were horrified, but Balarama called upon him to exercise his divine power. He did so, and the serpents were overcome. Placing his foot on the middle head of Kaliya, he compelled him and his followers to implore mercy. He spared them, but bade Kaliya and his followers to free the earth from their presence, and to remove to the ocean. [Dowson 1973, 144, who adds: ‘The Asura Kalanemi is said to have been animate in him.’ Krishna’s placing of his foot on the head of Kaliya reminds of Vishnu’s placing of his foot on the head of Bali, banishing him to the underworld (from which he now yearly, just like Saint Nicolas, appears as children’s friend).]
More essential according to Ruben is the fact that the snakes are not the dragons but good and to be protected creatures, while the role of the evil dragon is taken by Garuda. The animosity between eagles or other birds of prey and snakes is an old motif, but he wonders if this has stopped since then, as the conclusion of the story implies; but of course only Garuda’s fight with the demon-snakes has stopped (not the animosity of eagles and snakes). To say that Vishnu is a snake hater is definitely wrong, as he has a ‘snake divan’, Ananta, we saw before, who is actually an incarnation as Ananta is a name for Vishnu. The name means ‘The infinite’ as the name of the serpent Śesha; he is serpent with a 1.000 heads which is the couch and canopy of Vishnu whilst sleeping during the intervals of creation. He is also called Ananta, ‘the endless’ as the symbol of eternity [Dowson, 1973, p. 291f].
Vollmer has the story under Kalinak: Vishnu wanted to catch Kalinak, an enormous 1.000 headed snake, and drove on his giant bird Garuda to the spot. When Kalinak saw them coming, she hid herself in the waters of the river Iumna, where she produced a gigantic offspring, that poisoned the waters of the holy river. In his Krishna incarnation, still as a boy, Vishnu decided to liberate the world of this breed. The snake coiled around him with innumerable coils, but he managed easily to escape, walked over the heads from one side to the other and trampled one after the other. But before the last one was crushed, wife and offspring of the snake, who had recognized the god, prayed for mercy for the husband and father, and thus the whole family with the now one headed snake monster was banished to the Underworld, where their poison is used to torture the doomed [Vollmer, p. 292, strange is the change in gender: first Kalinak is female, later male; maybe because ‘Schlange’ is female in German, more probable they are two different stories].
Dowson, John, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology, New Dehli, 1973.
Ruben, Walter, Ozean der Märchenströme, Teil 1, Die 25 Erzählungen des Dämons (Vetâlapancavimsati) + Dede Korkut, Helsinki, 1944 (FFC 133).
Vollmer, Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker, 3e Auflage, Stuttgart, 1874 (reprint Leipzig 1978).
Zimmer, Heinrich (edited by), Vetalapantschavinsati: Die fünfundzwanzig Erzählungen eines Dämons, Darmstadt, 1966