13. The Garuda Myth (Moved from tthe Guardians of Temples and Shrines)



The Garuda Myth is described in Adiparva, the introductory chapter of Mahabharata but the text (English translation) was not easily understandable for the present writer, because the context was not coherent in some parts, as is often common in old literature. Although synopses of Garuda Myth were found in some books but to follow the story was rather difficult as they lacked important descriptions. A comic book, Anant Pai, Amar Chitra Katha Comics: Garuda, Amar Chitra Katha 1980, was a good one but abstracting the story was difficult for the nature of the book.

    The text below has been drafted basing upon “Garuda: King of Birds”, in Swami Parmeshwaranand (Ed), Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas, Vol.1, Sarup & Sons, 2001, pages 569-576・


    Kasyapa who was much pleased with the service of his two wives, Vinata and Kadru, asked them to select any boon they desired. Kadru chose to have a thousand snakes as her children while Vinata chose to have two sons more powerful and heroic than the thousand sons of Kadru. After then, Kasyapa retreated into the forest.

    After some time Kadru and Vinata laid thousand eggs and Vinata two eggs, respectively. After 500th year the eggs of Kadru hatched and thousand snakes of various kinds emerged but Vinata's one showed no sign. When she impatiently broke open one of her eggs in secret, a premature boy, Aruna, appeared. Blaming his mother’s conduct, he said that Vinata would be a slave of Kadru but liberated after another 500 years by a strong and brave son to be born from the other egg.

    After telling this to his mother, Aruna rose to the sky where he became the charioteer of the Sun. [Adi Parva, Chapter 16. Also Para 6 Indra].

    In fact, after another 500 years, Garuda with blazing effulgence was born from the remaining egg and flew up to the sky. To gods who were dizzied by the brilliant light, Agnideva [god of Fire] informed the birth of Garuda. When gods lavished blessings upon Garuda, he controlled his effulgence and returned to his mother. [Adi Parva, Chapter 23].

    It was before the birth of Garuda that Indra churned the Milky-Ocean to obtain the divine hoarse, Uccaisravas. Kadru and Vinata disputed about the colour of the horse's tail, insisting that it would be black, and white, respectively, and agreed to settle it in such a way that the winning bidder would make the other her slave. Next day, the horse tail appeared as black, because the cunning Kadru let her snakes hung on the tail, giving the victory to Kadru. Thus, Vinata became the slave of Kadru. It was at that juncture that Garuda was born. He was grieved to the situation of his mother who worked as a slave.

    One day Kadru and her snake sons ordered Vinata to carry them to an island in the middle of an ocean, called Ramaniyaka. They started, Vinata carrying Kadru and Garuda carrying snake on their shoulders, but Garuda flew up to the sun's orbit against the order. The snake became fainted due to the heat but regained consciousness by the rain showered by Indra on the request of Kadru. Then, they arrived at Ramaniyaka Island.

    Another day, when Garuda asked Kadru what price they demanded for freeing Vinata from slavery, the latter answered it was Amrita [water of life] from Devaloka [the divine heaven].

    Garuda decided to go to Devaloka and told it to Vinata. The mother advised Garuda to eat Nisadas [barbarians] in Nisadalaya, as his food on his way to Devaloka, but be careful to avoid brahmins as they would scorch his throat. She blessed his departure, saying that his head, wings, lower half of the body and other parts of the body would be protected by Aguni, Vayu, sun and moon, and Vasus, respectively..

    All the fourteen worlds were shaken by the flap of Garuda. Having eaten Nisadas, he arrived at the forest of Gandhamadana where his father, Kasyapa, was engaged in tapas [ascetic practice]. The father advised Garuda to eat an elephant and a tortoise, the incarnations of Vibhavasu and Supratika who were thus transformed after reviled with each other, welled in a lake on Garuda’s way to the heaven.

    Garuda, who flew up in the sky, by catching and grasping the elephant and the tortoise in his hands, could not find a place to stop and eat them, because all trees were felled and broken by the flap of his wing. He continues his flight with a broken bough, under which sages called Balakhilyas [a group of dwarf sages] were hanging for practice, in his beak and returned to Mount Gandhamadana where his father, Kasyapa, lived. When Kasyapa apologised to Balakhilyas on behalf of his son, they gratefully left towards Himalaya. According to his father’s advice, Garuda went up to an uninhibited mountain top, laid down the bough and ate the elephant and tortoise. Then, he flew towards Devaloka. (Adi Parva, Chapter 29, 30).

    Before the arrival of Garuda, ill omens appeared in Devaloka. Asked by Indra about it, Brhaspati [lord of prayer or devotion] who anticipated the arriving of Garuda to seek Amrita explained that such a fate befell Indra due to the curse of Balakhilyas. Indra and other gods made all possible preparation to protect the pot of Amrita.

    Once when Kasyapa asked Indra and 60,000 Balakhilyas to collect firewood for conducting a Yajna [fire ritual] for the birth of his expected son, Indra laughed at the dwarf Balakhilyas who were as small as a thumb were carrying small twigs. Then insulted Balakhilyas began a Yajna in a different place directing against Indra. Mediated by Kasyapa, Balakhilyas drew their anger in the condition that a strong son who could beat Indra would be born as the result of Kasyapa’s Yajna, rendering the yagasakti (yajnic or fire powers). Thus, Indra has escaped for a time being from the wrath of Balakhilyas. After the Yajna, Vinata who visited Kasyapa, her husband was told that she would have a strong son. The son was nobody but Garuda! (Adi Parva, Chapter 30)

    When Garuda approached the pot of Amrita, Visvakarma [the divine architect and smith] who first challenged fell on the ground. Blinded by the dust caused by the flapping of Garuda, Indra and other gods as well as the sun and moon were defeated. The pot of Amrita was found at the centre of the rotating double wheels, underneath of which were giant snakes with glittering eyes and fiery tongues. Garuda made snakes blind with dust and killed them by his beak. Garuda transformed himself into a small size to enter to the side of the pot and broke the wheel machine. He flew up to the sky with the pot in his beak and blocked of the sun light with his spread wings. Vishnu was pleased with the great achievement of Garuda and asked him what boon he wanted. Garuda’s two things that he would become a vehicle of Vishnu and that he would be bestowed eternal life were realised.

    When Garuda was returning from the place of Vishnu, Indra shot a special weapon, Vajra [thunderbolt] against Garuda but the latter was unhurt. Everyone who saw a feather that fell from the sky acclaimed Garuda as Suparna (the good wing). Having been taken aback, Indra approached Garuda and asked that they could be friends in future and that the pot of Amrita be returned. Garuda replied that Amrita would be returned if he was granted the power to make snakes his food, and told that “he had taken the Amrita not for his own use but to give it to snakes in exchange for liberating his mother who had been made a slave by the trick of Kadru and that Indra could snatch the pot of Amrita from the snakes. He would not hamper.” Then, Indra became a friend of Garuda and followed the latter to the den of snakes.

    Garuda handed over the pot of Amrita to the snakes and advised them to take a purificatory bath before tasting the Amrita, placing on the darbha grass (halfa grass, Desmostachya bipinnata) that spread on the ground. [Vinata is considered to have been freed at this moment, although not written in the cited story.] While the snakes were away for a while, Indra took away the pot. When snakes returned to the place where the pot should have been and licked the darbha grass, their tongues split into two. Ever since that day, snakes have a split tongue.

    Thus, Garuda rescued his mother from the state of slavery. [Adi Parva, Chapter 34].



After obtaining the pot of amrita, Garuda flew up to the sky to return home. Dupricated from: Anant Pai, Amar Chitra Katha Comics: Garuda, Amar Chitra Katha 1980.