Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:58 AM
Garuda is a mythological bird usually described as having a human form with the head of a bird. He is king of the birds and son of Kashyapa and Vinita, one of Daksha’s daughters, who hatched from an egg which Vinita laid. He has the head, wings, talons and beak of an eagle and the body and limbs of a man. His face is white, his wings red and his body is golden. When he was born, he was so dazzlingly brilliant that he was mistaken for Agni and worshipped.
Garuda was born with a great hatred of evils and roams about the world devouring the bad, his parents forbade him to eat Brahmins. He is popular for his relentless hatred for snakes, which he inherited from his mother, who was at odds with Kashyapa’s principal wife, Kadru, the mother of serpents. The two wives had an argument over the color of the horse Uchchaisravas, produced during the churning of the milk ocean. Each laid wager on her own history and promised that whoever was wrong should become the slave of other. Kadru was proved to be right and she imprisoned Vinita in the nether regions, where she was guarded by the serpents.
Garuda sought to release his mother, but the serpents demanded as a ransom a cup of the gods’ ambrosia. So Garuda set off for the celestial mountain where the amrita was kept, surrounded by the terrible flames which were fanned by violent winds that caused them to leap up to the sky. Garuda drank up many rivers and extinguished fire. The next barrier was a fast revolving wheel with bright, sharp spokes but Garuda made his body small and slipped through them. He then had to overcome two fire spitting snakes, so he blinded them with dust and cut them to pieces. He then turned back to the wheel, broke it and taking up the cup of amrita, flew with it to the nether regions, the gods pursued him and Indra struck him with his thunderbolt. They fought, Indra’s thunderbolt was smashed. Garuda felt no pain and continued until he reached the domain of the serpents. On his arrival his mother was released; but just as the serpents were about to drink amrita Indra snatched the cup away from them. The serpents greedily licked up the few drops which had spilt on to the grass and this was enough to make them immortal; but with its strength it also divided their tongues.
A variant of the myth treats the amrita or soma demanded by the serpents as the moon and Garuda’s quest for it takes a different form. Garuda set off for the moon, but on his long journey he felt hungry just as he was passing the pole star, the abode of his father Kashyapa. He asked his father where he could find something to eat and Kashyapa sent him to a lake where a tortoise and elephant were fighting. He tortoise was eighty miles long and the elephant twice that length, but Garuda seized them, one in each claw, and put them on top of a tree eight hundred miles high. The tree could not bear their weight and was in danger of snapping and crushing some Brahmins. Mindful of his parents’ prohibition on killing of Brahmins, Garuda flew with the elephant and the tortoise to a mountain, where he consumed them.
Garuda can easily traverse the universe from end to end. He can kill and eat poisonous snakes with no harmful consequences to himself. He played an important role in Krishna incarnation, in which Krishna and Satyabhama rode on Garuda to kill the demon Narakasura. On another occasion, Lord Vishnu rode on Garuda to save the devotee Gajendra, the elephant. He is a large mythical bird or bird-like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. He is depicted in a variety of ways, although most often he has the upper body and wings of an eagle with the lower body of a human. All paintings are courtesy of Art of Legend India.