“mātṛ devo bhavaḥ”
There is no shadow, no shelter, no protector like a mother; and today, the entire devalok witnessed a saga of a son’s love and devotion towards his mother.
Lord Indra, all the Gods and Goddesses, and other heavenly beings showered rose petals to welcome him – the king of birds, who was now the mount of the Supreme.
After gaining my freedom and crossing 7 heavens, I reached HIS abode, Vaikunta.
I felt honoured to serve my lord, the blue skinned one with four arms that held a conch shell, a chakra, a lotus, and a mace; and who adorned a large golden crown with precious gems embedded in it. He, the Supreme, Lord Vishnu, who is surrounded by a cosmic ocean of milk and reclines on a serpent (called Anantha-shesha) bed with his consort Goddess Lakshmi besides him.
I saw HIM waking up, “Did I intrude you, my Lord?”
His blue face beamed, “not at all, Garuda. I was waiting for you to join me.”
HE then turned towards his consort, “Goddess Lakshmi, he is the mighty mythical eagle, king of birds, the most powerful and strongest of all; and from now on he will be my mount (vahana). He shall carry us around the world.” Goddess Lakshmi smiled at me and I offered my respects to her.
“Shall we, Garuda?” I nodded and reduced my size to accommodate my Lord and Goddess Lakshmi.
Indeed, I am truly blessed to serve HIM and to attain this position after all those hardships and challenges I faced.
*** Chapter 1- Freedom ***
Finally, I alighted in front of the eagerly awaiting nagas and then placed the pot of divine nectar on the grass. The nagas were dancing with joy, eyeing the tantalizing elixir*.
“I have fulfilled my promise. Now, it’s your turn.”
“You and your mother are set free. You both are no longer our servants.” They professed and I felt relieved.
As they neared the pot of divine nectar*, I suggested, “you should cleanse and purify yourself before drinking the divine nectar.” Thankfully, the nagas agreed and went to take bath.
In the meantime, Indra came and took away the elixir. When they came back, they saw Indra flying away with the elixir pot. Assuming that the drops of nectar must have been spilled on the grass as Indra flew; they started licking the grass. It did amuse me looking at them crawling and licking the grass desperately for the elixir. However, the grass slit the tongues of the snakes.
*** Chapter 2 – The rise of Vishnu’s mount (vahana) ***
As soon as I had the pot of divine nectar; I rushed back to Earth, to the abode of nagas. Our freedom was the most important thing to me. I couldn’t see my mother suffer anymore. I was ecstatic that her suffering will finally come to an end. Now, aunt Kadru or her sons will not be able to make her work under the scorching sun or ask her to sweep outdoors during the cold weather. I couldn’t wait to go back and put an end to the servitude.
Garuda’s golden face lit even more, with joy and gratitude, and flew swiftly. He held the pot quite dearly and increased his speed to reach faster. He didn’t even think about consuming even a single drop of divine nectar that would make him powerful and immortal. Lord Vishnu had observed everything and was quite pleased with Garuda’s selfless act.
“Stop!” Lord Vishnu stood in front of Garuda, blocking his way brusquely.
I was taken aback. What a sight to behold: radiant, serene, omnipotent Lord Vishnu standing before me. I bowed down before him.
“I am mighty impressed by your integrity. You didn’t wish for a drop of the elixir for yourself. Ask me a boon.” I was humbled and couldn’t believe my ears.
“I would like to hold a position above the Lord himself and remain immortal without consuming the elixir.”
“Adorn my flag and sit atop the mast. As you wish, you shall remain immortal.”
After granting the boon, HE warned me, “know that the nagas are evil. If they drink this elixir, they would harm the world. Prevent them from drinking it.”
I nodded in agreement and in return, offered a boon to Him; to which he replied, “I wish you to be my mount.”
“It will be my honour, my Lord! But first I need to fulfil my duty toward my mother. I shall then return to serve you as your mount.” Lord Vishnu smiled in agreement and disappeared.
I launched at great speed again when Indra hurled his weapon at me. Although the weapon struck me, I smiled and said politely, “O Lord Indra, I shall honour your weapon and shed a single feather but know that I did not feel any pain due to it.”
Indra was shocked hearing this and he softened, “let this bird of beautiful feathers be renowned as Suparna*.” Indra befriended me and asked me not to share the elixir with snakes.
I too agreed and asked him to take away the elixir once my job is done. He agreed and offered me a boon in return for this favour. I pondered about the root cause of all our miseries and remembered the deceitful act of the serpents.
So, I asked, “let the snakes become my natural food.”
“So be it.” Indra granted my wish.
*** Chapter 3 – The pot of divine nectar ***
The Gods sensed bad omen and were worried. Lord Indra hurried to his teacher of Gods, Brihaspati.
“Acharya, acharya, something doesn’t seem right.”
“Indra, I was about to summon you. We all are indeed in trouble. Garuda, son of Kashyapa and Vinata, is heading here to seize the pot of divine nectar, Amrit.” Brihaspati summarized Indra about the deal with nagas and Garuda’s pursuit for his mother’s freedom.
As soon as Indra heard about Garuda, he fought a rising panic that made him uneasy. He cannot let Garuda give Amrit to the nagas. He sprinted back to Indraprastha and summoned all the Gods. He informed everyone about the situation. His voice was edged with fear as he asked them to get ready for the battle.
The Gods had annulated the elixir pot with a colossal fire that covered the sky and gridlocked the way to reach it with a fierce spinning wheel-like machine with sharp rotating blades. Also, they had posted two gargantuan poisonous snakes next to the elixir as deadly guardians.
I landed at the gates of the heavens where I encountered Varuna, Agni, and others who appeared troubled looking at my massive form. A fierce battle ensued between the Gods and me but I defeated them all one by one.
I found the spot where the elixir pot was well-shielded but, ‘Oh, this fire will certainly burn me. Whoosh…’ I took a gigantic form, flew back to the Earth, and carried a pool of water in my mouth to douse the fire that encircled the pot. I squirted the water all over. ‘Ahh, the fire is doused off. But what is this? A spinning wheel with sharp blades.’ I pondered about my approach, ‘up, down, left, or right? It is difficult to enter without me getting severed into infinite pieces. What do I do now?’ An idea flashed and buzz…’now, I can enter in easily.’ I grinned at my miniature size that was of a mosquito. ‘Huh…2 poisonous serpents standing as guardians. Phew…Indeed, serpents are my foes for life.’ I flapped my wings and dust swirled around blinding the snakes and I slayed them in no time. ‘Alas, here is the pot of elixir that will give us freedom.’
*** Chapter 4 – The quest ***
On my way, I saw my father in deep meditation. I paused, folded my hands, and bowed down to offer my respects to him. He opened his eyes and seemed glad to see me. I informed him about my mission to free mother. “May you be victorious, son. Do eat properly as you will need more energy to travel high up to the heavens.” I nodded and continued my journey.
As I soared; I preyed upon a monstrous pair of an elephant and a tortoise. I smirked at my food. In my massive eagle form, I caught them both in a single scoop and flew away to sit on a tree branch. However, the tree branch couldn’t bear my weight along with those 2 heavy animals and soon snapped and came falling.
My eyes went wide as I realized that a group of Valakhilya rishis were meditating hanging upside down from the branches of the tree. I clutched the 2 heavy animals in my hands and caught the broken branch in my mouth; thereby saving those rishis falling upside down from the branches. When the Valakhilya rishis opened their eyes, they looked at me in astonishment. The rishis asked me to put them down on one of the peaks. I nodded gratefully and placed them carefully on one of the peaks. The rishis blessed me. Then, I relished my meal peacefully.
*** Chapter 5 – The deal ***
Few months passed.
The nagas summoned me and imperiously told me, “Garuda, we and our mother wish to go to an island for a picnic. We want your mother to carry ours and you shall carry all of us to the island. Although my blood boiled with anger, I had to obey them.
I saw aunt Kadru smirking as she climbed over my mother’s back.
“Be careful, Vinata. Hold me properly, I should not fall.” I heard her muttering.
My mother nodded and started walking towards the island. I was burning with rage but decided to wait for an opportune moment.
I carried all the serpents on my back and purposely flew closer to the sun. “uhh…ahh…” I smirked when they couldn’t bear the scorching heat and fell off.
One of them called out, “Oh Mother, help us. Our skin is burning.” Kadru immediately folded her hands and prayed to Lord Indra to save her sons. Lord Indra sent cool showers to protect the serpents from sunburn. His act made me furious. I thought of striking a deal with the imprudent serpents after reaching the island.
“My dear half-brothers, please listen to me. I would like to offer you a deal.”
The snakes were now terrified of me because of the burns I imposed on them.
“Do not worry, I shall not harm you. Listen to me once, please!” I assured them looking at their petrified faces.
“Oo oK, what is it?” One of them urged.
“What is it that you all want in order to grant freedom to me and my mother? I can give you whatever you wish but in return, you should free me and my mother.”
The nagas whispered among themselves and thought of something that could not be accomplished easily. They knew Garuda was mighty and can achieve anything that he wished for. They took time to think about the most desirable thing that they could ask him.
The serpents came up with their answer, “Garuda, bring us the elixir of immortality, the Amrit which the Gods received during Samudra Manthan, that is fiercely guarded in the heavens.”
Anyone who drank the elixir remained young, immortal, and became powerful. The nagas knew no one can reach up to the pot of divine nectar and if at all anyone can attempt reaching it, it would be Garuda.
I knew it was the most difficult thing. Nevertheless, I went to my mother and touched her feet. She raised her hand and blessed me. The next minute I spread my wings wide and glided up toward the heavens.
*** Chapter 6 – The suffering ***
Despite Garuda’s strength and power, he too had to abide and became a mere servant just like his mother. Kadru and her sons loathed Garuda. The serpents made him do numerous mundane jobs. Vinata knew that they tried to instigate Garuda. She asked Garuda to not disobey them and draw Kadru’s wrath when she felt a flicker of irritation in his eyes.
“I can’t believe she is my mother’s own sister. How can one abuse their own sister?” His molten anger rolled through his veins when he saw blisters on his mother’s hands and feet.
“Mother, you work from dawn to dusk and yet she calls you at late hours. She doesn’t even let you eat or sleep peacefully.” Garuda grumbled.
“Garuda, something urgent must have come up. You have food and sleep. I will go check and come.”
One night, he heard some muffled moans and rage pounded in him like a drumbeat upon looking at bluish-black bruises all over his mother’s body. She hid the bowl, “Garuda, why are you awake at this time?” He pressed down his anger, grabbed the bowl from her; “let me apply” and applied the sandal paste over her wounds. His resentment festered in him with each passing day as he witnessed his mother suffer day and night.
Garuda was curious to know what led to his mother’s slavery. However, his mother avoided the topic. Nevertheless, he learned from his half-brothers that his mother was spending her life in vassalage due to a lost wager.
*** Chapter 7 – The birth of Garuda ***
“Vinata, remove that ruby ring too. Here are your clothes and hereafter, you shall adorn floral ornaments only.” Kadru gave an icy stare at her sister and ousted her form the palace. Vinata gave up all her ornaments, silk clothing, and the palatial luxuries. She lived like a mere maidservant.
Several years later, Vinata’s prayers were answered; the huge egg busted and he appeared as a raging firestorm equal to the cosmic inferno that consumes the world at the end of every age. His lustre terrified the Gods. The bright light almost made them blind. Alarmed by his power, the gods pled him for mercy, and he complied with their requests. He significantly reduced himself in both size and vigour. He also condensed his brightness enabling everyone to see him. Vinata’s second son ‘Garuda’ was born with the torso and limbs of a human male and the talons, wings, and beak of an eagle. Garuda could take any form. He could block the sun. He had enormous speed. His wings would produce a gush of wind that caused tremors in mountains and tsunamis in oceans.
Vinata was overjoyed while Kadru who had witnessed Garuda’s powers was fuming with pangs of jealousy.
*** Chapter 8 – The bet ***
Vinata patiently waited for her son to be born and safeguarded her only egg.
Once, Kadru and Vinata landed in a heated argument wherein Kadru challenged her, “what is the colour of the 7-headed horse Uchaishravas?”
“It is pure white from nose to tail.”
“You are wrong. The tail is black while the rest of its body is white. Let’s have a bet on this. The loser shall become the slave of the winner.”
Vinata accepted the bet. Little did she know that Kadru hatched a plan to avenge her. Kadru knew the horse was white and white throughout. So, she called her sons, “go and entwine yourself around the horse Uchaishravas’s tail and let it appear black.”
Kadru’s sons didn’t agree to it making her angry. She screamed, “how dare you disobey your mother?”
Her sons were scared of their mother’s fury and hence agreed. The blackest of them went and entwined around the horse’s tail.
When Kadru and Vinata arrived to see, the horse’s tail appeared black. Kadru won the bet and Vinata became her slave.
*** Chapter 9 – The curse ***
Kadru purposely played and fed her sons in front of Vinata. A wave of pain rolled through Vinata that would often blur her eyes.
Days flew into months, months into years, and years into many more years.
Kadru’s children were all grown up now however Vinata’s eggs lay still. Vinata looked pale and often zonked out. Nothing could shadow those dark circles under her puffed eyes.
Once Vinata accidentally overheard Kadru and her sons talk inside their chambers.
“Mother, when are we going to meet our half-brothers?”
Kadru’s eyes caught the silhouette.
“Oh son, I feel so sad for my dear sister. She has endured so much. She just asked for 2 children and looks like she will end up having none. I think the eggs have gone stale. Poor Vinata!” Kadru’s crocodile teary act distorted Vinata’s vision.
“You idiot, why are you bothered about your half-brothers?” Kadru twisted her son’s ears once Vinata left, “those eggs won’t hatch. Do you get that?”
Vinata trembled and sank into the deep sea of her tears as Kadru’s words echoed in her mind. “What if her words turned true? How long should I wait to embrace motherhood? Are my eggs even alive and healthy?” Her screams pierced the air. Doubt crawled in her heart as she went on her knees in front of her favourite deity.
That night, Vinata was on the fence. She had been toing and froing for quite some time on how to find out if her eggs were in good condition.
An impatient Vinata finally broke one of the eggs and a reddish-golden light stemmed from the egg. A bleak human-like form tried to emerge from the egg but writhed in pain and let out a loud shriek. Vinata realized her mistake and lamented; but it was late. Her son ‘Aruna’ finally emerged; the upper part of his body was fully formed while the lower part was yet to develop.
The child fumed, “what kind of a mother are you? You nearly killed me. Because of your rash act, I will now have to live with a disability lifelong.”
His soul was burning. Vinata was horrified looking at her partially developed son.
“You have committed a sin that is unpardonable. I shall never be able to forgive you. I curse you to slavery!”
“Dear son, please forgive me. I only wished to see you. I didn’t intend to hurt you.” Vinata shuddered and begged for mercy.
Aruna calmed down a bit seeing his mother weep, “Mother, I will not be able to annul my curse. However, do not disturb my brother there. If you are patient enough for him to come out then he shall be the means to free you from the bondage.” With that, Aruna vanished into the sky leaving a grieving Vinata on the ground.
*** Epilogue ***
Maharishi Kashyapa, a self-made scholar, a revered Vedic sage, one of the seven rishis (Saptarishis), and the wish-born son of Lord Brahma married the two beautiful daughters of Daksha, Kadru and Vinata.
Kadru and Vinata both happily married the sage and served him diligently. Kadru was very competitive.
“I must win his heart before Vinata,” thought Kadru, who always envied her sister.
On the other hand, Vinata, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, was kind-hearted and an altruistic person.
Whenever sage Kashyapa arrived at the palace, both Kadru and Vinata never left any stone unturned in offering their services. He was pleased with both his wives and decided to grant them a boon.
“My dear Kadru and Vinata, ask me anything that you want.”
Vinata’s wicked mind thought of asking for a unique boon that will make her more powerful than her sister. Her jealous-filled eyes lit up and she spoke in her orotund voice, “thank you for your graciousness. All I seek from you as a boon is 1000 sons of incomparable strength and valour to be born to me.”
“So be it! You shall have 1000 nagas as your sons.”
Vinata seemed calm and composed as she spoke, “bless me with two children; each equal to sister Kadru’s 1000 sons and who shall eclipse them in strength, valour, and fame.”
“So be it!” Sage Kashyapa blessed them both and returned to the forest to meditate.
In due course of time, Kadru gave birth to 1000 eggs while Vinata gave birth to 2 eggs. The maid-servants were ordered to guard the eggs which were placed in warm containers.
Within a few months, one by one Kadru’s eggs hatched, and out came 1000 black snakes. Kadru thus became a proud mother to 1000 venomous and malicious serpents.
“Vinata, hope your eggs are still alive? Why are they taking so much time to hatch?”
“Why do you say such awful things, sister? You are hurting my children.” Vinata patted her eggs lovingly.
“Hurting your children? Are you sure they are inside? Heehaw…” Kadru laughed out loud.
As time passed, Kadru was elated that Vinata’s eggs didn’t hatch; in fact, she never wanted her children to come out.
The story about Garuda can be found in the first book of epic Mahabharata and it has occurred centuries ago. It was difficult to find the exact timeline, hence the timelines are not included here. However, the sequence of events has been narrated in the same order.
Elixir /divine nectar /amrit – the heavenly nectar of immortality
Samudra manthan – churning of the ocean of milk which produced several valubales.
Nagas – it means serpent in Sanskrit; in Hinduism, nagas means mythical semi-divine beings (half-human, hal-serpent)
Mast – here, it means Lord Vishnu’s flag banner i.e Garuda became the emblem of the Lord’s flag.
Vaikuntha – an eternal heavenly realm, abode of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi
Vahana / mount – the being (animal or mythical being) that is used as a vehicle by a particular God.
Anantha-Shesha – the celestial snake on which Lord Vishnu reclines in the cosmic ocean; also known as Adi shesha or Shesha.
Uchaishravas – the divine 7-headed horse that came out during Samudra manthan and belonged to Lord Indra
Suparna – Garuda’s another name, given by Lord Indra
Brihaspati – also known as Dev Guru Brihaspati or it also refers to planet Jupiter in vedic astrology. Dev guru Brihaspati is the teacher/guru of all Gods.
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