Story of Garuda- the Eagle God in Indian Mythology: Both Mahabharata and Ramayan
Indian Mythology has its place for animals and birds as Gods and demi-gods in the same lineage of our mainstream Gods too. Snakes (Naga Panchami)are worshipped, so is a tortoise (Samudra Manthan), Bear (Jambhavant in Ramayan), Monkey (Hanuman in Ramayan and Mahabharata), Cow (Kamadhenu), Elephant (Ganesha), Peacock is the Vahana of Lord Muruga or Karthikeya, Tiger (as the Vahana-mount of Goddess Durga). Similarly the Eagle or the Garuda has a special place in our epics and stories. Garuda is also known as Pakshi Raja (the king of Birds)
Garuda- the Eagle God, the divine eagle, is the vehicle, or Vahana, of Hindu God Vishnu. Nagas or Snakes are his permanent enemies. There is an interesting story in the Purana that explains why Garuda and snakes are enemies.
Garuda Panchami is a special day of worshipping Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The festival of Garuda Panchami is celebrated on the 5th day of the waxing moon phase (Shukla paksha) in the month of Shravan (August-September). Nag Panchami is on the 11th August 2013.
Garuda Pooja Celebrations
“Om Thathpurushaya Vidhmahe.
Suvarna Pakshaya Dheemahe.
Thanno Garuda Prachodayath”||1||
Garuda Panchami is celebration of devotion of Garuda towards his mother Vinita. This day is observed especially by mother and sons to share the same spirit of love, affection and devotion between each other. The deity of Garuda is worshipped on this day. Mothers pray for better health and future of their children. They bless their children so that they get the strength and devotion of Garuda to execute devotional activities.
Story of Garuda- the Eagle God:
Sage Kashyapa had two wives named Kadru and Vinita. Kadru gave birth to thousand snakes who are considered to be the ancestors of the Snakes on earth. Vinita gave birth to the powerful Garuda.
Once Kadru and Vinita put a bet on the color of the tail of the horse Uchaishravas – a seven-headed flying horse that was obtained during the churning of ocean or Samudra Manthan. Kadru(mother of the snakes/serpents) claimed the color was black and Vinita (mother of powerful Garuda) claimed it was white. The stake was whoever lost the bet will serve the other. Kadru cheated by asking her sons, the Nagas, to hang on to the tail of Uchaishravas. Thus the white tail of the divine horse turned black as the nagas hung on to them. Vinita and Garuda were thus forced to serve Kadru. They were treated badly by Kadru and her sons.
Later the nagas agreed to free Garuda and his mother if he brought the Amrit, or Elixer /Ambrosia which was in the possession of Indra, the king of Devas or demi gods. Garuda got Amrit from heaven and freed himself and his mother from servitude.
But the cheating and the insult suffered made Garuda- the Eagle God the arch rival of Nagas.
Garuda – The embodiment of Strength and Service:
When Garuda stole the pot of Nectar/ambrosia from Indra, who was jealous of the Mighty birds strength, Vishnu was impressed with Garuda integrity as he did not take even a drop of the tempting nectar for himself and asked Garuda to ask a boon. Garuda immediately said that he wanted a position higher than Vishnu. Vishnu the eternal trickster that he was, asked Garuda to adorn his flag and sit atop the flagstaff. Garuda was so taken over by the Bhakti of the great Lord Vishnu that he promised to be his mount or Vahana.
Garuda is renowned for his great speed. He ranges in the sky like a meteor, throwing the clouds topsy turvy. The gush of wind produced from his wings causes a tremor in the mountains, a strong flutter in the water of the sea and overturns a large number of trees.
Garuda was married to Unnati, which means ‘the spirit of progress’. They had two sons – Sampati and Jatayu, both of whom play important roles in the Ramayana. He has many names as is suitable for a god who can assume all forms. He is Rakta-paksha, ‘Blood [red] winged’, Gaganeshwara, ‘Lord of the sky’, Suvarna kaya, ‘Golden bodied’, Sweta-Rohita, ‘The White and Red’, Khageshwara, ‘ King of the birds’, Taraswin, ‘The Swift’, Rasayana, ‘Who moves like Quicksilver’ and Vajrajit, ‘Conqueror of the Thunderbolt’. He is also known as “the senior servant of Hari [Vishnu]“, Hanuman being the junior servant. Garuda keeps appearing in stories about Vishnu but his stature arises from the fact that he renounced and restrained his colossal powers to serve the universe.
Importance and stature of Garuda in Hindu religion
The Garudopanishad and one purana, the Garuda Purana is dedicated to Garuda. Garuda is popular as “Dwarapalaka” in many temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. He is known by several names given in reference to qualities and pastimes of Garuda. Garuda is also known as: Vishnuratha, Nagantaka, Sitanana, Chirada, Gaganeshvara, Kashyapi, Khageshvara, Sudhahara, Suparna, Kamayusha, Tarkshya, Vainateya and others.
Garuda is mentioned in revered scriptures like Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam.
In Bhagavad Gita Krishna says in Chapter 10, Text 30: “Of birds, I am the son of Vinata (Garuda).”
In Srimad Bhagavatam Garuda is mentioned in the pastime of Krishna killing Narakasura
demon. Lord Krishna along with Satyabhama ride on Garuda and killed Narakasura. In another occasion, Lord Hari came to save Gajendra, the devotee Elephant, riding on Garuda. It is said that when Garuda flies in air, his wings sings the glories of Vedas.
What is the Garuda Purana
As Garuda is safterall an eagle, a bird of prey and a part scavenger, the Garuda Purana deals with an account of funeral procedures, including rituals, the astrological timing of the post-death observances, reincarnation and ritual gifts.
The Garuda Purana is a medium sized Purana consisting of nineteen thousand Shlokas. The Purva Khanda is much longer; it has two hundred and thirty-four chapters. The Uttara Khanda has only forty-five. The Garuda Purana contains detailed descriptions of Vaishnavite worship and rituals, and the focus of this Purana is Vishnu worship. The latter half of this Purana deals with life after death.
The final part of this text is an appeal to self-knowledge as the key to liberation, going beyond austerities and study of the texts. This has given great importance to the origin of Garuda. There are nineteen thousand verses describing the ways to the Lord.
The Hindus of north India generally read this Purana while cremating the bodies of the dead.