Story of Garuda - Part 2

Upon hearing this explanation, all the Devas started to extol the virtues of Garuda. They said, "O Son of Kashyapa, thy lusture out shines us all. Thou art a great Rishi, knowledgeable in the Vedas and other branches of knowledge. Thou art greater than Agni. Thou art like the fire that shall burn all creation at the end of the world. Thou art our great protector, the ocean of holiness. None is purer than thee. Thou art the dispeller of darkness. We are unable to bear thy divine radiance, for it is threatening to burn us. O terrible one, O mighty Garuda, please reduce your brightness, so that we can see you normally."

Upon hearing this prayer from the celestials, in obedience to their requests, Garuda reduced his brightness a thousand fold, enabling them to see him clearly. Like his mother, he also became the servant of Kadru and her sons.

One day, Kadru commanded Garuda to take her and her sons to a region in the middle of the oceans, which would be a suitable habitat for the Nagas. So Garuda carried his half-brothers and their mother on his back, and started to ascend in the sky. As he got closer to the sun, the snakes started to wilt in its great heat. Kadru prayed to Indra, the friend of her sons, to save them. Thereupon Indra commanded the clouds and caused refreshing rain to fall on them. It revived the snakes. They and their mother reached the safety of the island called Ramaniyaka.

The island was beautiful, covered with dense forests, filled with trees of every kind. However, the snakes were not satisfied. The said, "O Garuda, take us to some better place. You must have seen something more suitable while you were flying. Take us there."

Garuda had grown tired of doing his half-brothers' bidding. He turned to his mother Vinata and said, "O Mother. Why is that we have to do everything these snakes say? Whence have we become their servants?"

Then Vinata recounted to him the story of the bet she had made with Kadru. Garuda then turned to his brothers and said, "I no longer wish to be a servant. Tell me, what should I do that I may be rid of this slavery? How may I save myself and my mother from this plight?"

The snakes replied, "Know that Amrit has been fixed as the portion of the Devas alone. They guard it zealously. If you bring us this divine Amrit, we shall release you and your mother from bondage."

So the great bird resolved to save himself and his mother by obtaining Amrit. He asked his mother, "Tell me mother, how can I obtain Amrit? I can fly all the way there, but I will need a great amount of food to accomplish this feat. Tell me where I might find such food?"

Vinata said, "In a remote place in the midst of the ocean, a great tribe of Nishadas (a local tribe) reside. They have turned their mind towards evil. You may eat them for food. Just take care that you do not inadvertently consume a Brahmana."

Garuda said, "I shall eat the Nishadas mother. However, how shall I be able to identify a Brahmana?"

His mother replied, "You can tell a Brahmana apart by his Brahma-Tejas (divine-lusture). If you eat a Brahmana inadvertently, you can identify him by the way he burns your throat. If such a thing happens, immediately release him, for the great anger of a Brahmana can even destroy the Gods!"

After assuring his mother that he will take care, Garuda took to the skies. He consumed innumerable Nishadas who were fishermen. Once, he felt a great fire burning in his throat, and realized that he had swallowed a Brahmana. He immediately released him and then continued his destruction of the Nishadas.

Despite eating all the Nishadas he did not fell satiated. He met his father Kashyapa on the way and asked him to indicate suitable food.

Kashyapa blessed his son and said, "If you continue along your way, you will see an elephant who is dragging a tortoise who is his elder brother. In their previous birth, they were two Rishis named Supritika and Vibhavasu. They quarelled over property and cursed each other to be born as an elephant and tortoise respectively. They are still quarelling in this life. If you eat them, your hunger shall be appeased. May you be successful in your quest!"

Garuda encountered the animals mentioned by his father on the banks of a lake. He devoured them whole and satisfied his great hunger. He came upon a tree, whose branches broke away when he sat upon them. Sages called the Valakhilyas were performing a penance on that branch. When Garuda saw that they were falling down, he carried the whole branch in his claws. It was then that he got the name of Garuda, which means bearer of heavy weight.

Meanwhile, the Devas saw a wondrous sight. All their weapons rose from their holsters and started turning on each other. Indra's favorite thunderbolt started quivering in fright. Meteors and comets started to shoot in the sky.

Alarmed by these ill omens, Indra asked his preceptor Brihaspati, "Sire, What do these ill omens mean? Even when the Asuras were assaulting the heavens such a thing never came to pass. What can be the cause of this confusion?"

His preceptor replied, "Know that the great bird Garuda, resolved upon obtaining Amrit, to free himself and his mother from bondage, is flying to attack you all. He is of great energy and of immeasurable strength. If you hope to save Amrit, you have prepare for battle."

Indra then ordered the rest of the Devas to take up battle positions. He himself strode in front of his army, resolved to thwart the goal of Garuda.

(There is a reason why Garuda posed such a threat to the king of heaven. Long ago, when Kashyapa was engaged in a sacrifice desiring offspring, the Gods, the Gandharvas and all the Rishis assisted him. Indra was commissioned to find the fuel for the sacrifice. The sages known as the Valakhilyas, were also asked to bring some fuel. Indra brought a huge mountain full of trees as the fuel. On the way he saw that the Valakhilyas (who were only as large as a thumb), carrying a stalk of a Palasa leaf as the fuel. Drunk with his power, he made fun of them. They then cursed him saying, "To Kashyapa will be born one who is greater than you. He will be the Indra of all creation." Indra sought the intervention of Lord Brahma, who changed the curse slightly. He said, "The son of Kashyapa will be the Indra of the birds. He shall be your friend and thus, you shall be protected from his wrath." It was time for that curse to operate.)