Vishnu mounted on Garuda with a mountain background

Garuda: The King of the Birds

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Garuda is a bird-like creature. He is the mount of Vishnu. He is Kashyapa and Vinata’s son. Garuda is very large and is half-eagle. He is the king of the eagles and his enemy are the Nagas.


  • Father: Kashyapa
  • Mother: Vinata
  • Brother: Aruna
  • Sons: Sumukha, Suvarna, Subala, Sunaama, Sunethra, Suvarchas


Kashyapa Maharishi, the son of Marichi, had married 13 daughters of Daksha. Two of these wives were Vinata and Kadru. One day, Kashyapa approached them and said, “I have decided to perform a yagna for more sons and this time, you two will be the mothers.”

“I would like to be the mother of a thousand mighty snakes,” Kadru requested.

“And I would like to be the mother of two sons more powerful than Kadru’s thousand offspring,” Vinata requested.

Kashyapa granted them their boons and began the yagna. Kashyapa’s son Indra (king of the devas) came to help his father. The Valakhilyas, 60 thousand thumb-sized ascetics, also came to help Kashyapa. They started bringing logs for the fire. Indra came back carrying a large log. When he saw the Valakhilyas struggling to carry a twig, he started laughing. The Valakhilyas were enraged and they decided to humble his ego.

Soon, the preparations were complete and the yagna began. During the yagna, the Valakhilya rishis suddenly stood up and approached the fire. They said, “May another Indra be born who is more potent than the current one.”

Indra was alarmed when he heard the Valakhilya rishis’ wish. He approached Kashyapa rishi and asked for protection. Kashyapa arrived at the yagna site and heard the story from the Valakhilyas’ point of view and then said, “Oh Valakhilyas, the present Indra will remain the Indra of the heavens. Let your Indra be the king of the birds.”

The Valakhilyas agreed and the yagna was successfully completed. After the yagna, Kashyapa returned to his wives and told them that their sons would soon be born.

Soon, as per their wishes, Vinata produced 2 eggs and Kadru produced 1,000 egs. After a couple years, Kadru’s eggs hatched and one thousand snakes were born. When Kadru’s eggs hatched, Vinata became really impatient. Her eggs still hadn’t hatched. She decided to break one of her eggs. Inside was a child, but his lower half was still just flesh because he hadn’t yet fully developed.

The child cursed her, saying, “Out of impatience, you broke my egg. I thus curse you that you will become someone’s slave. But if you patiently wait for the second egg to hatch, the offspring born from that egg will free you.” Saying that, the child instantly flew up to the Sun and became Aruna, the charioteer of the Sun.

Once, Vinata and Kadru saw Indra’s horse Uchhasraivas fly by in the sky. Vinata claimed that it is completely white, while Kadru argued that it has black tail. They decided to set up a wager. The person who lost the wager would become the other’s servant.

Meanwhile, Kadru doubted herself. “What if Vinata is right?” Kadru wondered. She knew she couldn’t lose, so she told her sons to secretly coil around the horse’s tail to make it look black.

The next day, Kadru and Vinata journeyed to the abode of Uchhasraivas. The horse was completely white, but it had a black tail?! Vinata couldn’t believe her eyes. She was confident that the horse was completely white. Kadru laughed and said, “Come Vinata. You lost the wager. You are now my slave!”

At that time, the second egg hatched and a half-bird, half-human creature emerged from the egg. He had the body and legs of a human, but the head and wings of a bird. This creature was the one the Valakhilyas had prayed for. The bird quickly increased its size and met its mother. Vinata was delighted with the long-awaited birth of her son.

Freedom from the Nagas and Becoming Lord Vishnu’s Mount

A few days later, Kadru and the Nagas summoned Vinata and her son. “We would like to visit the island of the Nagas. It is in the middle of the ocean. You will take us there,” Kadru said.

Vinata took Kadru on her shoulder and told her son to carry the Nagas. Her son was perplexed and wondered why he had to serve the Nagas. But he listened to his mother and increased his size. The Nagas got on his back and he started flying to island. Vinata’s son purposefully flew close to the Sun and the Nagas were about to burn. Kadru, who was watching from below, was alarmed and she started praying to Indra for help. Indra listened to her prayer and it suddenly started raining. Vinata’s son realized that Indra was helping the Nagas, so he descended and took them to the island.

Vinata and her son then dropped off Kadru and the Nagas at the island. Kadru and her sons went off to explore the island. Meanwhile, Vinata’s son asked his mother why she acted like a servant of Kadru. Vinata told her son about everything that had happened.

Vinata’s son was enraged and he made a plan. He told the snakes, “I want to make a deal. I will give you whatever you want and you give my mother and I freedom.” The Nagas agreed. They knew they had to come up with a really difficult task. “If you bring us the Amrita of the devas that they churned from the ocean, we will grant you and your mother freedom.”

Vinata’s son took blessings from his mother and then rose to the skies. As he flew towards Swargaloka, he came across his father Kashyapa doing penance. He met his father and told him what had happened. He then asked, “Father, I will need a lot of energy for this task. Where can I get enough food to increase my energy?”

Kashyapa pointed at a lake and said, “On the banks of this lake are a tortoise and an elephant. They have been fighting for years. Eat those two animals for energy.”

Vinata’s son accordingly flew to the lake and grabbed the two animals in his claws. He started looking for a place to eat the animals. Soon, he spotted an old banyan tree which looked like the perfect place to eat the animals. Garuda perched on a branch, but because of his weight, the branch snapped and fell down. As it was falling down, Vinata’s son realized that the Valakhilya sages were meditating upside-down on the branch.

Vinata’s son caught the branch in mid-air and flew on. The Valakhilya sages opened their eyes and realized that the branch they had been meditating on was flying and was being carried by a huge bird. An elephant and a tortoise were in the hands of the huge bird. Vinata’s son spotted the Gandhamadhana Mountains and he deposited the Valakhilya rishis on those mountains. The Valakhilya rishis blessed the bird and named him ‘Garuda’. Garuda then let go of the log and perched on a peak to eat his prey. After eating his prey, he took off to go to Swarga.

Meanwhile, at Swarga, evil omens began appearing in the sky. The devas were frightened and they approached their preceptor Brihaspati for help. “Garuda, the great bird, the son of Vinata and Kashyapa, is approaching to steal your nectar. He is undefeatable,” Brihaspati said

Indra and all of the devas went to the location where the nectar was kept. “We must fight for our Amrita!” Indra announced. All of the devas took up arms and got ready for battle. They created a wall of fire around the Amrita. Inside that, they put a rotating wheel with sharp edges around the Amrita, with venomous snakes underneath the wheel.

A few moments later, Garuda appeared. He started flapping his wings and created dust everywhere. The devas couldn’t see anything. “Vayu, swallow the dust. It is blinding us!” Indra screamed. Vayu opened his mouth and all of the dust was absorbed into his mouth. The devas started cheering.

Indra yelled, “ATTACK.” All the devas started throwing weapon after weapon on Garuda. For a moment, they thought they might actually overpower Garuda. But then, bright light started shining out of the bird and he grew massive. Garuda started throwing the devas around with his massive talons and wings. The remaining devas fled in terror.

Now that the devas had fled, Garuda proceeded forward. But a huge wall of fire was blocking him. He tried to walk through the fire but it was burning. Garuda realized he needed a massive quantity of water. He changed his form to have ninety times ninety mouths and filled them with the waters of several rivers. He released the water and the fire was extinguished.

He then spotted the last line of defense, the metal wheels. Garuda tried to go over it, but he couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t go from the side because of the spikes on the metal. Garuda went into deep thought. “If not up, if not to the side….then down!” he realized. Garuda turned into a tiny mosquito and went underneath the wheels.

He then spotted the snakes. Garuda turned back into a bird and started flapping his wings really hard. In the dust, Garuda killed the snakes. In joy, he snatched the Amrita and increased his size, shattering the wheel. He then flew into the sky. He was going to be free! His mother was going to be free! He started flying back to Kadru’s palace when he saw Lord Vishnu before him. Lord Vishnu had seen Garuda defeat the devas and was amazed by Garuda’s strength.

“I am amazed by your strength and determination, Garuda. Along with that, you didn’t even once think about eating the nectar yourself. Even the devas would be tempted by the Amrita. I want you to ask from me two boons,” Vishnu said.

“Garuda bowed down to Lord Vishnu and then said, “I wish to be immortal and free from all diseases. And I wish to be above even you.”

“So be it. Please decrease your size and go perch on my flagstaff,” Vishnu said. Garuda did accordingly and Vishnu said, “See, you are now above me.”

Garuda was pleased and said, “I wish to grant you a boon as well, My Lord.”

“I would like you to be my mount and carry me around everywhere,” Vishnu asked.

“It would be an honor to carry you around, my lord. But first, I have to finish my job and give this Amrita to Kadru, so my mother and I are free,” Garuda said.

Garuda then took leave of Vishnu. On the way to Kadru’s palace, he met Indra. Indra attacked him and he fought back. Garuda was just about to defeat him when Indra threw his Vajra at Garuda. Nothing happened to Garuda except for a feather falling of his body! Indra was dumbfounded.

“Garuda, the Vajra is the strongest weapon of the devas. Even it had no effect on you. You are very powerful. I know you are a good person and I don’t want to fight you. Please accept my friendship and show me the extent of your power,” Indra said.

“Let there be friendship between us. As for my power, I can the carry the weight of this entire planet on one of my feathers. My body is capable of carrying all of the worlds,” Garuda said.

“Friend, if you have no use for the nectar, please return it. It is very valuable,” Indra said,

“I cannot give you the nectar. I have to give it to the Nagas so that my mother and I are free. But I can help you retrieve it. You may take the nectar back after I give to the Nagas,” Garuda said.

Indra was pleased. He said, “Ask me for anything and I will grant you it.”

Garuda thought it over. He was still angry at the Nagas for mistreating him and his mother. He wanted to teach them a lesson. “I want snakes to be my natural food,” Garuda finally said. “So be it,” Indra said and then disappeared.

Garuda went to the Nagas and said, “Here is your Amrita. My mother and I are henceforth free. This is the Amrita of the devas, so you must cleanse yourself before consuming it. I will place it on this Kusha grass while you go for your ablutions. You can then drink the Amrita.”

The Nagas declared Vinata’s freedom and then left to take a bath. As planned, Indra came there and took the Amrita back to Swarga. When the snakes finished their bath, they saw Indra leaving with the pot of Amirta. The Nagas were furious, but they saw that some of the Amrita had dripped out of the post onto the grass. They decided to lick those drops of Amrita. However, they were unable to because the sharp grass cut the snakes’ tongues and that is why snakes have forked tongues.

Attacking the Nagas

Now that he had obtained Indra’s permission, Garuda began regular attacks on the Nagas. He wanted to take revenge for how they had treated his mother. The Nagas were terrified and they made a plan. They approached Garuda with the plan that he would eat one Naga daily. Garuda accepted their proposal and he began eating one Naga a day.

After some time, the Nagas again approached Garuda. They said, “We have decided to conduct sacrifice. Everyday, one Naga will approach you with the food from the sacrifice and give it to you.” Garuda agreed to this as well and he began eating the food from the sacrifice.

But one Naga, Kaliya, disliked their arrangement with Garuda. He saw himself as superior to Garuda. Garuda wanted to teach Kaliya a lesson, so he challenged Kaliya to a fight. The fight happened on the banks of the Kalindi river. During the fight, the flapping of Garuda’s wings caused the waters of the river to fall on Sage Saubhari, who was meditating nearby. Saubhari cursed Garuda that he would die if he ever entered this region again. Thus, Garuda was unable to go to this place. Kaliya started living here to protect himself from Garuda. In the future, Lord Krishna would subdue Kaliya at that location.

Garuda Humbled

Garuda had become very arrogant because he was Lord Vishnu’s vehicle. Matali was Lord Indra’s charioteer. His daughter Guna Kesi was of marriageable age but he couldn’t find anybody good to marry her. He had rejected all the men so far.

Matali was wondering what to do, when Sage Narada appeared in front of him, singing ‘Narayan Narayan’. “Sage Narada has traveled all the lokas. He must know someone suitable for my daughter to marry,” Matalia thought. He told Narada about his dilemma.

“You have traveled to the Patala lokas,” Matali said. “I wonder if you would know anybody who is a good match for my…” Matali trailed away.

“I can think of someone who will be the perfect match for your daughter,” Narada said. “But I will not tell you, I will show you.”

Narada and Matalia went to Patala. Narada took Matali to a Naga standing in a beautiful garden. “My friend Aaryaka, I would like you to meet Indra’s charioteer: Matali,” Narada said to the Naga.

Aaryaka welcomed the two of them and gave them a good meal. After eating, Aaryaka called his grandson Sumukha. The moment Matali saw Sumukha, he knew he had found the perfect match for his daughter. He was really respectful to his grandfather and there was love and patience in his eyes.

“I have a daughter named Guna Kesi. She is beautiful and very talented. I was wondering if you were interested in getting Sumukha married to my daughter,” Matali said to Aaryaka.

Sumukha and Aaryaka looked at each other is despair. Matali was confused and asked, “Is there a problem?”

“Haven’t you wondered why Sumukha’s father Chirakha isn’t here. I shouldn’t be talking to you about this, Sumukha’s father should be. The reason he isn’t here and Sumukha cannot get married to your daughter is Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu,” Aaryaka said.

Matali was flabbergasted and confused. “Do you know how Garuda stole the pot of Amrita from the devas? Indra promised the snakes would be his natural food,” Aaryaka asked. Matali nodded.

Aaryaka continued, “After that, Garuda started attacking the Nagas continuously. The Nagas promised to send a Naga a month for Garuda to eat in return that Garuda wouldn’t attack them. Last month, my son Chirakha was sent. And this month, Sumukha will be sent.”

Aaryaka started trembling in sorrow. Sumukha tried to comfort him. “There is nothing you can do, but there is something I can do,” Matali said with a smile.

The next day at Amaravati, when Matali entered with Sumukha into Indra’s court, Lord Vishnu himself was present. He bowed down to Vishnu and then Indra. “Why have you brought Sumukha here,” Indra asked.

“My Lord, I have a favor to ask from you. You know how I have been searching for a good match for Guna Kesi. Well, I have found one: Sumukha. However, I have a problem: Garuda,” Matali said.

Indra was suddenly feeling nervous. He thought he knew what Matali was asking of him. He glanced at Vishnu for support. Starting from when Garuda had defeated the deva army, he had started fearing Garuda.

“This month, it is Sumukha’s turn. I was wondering whether you could let Sumukha drink the Amrita so that he becomes immortal,” Matali continued.

Indra didn’t want to fight with Garuda again. After a long time, Indra decided that he would let Sumukha drink the Amrita. He was just about to give it, when the door shattered to pieces and an angry Garuda entered. “Indra!” he screamed. “What do you think you’re doing.”

“I am giving Sumukha the A…Amrita,” Indra answered in fear.

“Are you trying to insult me! He is mines to eat. Do you want what happened last time to happen again? Do you know who I am? I can defeat you easily. I am really strong. I can even carry the weight of Earth with one of my feathers. I am the vehicle of Lord Vishnu himself,” Garuda shouted.

“Garuda,” Vishnu whispered softly. “Garuda.” Vishnu’s voice was so powerful that een while shouting, Garuda heard. “Perhaps Indra doesn’t truly understand your power. I think you need to demonstrate your power. Carry me and show Indra,” he suggested.

Indra was confused. Why was Lord Vishnu telling Garuda to do this. Garuda went up to Vishnu, who climbed on his back. Suddenly, Garuda felt as if the whole universe’s weight were on him. He didn’t feel this way when he usually carried Vishnu. Soon, he couldn’t hold it anymore and collapsed on the ground.

“Garuda, you are acting extremely arrogant. Indra has the right to give his friend Sumukha the Amrita. He isn’t depriving you of his natural food,” Vishnu said.

Garuda pleaded for apology with Vishnu, who forgave him. He then apologized to Indra and Sumukha and left the court. Indra gave Sumukha the Amrita. Sumukha and Guna Kesi got married and lived happily.

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