Tuesday, December 31, 2013

16. Garuda's Quest for Food


Garuda took leave of his mother, saying “I  shall go and bring Amrita. But I am terribly hungry and needd to eat something on the way. Where can I find something to eat?”  

Vinata replied, "You can eat the Nishadas who live in a region in the midst of a ocean. But be careful to not eat a Brahmin. Even Surya and Agni won’t burn you as intensely as the anger of a Brahmin observing rigid vows will.”


Garuda asked his mother how he could identify a Brahmin. Vinata advised him to use his best judgement and cautioned him that if he ate a Brahmin, the Brahmin would torture him like a fish hook, once he entered his throat and would burn like a charcoal. A Brahmin would not be digested in the stomach, added Vinata.


She then blessed her son by saying, “Let Marut, the God of Winds protect your wings, Surya and Soma your head and the Vasus (there are eight of them called ‘Ashtavasus.’) your whole body. I will also perform rituals for your welfare.”


Garuda stretched his wings and ascended the skies. And endowed with great strength, he soon fell upon the Nishadas. He was very hungry and it was as if he was another Yama, the God of Death. He raised a huge quantity of dust that spread over the firmament. He sucked up water from the ocean and shook the trees on the mountains. He then obstructed the major roads of the town of the Nishadas by his mouth, increasing its orifice at will. The Nishadas, blinded by the dust, entered Garuda’s mouth in large numbers and were swallowed by him.


A Brahmin, along with his wife,  had entered the throat of Garuda. He began to burn Garuda’s throat like a piece of burning charcoal. Garuda prayed to him to come out of his mouth. The Brahmin asked Garuda to let his wife who belonged to the Nishada caste, also to come out along with him. Garuda agreed to this. The Brahmin came out of his mouth, along with his wife and blessed Garuda.

As Garuda continued his flight, he met his father Sage Kasyapa. Kasyaa enquired him of the welfare of his family members and also asked him whether Garuda got sufficient food to eat everyday.


Garuda replied, “My mother and brother are well. I do not always get enough food to satisfy my hunger. I have been sent by the snakes to fetch the Amrita. I expect to get hold of the Amrita today. My mother and I will then be emancipated from slavery. My mother advised me to eat the Nishadas. I had eaten them by thousands, but my hunger is not satiated. Therefore, I would request you to advise me on what I should eat to appease my hunger and thirst.”


His father did not answer his question but showed him a lake in which an elephant was trying to pull a huge tortoise out of water, using his trunk. He then narrated a story.



Next Post:   Vibhasu and Suparika

Previous Post:  Garuda Forced Into Slavery

Monday, December 30, 2013

15. Garuda forced into Slavery

Garuda returned to be near his mother Vinata who was suffering the pains of slavery.. Once, Kadru asked Vinata to carry her to a remote place in the midst of the ocean inhabited by the Nagas. The mother of the bird of fair feathers carried the mother of the snakes on her shoulders. Garuda also carried the snakes on his back, as directed by his mother.

Carrying the snakes on his back, Garuda began to ascend towards the Sun. The snakes, scorched by the rays of the Sun, swooned. Seeing the plight of her sons, Kadru prayed to Indra, the Chief of the Devas, to protect her sons by causing showers to fall on them.


Indra answered her prayers by causing the clouds to cover the sky above the snakes and then to come down on the earth as heavy downpour. The earth was flooded by the torrent of rain and the rain waters reached even the Netherlands. The snakes were delighted by the rain. They, along with their mother, eventually reached the island called Ramaniyaka.


This island had a pleasant appearance with bountiful tress bearing fragrant flowers full of honey. The snakes enjoyed themselves for sometime. Then they commanded Garuda to carry them to some other island that had pure water (since the water in this island was salty). Garuda having been on the air often should have flown through some such places, they reasoned.



 Garuda asked his mother why he should do what the snakes ordered him to. Vinata told him about the wager that led to her becoming a slave to Kadru. Garuda, grieved at learning this, asked the snakes what he should do to free his mother from slavery. The snakes asked him to bring them Amrita (the divine elixir that would grant immortality to anyone who drinks it, the substance that caused the Deva-Asura war), getting it by force. They promised to free him and his mother, if he did that.


Next Post:  Garuda's Quest For Food
Previous Post:  Aruna and Garuda, Two Great Brothers

Sunday, December 29, 2013

14. Aruna and Garuda- Two Great Brothers

The next morning, the two sisters Kadru and Vinata, went out to view the divine horse Uchchaisravas from a close point.

In the meanwhile, the Nagas (serpents), after discussing among themselves, had decided to do what their mother wanted them to, hoping that she would free them from her curse. They also feared that they would lose her affection completely if she lost the wager. They made the horse's tail look black by becoming hairs in the horse's tail.


The two sisters reached the abode of the horse after crossing the ocean. They observed that the horse had a white body and a black tail as a result of the black hairs on the tail. In terms of the wager, Kadru put Vinata  into slavery.


This happened before the birth of Garuda. Thus the curse of Aruna on his mother Vinata came true.


Then Garuda was born when the time came, bursting out from the egg. Soon after his birth, he  grew in size and ascended the skies. Suffering from the fangs of hunger, Garuda looked fierce and his roaring made him appear terrible. He looked like an ocean fire.  The Devas were terrified of him and sought the protection of Agni, the God of Fire.


Agni said, “He is Garuda. He is equal to me in strength  and splendour. He is the mighty son of Kasyapa and is born to make Vinata happy. He is the destroyer of the Nagas, a foe of the Asuras and a well-wisher of the Devas. So there is no need for you to fear him. Come with me and look at him from close quarters.”


The Devas then praised Garuda acknowledging his greatness and appealed to him to decrease his body size and splendor since his mighty stature and roar were making many creatures panic. Garuda accordingly diminished his size and splendor. He then carried his elder brother Aruna on his back and went to his mother’s place.


In the meanwhile Surya, the Sun God who was sought to be swallowed by Rahu during the Solar eclipse became angry that he had to bear the brunt of Rahu’s anger though he had acted only in the interest of all the Devas and for the well being of the world. He was sore that the world was watching passively when he was being devoured by Rahu. So he decided to destroy the world using his rays. He went to the mountains of the West and began to radiate his heat towards the world.


The sages who were surprised by the intensity of heat at midnight went to Brahma, the Creator and expressed their anguish and consternation. Brahma told them of Sun’s resolve to destroy the world. As soon as the Sun rose in the East, the world would be burnt to ashes, he said. But he assured the sages that he had already provided a remedy to the problem by making Aruna, the elder son of Kashyapa the Sun’s charioteer. Aruna would absorb all the Sun's heat and save the world from destruction, he said.


Aruna, at the behest of Brahma, did all that he was ordered to do. And Surya (the Sun God) rose, veiled by Aruna's person.

Next Post: Garuda forced into slavery

Previous Post: The curse on the serpents 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

13. The Curse on the Serpents


In an earlier post, I was narrating the story of the sisters Kadru and Vinata who were married to  Sage Kasyapa.  Then we digressed into the story of the churning of the ocean culminating in the Deva-Asua battle.

There is a reason for this digression.

When Sage Sauti was narrating the story of Kadru and Vinata, he mentioned about a wager between the sisters about  the divine horse Uchaisravas that was obtained during the churning of the ocean by the Devas and the Asuras. Sage Saunaka was curious to know why the churning of the ocean was undertaken. In reply, Sage Sauti narrated the entire story. I have also done accordingly. Now, I will continue with the story of the sisters.

Once  Kadru asked Vinata, “Can you tell me quickly, without much thinking, what the color of the divine horse Uchaisravas is.”

Vinata replied that the horse was white in color. She also asked her sister to say what the color was and that they could lay a bet on it.

Kadru relied, “I think the tail of Uchaisravas is black. Let us lay a wager on it. Whoever loses will be the slave of the other.” They decided to check the color of the horse in person the next day.


Kadru decided to practice a deception. She asked her thousand serpent sons to envelop the tail of the horse so as to make the tail appear black. But the serpents initially refused to carry out this deception.  Angered by her sons’ defying her command, Kadru cursed them that they would be consumed by Agni (fire) during the sacrifice to be performed by King Janamejaya of the Pandava race.


Brahma, the Creator conveyed this curse to Kasyapa, the father of the cursed serpents and asked him not to grieve over this since the serpents that were causing the death of many other creatures by their poisonous bite had to be contained to save the other creatures. In any case this was ordained long time back, he said. Having thus consoled Kasyapa, Brahma  imparted to him the knowledge of neutralizing poisons. 

Next Post:  Aruna and Garuda


Previous Post: The Deva-Asura Battle

12. The Deva-Asura Battle

Vishnu who had taken the form of the damsel Mohini distributed the Amrita to the Devas. The Devas were drinking the Amrita with great delight. A member of the Asura clan Rahu was also drinking it, in the guise of a Deva. But even before he could swallow it, two of the Devas Surya (the Sun God) and Soma (also known as Chandra, the Moon God) discovered his identity and exposed him by shouting aloud. Vishnu, angered by the deception, cut off  Rahu’s head by hurling his discuss (the Sudarsana Chakra, the weapon in the form of a wheel, always wielded by Vihnu  on his right hand) at him.

The huge head of Rahu cut off by the discus rose up to the sky even as dreadful cries emanated from his mouth, while his headless body fell on the earth, making the Earth tremble with her mountains, forests and islands. From that time, there has been a long standing feud between Rahu (represented by his head) and the two Gods that exposed his deception - Surya and Soma. During the Solar and Lunar eclipses, Rahu's head attempts to swallow Surya and Soma respectively.

Lord Vishnu then quitting his enchanting female form hurled many terrible weapons at the Asuras, making them tremble with fear. The battle between the Devas and the Asuras was fought on the sea  shore. After a long fight involving the use of many weaons by both sides, the Asuras were vanquished by the Devas. Most of the Asuras fell down to the earth or were drowned in the sea.



After winning the battle,  the Devas paid due respect to the Mandara mountain and placed it again on its own base. The Devas returned  to their own abodes after making  the heavens resound with their shouts On returning to the heavens, Indra and the other deities made over to Narayana the vessel of Amrita for safe custody.

Next Post:  The Curse on the Serpents


Previous Post: The Churning of the Ocean

11. The Churning of the Ocean

There was a mountain called Meru, with peaks of golden lustre. It had an immeasurable size. It was beyond the reach of ordinary people. Only the Devas and the Gandharvas (celestial beings) would visit its peaks.

Once the Devas  assembled there to plan how they could obtain the Amrita (celestial ambrosia or nectar that would make anyone who drinks it immortal). Seeing this, Lord Vishnu told Lord Brahma that Amrita can be obtained if the Devas and the Asuras (demons) together churned the ocean. The churning would also release various other precious things like gems, drugs etc.


The Devas proposed to tear up the the giant Mandara mountain and use it as the shaft to churn the ocean. Vishnu agreed to this and asked Ananta (also known as Adhisesha), the thousand-hooded serpent that served as the seat and bed of Vishnu, to tear up the mountain.


The Devas along with Ananta went to the shore of the ocean and expressed their intention to churn the waters of the ocean. The ocean consented to it but wanted a share of the nectar as a compensation for its bearing the agitation of its waters.


The Devas approached the king of the tortoises and asked him to hold the mountain on his back. He agreed.


 The Devas and the Asuras started churning the ocean by placing the torn up Meru mountain on the back of the tortoise king and using it as the churning staff. Vasuki, the serpent was used as the chord, the Asuras holding its hood and the Devas, its tail.


Ananta, who was on the side of the Devas would, now and then, raise the snake's hood and suddenly lower it. As a result, black vapours with flames came out of Vasuki's mouth. While the impact of these vapors caused discomfort and agony to the Asuras, the vapors, after going up, turned into clouds and poured showers that refreshed the tired Devass. Fragrant flowers from the trees on the whirling Mandara also fell on the Devas and refreshed them.


The churning of the ocean produced a loud roar like that of the clouds. A large number of aquatic animals were crushed by the whirling movement of the great mountain. Large trees with birds on the whirling Mandara were torn up by the roots and fell into the water. The friction among the trees produced fires that blazed up frequently. The mountain thus looked like a mass of dark clouds charged with lightning. The fire spread, and many animals like lions, elephants etc. living on the mountain were consumed by the fire. Indra, the King of the Devas extinguished the fire by causing heavy showers to pour down.


After some time, gummy exudations of various trees and herbs having the properties of Amrita mingled with the waters of the Ocean. The Devas attained immortality by drinking this water. The milky water of the agitated deep gradually turned into clarified butter by virtue of those gums and juices. But nectar still did not appear.


The Devas went to Brahma and lamented at the nectar not coming out even after so much of churning. They said they were not left with any more strength to continue the churning. Hearing their plea, Brahma requested lord Vishnu to help them. Vishnu granted them the strength they needed and asked them to resume the churning.


The churning was accordingly resumed. After sometime, various objects emerged out of the ocean one by one. The major objects/beings that came out were:


1) The Moon

2) Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, dressed in white.
3) Soma, the divine elixir
4) Uchaisravas, the White Horse
5) the divine gem Kaustubha

Then came Dhanvantri, the God of Wellness with the white vessel of Nectar on his palm.


Then came Airavata, the celestial white elephant with a huge body and  two pair of white tusks.


Lord Vishnu took the Kaustubha and also took the hand of Lakshmi in marriage. Airawata was taken by Indra.


As the churning still went on, the poison Kalakuta emerged,blazing up like a fire attended with fumes. The three worlds were stupefied by the trenchant odour of the fumes.At the request of Brahma, Lord Siva, swallowed the poison but managed to hold it in his throat. He is therefore called called Nilakanta (blue-throated).


The Asuras were  about to  enter into a confrontation with the Devas for the possession of Amrita, when Lord Vishnu called his bewitching Maya (illusive power) to his aid, and assuming the form of an enticing female, made the Asuras hand over  the pot of Amrita to him (her!)


 Next Post:  The Deva-Asura Battle

Previous Post: The Birth of Garuda

Friday, December 27, 2013

10. The Birth of Garuda, the King of Birds


Prajapati had two daughters by name Kadru and Vinata, Both were given in marriage to Sage Kasyapa. Kasyapa offered to give each of them a boon of their choice. 

The two sisters had developed some rivalry between themselves. Kadru was the first to ask for the boon. She wanted to have for sons a thousand snakes, all of equal splendour. Vinata wished to have two sons surpassing the thousand offsprings of Kadru in strength, energy, body size and prowess.  Kasyapa granted them the wishes they had asked for. Kadru produced thousand eggs and Vinata two eggs. Kasyapa asked his wives to preserve the embryos carefully and went to the forest for doing penance. The maids deposited the eggs separately in warm vessels.


After Five hundred years, the thousand eggs produced by Kadru burst open and thousand snakes came out. But the two eggs produced by Vinata did not hatch. Vinata was jealous and impatient. She broke one of the eggs. It had an embryo with the upper part developed but the lower part undeveloped. The child in the egg became angry and cursed his mother, saying "Since you broke the egg in haste and prevented the full development of my body. I curse you to become a slave. If you wait for for five hundred years and allow the other egg to develop fully, an illustrious son will emerge out of it and will free you from slavery."


Immediately after pronouncing this curse on his mother, the child rose to the sky. Surya, the Sun God  saw him and immediately took him as his charioteer. He is Aruna, who is seen in the morning at the time of sunrise. (The term Arunodhayam is used to refer to the sunrise)


After five hundred years, the other egg burst out and Garuda, the Eagle (commonly called Pakshiraja, the King of Birds) came out. Garuda, the serpent-eater felt hungry immediately on his birth and started flying in quest of the food assigned to him by the Creator


Next Post:  The Churning of the Ocean

Previous Post: Jaratkaru Weds Jaratkaru