Story of Garuda - Part 3
Stories from Mahabharata
Mahabharata Story Index
Garuda appeared in the skies, facing the Devas. The great battle began. The Devas were sorely harassed by the flying bird, he of immeasurable strength. He mangled them with his claws and beak. Vayu attempted to blow him from the skies by raising a dust storm. Garuda parried this thrust with a counter wind generated from his mighty wings. All the celestials were routed. The Sadhyas and Gandharvas fled to the east. The Rudras and Vasus fled to the south. The Adityas fled to the west, and the Ashwini twins fled to the north, unable to bear the onslaught of Vinata's son.
At last, after killing a large number of the warriors ranged against him, the King of birds approached the place where Amrit was. It was surrounded on all sides with great flames that reached up to the sky. Garuda made his mouth very large and flew to the ocean. He swallowed the contents of many rivers and put out the flames guarding Amrit with it. He then assumed a tiny form and approached the vessel containing the nectar. He saw that a wheel with razor sharp edges was spinning very fast, intending to destroy all who came near. With his great speed, Garuda passed through between the spokes of that wheel. He saw that two great snakes were guarding the vessel beyond. He generated a great dust storm and blinded them. He then mangled them to death. He broke open the mechanism that was guarding the nectar, and rose to the skies, carrying the vessel in his claws.
When Indra saw that Amrit was being stolen, he discharged his potent weapon Vajra towards Garuda. In respect to the Rishi (Dadichi) from whose bones that weapon had been crafted, Garuda shed exactly one feather. Otherwise he was unharmed and continued on his way. Despite having possession of the divine nectar that would have made him immortal, he did not partake of it, intending to fulfill his promise to his brothers.
He met Lord Vishnu on the way. Vishnu granted him a boon, in appreciation of his selflessness. Garuda chose the boon that he should always be higher than Vishnu, and that he would be immortal, even without the aid of Amrit. Vishnu granted him this boon and set him on his flagstaff, thus giving him a great position. He then said to the bird, "Know that your half brothers are evil. If they drink Amrit and become immortal, much harm shall come to the world. You have only undertaken to bring the nectar to them. Use some stratagem and prevent them from drinking it."
Accordingly, when Garuda reached the isle where the snakes were, he set the pot of Amrit before them. He then said to them, "I have brought Amrit to you. As per our agreement, you should release me and my mother from bondage."
The snakes said, "So Be it!", and started to advance towards the vessel containing the nectar.
Garuda said, "It has been said that, before beginning a great task, one should purify yourself. All of you are unclean, finish your ablutions before you partake of this nectar."
Agreeing to this advice the snakes went to the river to purify themselves. Indra, who was waiting for just such an opportunity, stole the vessel and restored it to its place among the Devas. Thus the evil snakes were thwarted at their bid to attain immortality.
Since the Amrit had been placed on Kusa grass, that grass became sacred to the Gods from that day. Since Garuda had helped him, Indra desired his friendship and got it. They divided the rule of the world amongst themselves. Garuda got the lordship of birds and other flying creatures, while Indra got the rest. And obedient to the command of Vishnu, Garuda became his faithful mount. In return, he got the boon that snakes should become his food.
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