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Garuda’s birth and the Naga’s

08/19/2010

I was a bit delayed in publishing this post and as promised here is the story behind the birth of Garuda and the Nagas.This story is narrated masterfully as a conversation between the Sage Saunaka and Sauti in the Astika parva of the Mahabharata.As with all stories of the Mahabharata please do bear in mind the story itself might be hard to conceive of in this modern age but there exist multiple layers of meanings and hidden symbolism in the story . Also all of these stories are true in the plane of reference of absolute nature. The various actors in the stories are representatives of various forces of nature .

Sage  Kashyapa  had two wives named Kadru and Vinita.Kashyapa was not blessed with children and decided to perform a great fire sacrifice ( yagna ) to beget progeny. As a part of the ritual he sent an invitation to all the sages and celestials. The fire sacrifice required huge amounts of wood and the sages who had arrived at the place of the sacrifice decided to help Kashyapa procure the wood . The sages collectively started carrying logs of wood to the place of the sacrifice.On the other hand Lord Indra was very proud of his physical strength and he started lugging whole logs of wood on his shoulders . While passing by the sages who were struggling to carry the wood , Indra could no longer control his laughter and burst out laughing at their plight. The sages decided to teach him a lesson and once the sacrifice started they added mantras to request the birth of a Son to Kashyapa who would humble Indra’s pride ,defeat him in war and take the place of Indra. Indra was now really terrified and begged for mercy for his folly. The sages took pity on Indra and modified the boon saying “ The humbling of Indra would occur but Indra would retain his position and the son born out of the sacrifice would become king of the birds“

Finally the great fire sacrifice was done and all the guests had left.Sage Kashyapa was in a relaxed mood and asked his wives “ The prayers of the yagna will surely take fruit soon and both of you will be blessed with children. What kind of children would each one of you desire to have ?” .  Kadru decided that she would like to become the mother of thousand powerful sons and in turn she was blessed with becoming the mother of the powerful nagas. Vinita was concerned at hearing Kadru’s desire and out of protecting her own interest desired for only two powerful sons who could defeat the thousand sons of Kadru.

Please note the story takes a similar route as Gandhari giving birth to hundred eggs in the Mahabharata which are later incubated in a hundred pots giving birth to the Kauravas. Ancient tools capable of splitting even a hair’s end were discovered famously at the sites of Sindhu Saraswati civilization and the Charaka Samhita in ayurveda contains procedures for artificial insemination and plastic surgery. Now it could mean many things with the imagery of a woman giving birth to eggs ,but in the present context  the deeper metaphysical meanings refers to the birth of  chandas ( metre ) from a mantra . J The reason for this is Sauti leaves hints in the Astika parva referring to Garuda also as Gayatri . Anywaz if this stuff confuses you please take the above symbolism with a pinch of salt.

Coming back to the story. Kadru gives birth to a thousand snakes  and Vinita has only two eggs . Many years pass and Vinita’s eggs have not hatched and she grows anxious  and worried if she would ever see her children.In a fit of impatience she breaks open one of the eggs and a half formed being arises from the egg and curses her “ For the sin of prematurely bringing me into the world , you will experience slavery at the hands of Kadru and If you show a little more patience  atleast the second egg will give rise to a great being who will release her from slavery  “ .  This being is none other than Aruna who rises into the skies and becomes the charioteer of Lord Surya. Once again the sage is leaving clues for us onto the real meaning behind the story. If you follow the  symbolism of Aruna  becoming the charioteer of Surya you will understand again the reference is to the  Savitru Gayatri mantra.

One day, Kadru and Vinata saw the celestial steed Uchhaisrava run by the hermitage. Ucchaisrava is the king among horses and once again the sage is employing the symbolism of the horse representing the soul. Kadru   asked Vinata the color of the horse to which Vinata replied that it was white.  Kadru argued that the tail of the horse was black, whereas Vinata vehemently  disagreed. Therefore, they both decided to visit the abode of the celestial horse and check out the color of its tail for themselves with the agreement  that whoever was wrong would become the other’s slave. Upon second thoughts .Kadru was plagued by self doubt especially because Vinata was quite confident  in her reply. Since she did not want to be proved wrong and thereby become  Vinata’s slave, she decided to make the horse’s tail appear black through  deceit. Kadru commanded her thousand sons to wrap themseleves around the  tail of the celestial steed and make it appear black. Eager to please  their mother the serpents gladly did her bidding. As a result, when Kadru  and Vinata went to examine the color of the horse’s tail, it appeared  black much to Vinata’s chagrin and dismay. As a result, she was forced to  become Kadru’s slave and serve at the pleasure of  Kadru and her sons.

Then after some years Lord Garuda was born . The moment he was born he grew to immense size and shook the directions with his chirps,flapping his wings he rose to the skies  and reached the side of his mother who was serving the snakes. Garuda was intrigued by his mother serving the snakes and questioned her on the reasons for her plight. Vinita narrated the story of the bet waged between her and Kadru and the subsequent deceit of the snakes. Garuda was filled with anger for the behavior of the snakes and decided to  secure freedom for his mother.  He approached Kadru and asked her to name the price which would set his mother free.

Kadru told Garuda to bring Amritha from the heavens  as the price  for his mother’s freedom. Before going to Heaven he went and took blessings from his mother Vinata , She in turn blessed him that Vayu would protect his wings . Surya and Chandra the luminaries would protect his back and Agni would protect his head and the Vasu’s (rulers of the directions ) would protect his whole body.

Again the sage employs various symbolisms to denote the usage of a mantra.

Now the time  was ripe both for fulfillment of the sage’s and Aruna’s curse. Amritha was guarded in the heavens by the entire army of the celestials .The rakshasas themselves many a time had failed to defeat the army of the celestials . If somebody managed to defeat the army they would have to contend with two kala nagas ( two ferocious serpents ) with the venom of the entire universe . They would have to pass through a Vighna Yantra of immense size and rotating spokes to finally reach the Amrita. Garuda’s task was harder since he would have to carry back the Amrita safely to secure his mother’s release.

Garuda reached the gates of heaven and fought a valiant battle with the celestial army. He thrashed the celestials so soundly that they had to retreat and request the help of the five elements in battling the giant bird who had gatecrashed into heaven. Agni , Vayu and the five elements were also no match to the prowress of the bird warrior . Indra himself was forced to enter the fray of battle and finding himself increasingly made ineffective , he deploys the Vajra Ayudha. The Ayudha barely makes a scratch on Garuda and Indra is defeated.

Garuda stuns both the venomous serpents guarding the Amritha and breaks through the Vighna yantra in a flash of energy .  He is about to take to the skies to return the Amrita to Kadru when he notices the divine sages arrival at the gates of heaven. The divine sages praise the mighty valour of the king of birds who had single handedly  defeated the combined army of Indra and the celestials. They narrate the story behind his birth and request the release of Indra. They also caution Garuda that Amrita if given to the snakes will disrupt the natural order of things and chaos will reign in the universe.

Garuda is satisfied with the sages reasoning and releases Indra. As a mark of gratitude Indra agrees to help Garuda secure his mother’s release as well as safeguard the Amritha from falling into the hands of the snakes. Indra reduces himself to a very tiny size and hides under the pot of Amrita. Garuda lifts the pot of Amrita and reaches the hermitage of Kadru. Overjoyed at having received the nectar or immortality ,Kadru frees Vinita from her bondage . Garuda lifts his mother onto his wings and rises to the heavens.

Meanwhile before the eager serpents could touch the Amrita ,Indra changes himself to his normal size and vanishes along with the Amrita.

J Mythology abounds with sacrifices done by mothers and that is why mothers are given the stature of god himself. Garuda was the son who strived for freedom for his mother . It is such a great quality that Lord Vishnu grants him the privilege of being his vehicle.

The moral of this story is there is no greater boon than looking after one’s parents and this is  a quality that brings one closer to divinity.

Lord garuda carrying Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi devi

Garuda statute at Tirupati

Garuda Vahana of the Lord

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