How Garuda Got His Name
The sage Kashyapa had two wives, Kadru and Vinata. To Kadru was born the snakes of the world and to Vinata was born a splendid kite. The bird was so enormous that as he flew in the sky, the shadow from his wings engulfed wide areas in darkness. Once the two wives had a dispute over the color of the horse of Indra, Uchchaishrava, that was obtained during the churning of the ocean. Vinata was tricked and lost the bet, and as per the conditions, she was made a slave of Kadru. When the bird came to know this, he negotiated with the snakes to free his mother from bondage. The snakes agreed to free her if the kite could bring to them the nectar which was churned from the milky ocean but was now in the possession of the gods.
Vinata’s son immediately left on his mission to obtain the nectar. He knew that this task required great strength. So he swallowed 10,000 Nishadas (a tribe of hunters). Even then he felt that he lacked the necessary strength. His father, Kashyapa, saw his plight and advised him as follows. “My son, do not despair. I shall show you a pond where there live a gigantic elephant and an equally big tortoise. These two are in fact two brothers who were sages who had fallen out with each other over a matter of property. They have turned into these animals to try and kill each other. Catch these animals and eat them. You would become strong.”
The bird followed his father’s directions. Catching the two animals by his claws he took off to find a place where he could sit and eat them. He observed a big banyan tree and descended towards it. But the flapping of his wings caused so much disturbance that a big bough broke away from the tree. The bird quickly observed that there was a row of sages, Valikhilyas, who were hanging upside down in the bough and performing penance. Because of his great respect for ascetics, the bird caught the bough in his beak and started flying. He now had an elephant and a tortoise hanging from his legs while the bough with the sages was held by his beak. The sages observed this admirable feat and told the bird, “Thou art truly a great carrier of heavy weight, Garuda.”
With the new name, Garuda found a safe place to leave the bough with the sages and another place where he could sit and eat the elephant and the tortoise. It was told then that Garuda succeeded in stealing the nectar from heaven, but not without a fight with Indra, its preserver. In one side were all the Gods with Indra and the other was Garuda. It was said that he almost won over all the Gods before being severely harmed and in the process Indra’s Vajra (thunder-bolt weapon) was destroyed. Only Vishnu was capable of subduing Garuda, and, once he was subdued, Vishnu bond him to an oath of servitude and obedience. Vishnu then made Garuda his vehicle and granted him his request for immortality. Indra recovered the nectar afterwards, after Garuda freed his mother.
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