G Is For: Garuda
Origin: Numerous (Hinduism & Buddhism)
Type: Deity – Bird
Garuda is the king of birds and incredibly fast. He is the son of Kashyap the sage and Vinata the daughter of Daksha. His more famous story revolves around a problem involving Kashyap’s second wife, Kadru. Kadru and Vinata were always rivals, and one day argued about the color of a special horse. The loser would have to be the slave of the winner. In the end Kadru won and sent Vinata to the netherworld to be guarded by Kadru’s sons, the serpents (sometimes they are referred to as Naga and not just snakes). Garuda wished to free his mother and descended and demanded that the serpents let his mother go.
They agreed if Garuda brought them Ambrosia. Ambrosia in mythology is the elixir of eternal life. He flew straight toward the mountain that held the drink. Upon reaching the mountain however, he was faced with three great obstacles. The first was a giant ring of fire that raised into the air. To this Garuda drank up rivers and put out the flames. The second challenge was a “circular doorway that had a rapidly spinning wheel with sharp spikes on the spokes guarded it”. To get through Garuda made himself very small so he could sneak between the spokes. The final challenge was two fire-spitting serpents guarding the Ambrosia. Garuda blinded them with dust churned up by his flapping wings then shredded them with his very sharp beak. With this he flew back toward the netherworld, the gods who had set the three traps all chasing him.
The king of the gods even struck Garuda with a lightning bolt, but Garuda was not harmed and beat the gods. Upon arriving Garuda gave the drink to the serpents and flew away with his mother. As the snakes went to drink from the Ambrosia the gods arrived to take it away, the snakes only getting a few drops on their tongues. This was enough to make them immortal though, the power so great it split their tongues. This is supposedly why snakes have forked tongues. Garuda is said to search the universe devouring evil, specifically serpents and Nagas. The great being Vishnu was so impressed by Garuda’s power that he made Garuda his carrier.