The Garuda (Sanskrit: Garuḍa गरुड, Pāli Garuḷa) is a large mythical bird or bird-like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
Garuḍa is depicted as having a golden body, white face, red wings, and an eagle's beak and wings but a man's body. He wears a crown on his head like his master, Vishnu. He is ancient and huge, and can block out the sun. The exact size of the Garuḍa is uncertain, but its wings are said to have a span of many miles. This may be poetical exaggeration, but it is also said that when a Garuḍa 's wings flap, they create hurricane-like winds that darken the sky and blow down houses. A human being is so small compared to a Garuḍa that a man can hide in the plumage of one without being noticed (Kākātī Jātaka, J.327). They are also capable of tearing up entire banyan trees from their roots and carrying them off.
Garuda Bherunda is a double-headed form that may have led to the Austro-Hungarian and American forms called the Double Eagle (as in the title of J. P. Sousa's famous march.)
Worship of Garuda is believed to remove the effects of poisons from one's body. The Garuḍas have kings and cities, and at least some of them have the magical power of changing into human form when they wish to have dealings with people. On some occasions Garuḍa kings have had romances with human women in this form.
Their dwellings are in groves of the simbalī, or silk-cotton tree. There is a Garuda Valley, Kyunglung, to the south-west of Mount Kailash. Once the capital of the land called Zhang Zhung, it was the site of the Silver Palace (Khyunglung Ngulkhar,) the ruins of which are still there in the upper Sutlej Valley of India.
Garuda in Hinduism
Various names have been attributed to Garuḍa: Chirada, Gaganeshvara, Kamayusha, Kashyapi, Khageshvara, Nagantaka, Sitanana, Sudhahara, Suparna, Takshya, Vainateya, Vishnuratha and others.
In Hindu mythology, Garuḍa is the name of a lesser Hindu divinity, the mount (vahanam) of Vishnu (one of the main forms of God in Hinduism).
His stature in Hindu religion can be gauged by the fact that an independent Upanishad, the Garuḍopaniṣad, and a Purana, the Garuda Purana, is devoted to him.
The Vedas provide the earliest reference of Garuḍa, though by the name of Śyena, where this mighty bird is said to have brought nectar to earth from heaven. The Puranas, which came into existence much later, mention Garuḍa as doing the same thing, which indicates that Śyena (sanskrit for Eagle) and Garuḍa are the same. One of the faces of Śrī Pañcamukha Hanuman is Mahavira. This face points towards the west.
The Hindu festival, the Kumbhmela, is held at a different spot on the shores of the Ganges every 12 years. At the beginning of 2001, Allahabad was the focus for this largest of the world's gatherings. It is one of four spots where Garuda is believed to have rested during a battle with demons over the pot of divine nectar of immortality. Garuda's flight lasted 12 divine days, or 12 years of mortal time, so the Kumbh Mela is celebrated at each city of 3 towns, alternating among them every three years.
Garuda is the son of Kashyap, a great sage, and Vinata, a daughter of Daksha, a famous king. He was hatched from an egg Vinata laid. When he was born he was so brilliant that he was mistaken for Agni, the god of fire, and worshipped.
Garuda was born with a great hatred for the evil and he is supposed to roam about the universe devouring the bad, though he spares Brahmins as his parents had forbidden him to eat them. Garuda is also well-known for his aversion to snakes, a dislike he had acquired from his mother, Vinata.
The Garuḍas are enemies to the Nāgas, a race of intelligent serpent- or dragon-like beings, whom they hunt. The Garuḍas at one time caught the nāgas by seizing them by their heads; but the nāgas learned that by swallowing large stones, they could make themselves too heavy to be carried by the Garuḍas, wearing them out and killing them from exhaustion. This secret was divulged to one of the Garuḍas by the ascetic Karambiya, who taught him how to seize a nāga by the tail and force him to vomit up his stone (Pandara Jātaka, J.518).
In the Mahasamyatta Sutta, the Buddha is shown making temporary peace between the Nagas and the Garuḍas
In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Garuda is a guardian of Lord Shiva. A tale is told how once, perched on Mount Kailash, Garuda noticed a tiny bird. He was struck by the contrast between the majesty of Kailash and Shiva's palace, and the delicacy of " . . . a beautiful creature, a little bird seated on the arch crowning the entrance to Shiva's place. Garuda wondered aloud: "How marvelous is this creation! One who has created these lofty mountains has also made this tiny bird -- and both seem equally wonderful."
Just then Yama, the god of death appeared, riding his black buffalo. Garuda noticed that the gaze of the Master of Death briefly fell upon the bird, but then he continued on his way into the abode of Shiva.
Since a mere glance from Lord Yama presages death, Garuda's heart was filled with pity for the tiny bird. He gently picked it up and flew off with it clutched carefully in his powerful talons. He took it far, far, away to a deep forest where he gently placed it on a rock beside a rushing brook. Then he returned to Kailash and assumed his customary position at Shiva's gate.
When Yama emerged from his consultation with the Great God, he nodded to Garuda in recognition. Garuda took this opportunity to ask Lord Death, "Just before you went inside, I saw you notice a little bird. You seemed to have a pensive expression on your face. May I know why?"
Yama answered, "When my eyes fell on the bird, I saw that soon it would find its death in the jaws of a great python. But there are no such serpents here, high on Kailash, and I was briefly puzzled."
Again, Garuda marveled; this time at the inevitability of karma.
How Garuda Became Vishnu's Mount
The bird, Garuda, was the son of Vinata and Kasyapa. As soon as the massive bird crawled from his egg, he was immediately hungry. Upon seeing his size, his mother sent him to see his father, who would feed him.
Kasyapa instructed the bird that there were a hundred thousand evil Nisadas (Aborigines) by the ocean shore. These people were like crows, a danger to the environment. However, a brahmin that lived among them in concealment. Garuda was to leave him alone.
So Garuda went to the ocean and devoured the Nisadas. In the process, he accidentally swallowed the Brahmin and could neither spit it out or swallow it. So he went back to his father and asked for help. The father spoke to the brahmin, but it was adamant that it would not leave until the Nisadas, who have always been his friends, were freed. Out of fear of brahmin-murder, Garada spit out the people and their brahmin.
After this incident, Garuda was still terribly hungry, so his father told him that somewhere in the ocean are a mighty elephant and tortoise who are trying to kill each other. They would make good food for the bird. Garuda immediately set off and found the two creatures.
But Garuda soon found that no mountain or tree would hold himself and his two creatures of prey so he flew two hundred thousand leagues with the speed of a gale and finally perched on a huge rose-apple tree. The branch immediately snapped, but Garuda was able to catch it before it killed any cows or brahmin.
Vishnu Hari (Vishnu in human form) was watching from below and asked the bird what it was doing. Garuda explained the situation and Hari offered his arm to sit on while the bird ate. After Garuda had finished his meal, he was still hungry, so Hari offered him the flesh on his arm to eat. Garuda ate plentifully, and not a wound showed on Hari's arm. Garuda then asked what favor he could do. Hari replied that he could be his mount for all time to come. The bird graciously accepted the offer.
Garudas and Nagas
Kashyap, Garuda's father, had two wives: Kadru, the elder, and Vinata, Garuda's mother, the younger. There was great rivalry between the two wives. They could not stand each other. Once, they had an argument over the color of the horse Uchchaisravas, produced during the Churning of the Ocean just after the time of creation. Each chose a color and laid a wager on her own choice. The one who lost would become the other's slave. Kadru proved to be right and, as part of the agreement, imprisoned Vinata in the nether regions, Patala, where she was guarded by serpents. The serpents are, according to another myth, the sons of Kadru herself.
Garuda, on hearing of his mother's imprisonment, descended to Patala and asked the serpents to release Vinata. They agreed to do so and demanded as ransom a cup of amrita (ambrosia). So Garuda set off for the celestial mountain where the amrita was kept. Before he could get to the amrita he had to overcome three hazards set up by the gods to guard the celestial drink. First, Garuda came upon a ring of flames fanned by high winds. They roared and leapt up to the sky but Garuda drank up several rivers and extinguished the flames. Next, Garuda came upon a circular doorway. A very rapidly spinning wheel with sharp spikes on the spokes guarded it. Garuda made himself very small and slipped through the turning spokes. Lastly, Garuda had to defeat two fire-spitting serpents guarding the amrita. He flapped his wings rapidly and blew dust into the eyes of the monsters and blinded them. Then he cut them to pieces with his sharp beak. So Garuda finally reached the amrita and started to fly back with it to the nether regions but the gods anticipated his purpose and gave chase. Indra, king of the gods, struck him with his thunderbolt but Garuda proved a superior warrior and defeated the gods and continued unscathed on his journey to Patala.
When the serpents got the amrita they were overjoyed and released Vinata. Garuda got his mother back but he became an inveterate enemy of the serpents, the sons of his mother's rival Kadru. Also the serpents, the Nagas, symbolized evil and that automatically invoked Garuda's hatred.
As end-piece to this myth it must be told that, as the Nagas were about to consume the amrita Garuda had just brought them, the chasing gods entered Patala and Indra seized and took away the cup of amrita. Anyway, the serpents had just had time enough to lick a few drops of amrita and this was enough to make them immortal. Also, since the celestial drink was very strong, their tongues were split and that is why, to this day, serpents have forked tongues.
Garudas in Buddhism
In Buddhist mythology, the garuḍas are enormous predatory birds with intelligence and social organization. Another name for the Garuḍa is suparna, meaning "well-winged, having good wings". Like the Nāgas, they combine the characteristics of animals and divine beings, and may be considered to be among the lowest devas.
The Sanskrit word Garuḍa has been borrowed and modified in the languages of several Buddhist countries. In Thai the word for a garuḍa is Krut (ครุฑ). In Burmese, Garuḍas are called ga-lon. In Japanese a Garuḍa is called Karura.
Thailand and Indonesia use the Garuḍa as their national symbols; the Indonesian national airline is Garuda Indonesia. One form of the Garuḍa used in Thailand as a sign of Royal family, is called Krut Pha, meaining " Garuḍa with outstretched wings."
The Garuḍas were among the beings appointed by Śakra to guard Mount Sumeru and the Thirty-three gods heaven from the attacks of the asuras.
Cha Khyung (Bird-Garuda) was a mountain deity of Rebkong, Tibet, an area on the west side of the river in Amdo province. After he was subjugated by Padmasambhava he became a worldly protector. Shang-shang
In some cultures, the garuda acquired a human torso and became half human -- a man-bird known as a kinnara or shang-shang. The shang-shang is associated with Buddha Amoghasiddhi (Unerring Accomplisher) whose consort is Green Tara.
Amoghasiddhi is the Buddha of the northern direction and is representative of the skandha Samskara. He is depicted as green, with his hands in the abhaya -- the "do not fear," or protection, mudra. He is the conqueror of "thirst." That is, working with visualizations and other Vajrayana methods that focus on him, we can transmute the yearning leading to attachment, which is often simplistically expressed as "desire" or "greed." Another of his symbols is the vishvavajra or double vajra that stands for Foundation and also, for resolve and stability -- here as concerns meditation and its objective (as in Shabkar's Song 6 linked above.)
The srory of Chhepu
In Nepal, the "mask of protection" is the face of a garuda-child called Chhepu. Folklore tells of his origin. He was one among the three brothers, Garuda, Chhepu and Hitimanga. Their mother had requested her husband to help her produce a son
". . . who would be the bravest, most truthful, and endowed with all superior marks. Her husband told her to wait for a certain period. She being too impatient to wait for a long period, looked in the nest to see whether he was born or not. She found Chhepu in a premature condition, only with his head formed.
It is also told that Chhepu disappeared from the world as he did not want to see the Kaliyuga, the great yuga, when evil would completely triumph over good and the world would be destroyed by Vishnu in his incarnation as Kalki, the destroyer.
Knowing his bravery, truthfulness and endowment with all superior marks, Manjushree wanted to see him and requested Chhepu to show his full form. Chhepu appeared slowly amidst the cloud. Manjushree, as a veteran artist, immediately drew his form with his foot secretly without the knowledge of Chhepu. When Manjushree had only finished drawing his head, Chhepu came to know Manjushree’s deception and immediately disappeared. Due to his bravery, truthfulness and superior marks, he was given the [pride of] place at the top of the main entrance of stupas [as a] protection from all the dangers. Nagas [snakes] are the food of Chhepu." ~ Nepali site, no longer available.
Buddha and Sussondi
Garuda is king of the class of beings known as suparnas. To demonstrate and share his profound understanding of the lure of a woman with a monk who was having difficulty with his vow of celibacy, the Buddha is said to have recounted his own experience as King of the "sunbirds," who once ruled the Isle of Seruma, a land of nagas:
Once while on a gambling junket to Varanasi (formerly anglicized as Benares,) he had a love affair with his host's extraordinarily beautiful chief wife, Sussondi. She had been informed of the garuda's gorgeous appearance by palace attendants, and he was smitten as soon as she entered the gaming room. Under the cover of a dark and dangerously violent wind that the suparna had stirred up, they flew away to his island home. There, they made passionate love, but then he had the nerve to return to the host-king's palace - without her.
Meanwhile, Sagga, the magical minstrel of the King of Benares, was sent to search for the missing Queen. On board ship, his song was so wonderful that a makara emerged from the ocean depths in excitement and smashed it to bits. He drifted on a plank that finally landed under a banyan on Seruma. Queen Sussondi, walking alone by the shore, recognized the nearly-drowned man and took him to her quarters to revive him. She had to hide him in case the garuda should recognize him, of course, and with Sagga living in secret there in her quarters, one thing led to another.
Six weeks went by until a ship from Benares landed to provision there, and Sagga made it successfully back to his home having fulfilled, at least to a certain extent, his royal mission.
Skillfully and with delicacy, he sang of his adventure and his longing to the King and his faithless guest, the suparna, who even joined in with his wonderful voice. On hearing Sagga's story expressed so skillfully, the garuda understood its significance.
Though he was the most splendid of all creatures, he had not been able to keep Sussondi for himself alone. Now filled with regret, he flew away to fetch her and returned her to the King. In that lifetime, he never again visited Benares.
There, in Jeta's Grove, Buddha then told The Four Noble Truths and all about the births revealing also, that the long-ago King of Benares had been his own student, Ananda.
Garuda in popular culture
Aiakos of Garuda, then defeated by Ikki of Phoenix.