Indra and Garuda Become Eternal Friends

Indra guarding the entrance of a 1st century BCE Buddist cave at Bhaja, Maharashtra (Image contributed by Dharma from Sadao, Thailand, available on Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0, license)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Becomes Vishnu’s Vehicle

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Vishnu was impressed with Garuda because he did not drink the amrit for his own benefit, and how Garuda became Vishnu’s vehicle.

In this post, we will find out how Garuda (the king of the birds) and Indra (the king of the devas) became eternal friends.

After meeting Vishnu, Garuda again ascended the skies to hasten to the island where the snakes were waiting for the amrit

However, unbeknownst to Garuda, Indra waited in hiding to ambush Garuda, and as soon as Indra saw that ranger of the skies, he hurled his mighty thunderbolt at that magnificent bird. The thunderbolt found its mark and hit Garuda, but that bird of fair feathers did not feel the slightest pain upon being struck by that dangerous weapon. 

Garuda laughed and addressed Indra with sweet words. 

“I respect Rishi Dadichi who gave his bones to make the Vajra, I also respect the Vajra, and I also respect you, O Indra of a thousand sacrifices. And out of that respect, I release this feather of mine, even though the thunderbolt has not caused the slightest pain to me.”

Having said this, the king of birds cast one of his feathers, and all of earth’s creatures were filled with happiness at the sight of that feather. Everyone said, “Let this great bird be called Suparna.”

Note: Suparna means, ‘having fair feathers’.

Purandara was impressed when he saw that his thunderbolt had no effect on Garuda. He addressed the bird, whom he believed was a great being, saying, “O best of birds, I wish to know how strong you are.  What are the limits of your strength? And I also desire eternal friendship with you.”

Note: Indra is not the name of a celestial being. It is the title given to the king of the devas. In the current manvantar, the name of Indra (the king of the devas) is Purandar. He was the son of Aditi and Kasyapa.

Garuda replied, “O Purandara, let there be eternal friendship between us as you desire. As for your other question, my strength is hard to bear. The wise don’t approve of speaking about one’s own strength and merits, and even though self-praise without reason is never proper, I’ll answer you because you have asked me this question as a friend.”

Garuda continued, “O Purandara, I can bear on a single feather, this entire earth with her mountains, forests, and oceans. I can also bear you on that same feather, O Sakra. My strength is such that I can bear, without feeling tired, the weight of all the worlds put together along with their moving and stationary objects.”

Indra was filled with joy when he heard Garuda’s words. That king of the devas, who was ever engaged in doing good to the world, said, “O Garuda, you are indeed great. Anything is possible for you. Accept my sincere and hearty friendship.”

Note: This story not only describes Garuda’s nobility but also describes Indra’s nobility. In this same situation, a danava would have vowed to destroy Garuda, but Indra marveled at his strength and nobility and sought eternal friendship with Garuda. Ved Vyasa also refers to Indra as the ‘chief of devas who was always engaged in the good of the world’. 

We often like to point out Indra’s faults, which, for some reason, have been highlighted abundantly in our Itihasas, but surely, the king of the devas must have had many good qualities also. I like this story because it is one of the few stories that give us a glimpse of Indra’s nobility.

In the next post, we will find out how the snakes became Garuda’s natural food.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: How the Snakes Became Garuda’s Natural Food