Statue of Sesha Nag in Dakshinkali, Khatmandu, Nepal (Image contributed by Rajesh Dhunganga on a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International Licence)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Names of the Principal Snakes Involved in the Tryst With Garuda

Note: In the previous post, we learned the names of the principal snakes that were involved in the misadventure with Garuda.

In this post, we will find out what a noble snake, called Shesha, did after he and his siblings were cursed by their mother, Kadru.

After hearing the names of several snakes, Saunaka Kulapati asked Sauti, “O child, you have named many powerful serpents who were difficult to defeat but now I want to know what these serpents did after hearing the curse that their mother had pronounced on them.

Sauti replied, “One of Kadru’s sons called Shesha, left his mother and practised hard penances. He lived only on air. He also made ascetic vows which he followed rigidly. He did these penances at several sacred places like Gandhamadana, Badri, Gokarna, the woods of Pushkara, and at the foothills of the Himalayas. Some of these places were considered sacred because of their waters and others were considered sacred because of their soil. 

While doing these penances, Shesha kept his mind fixed single-pointedly on his practices and he also kept his passions completely under control.

Brahma Deva saw Shesha with knotted hair and dressed in rags. The hard penances had caused his skin, muscles, and sinews to dry up. Seeing the serpent in that state, Brahma Deva said, “O Shesha, what are you doing? Your hard penances are disturbing the balance and causing suffering in other creatures. O sinless one, tell me what you desire. Tell me the reason for your penances.”

Shesha replied, “My siblings are very wicked. I do not wish to live with them. They are always jealous of each other and fight as if they were enemies. They are harsh towards Garuda and his mother, Vinata. They don’t realise that the powerful ranger of the skies, Garuda, is also our brother. They are constantly jealous of him. I am engaged in ascetic penances because I do not wish their companionship. I am doing these penances so I may never have to stay with them again. 

Upon hearing Shesha’s words, Brahma Deva said, “O Shesha, I am aware of how your siblings behave and I’m also aware of the great danger they face because of Kadru’s curse. But I have already provided a remedy for all this. I am very pleased that your heart is set upon virtue. I would like you to always keep your heart directed towards virtue. Now ask for whatever you want. I wish to give you a boon.”

Sesha replied, “O divine Grandsire, bless me that my heart always delights in virtue and ascetic practices.”

Brahma said, “O Shesha I am very happy because you love peace and are practising self-denial, but O best of snakes, now I ask you to do an act for the benefit of all creatures. The earth has an unsteady and dangerous wobble. I want you to bear the earth in such a way that its rotation becomes steady.

Note: The Mahabharata does not specifically use the words ‘dangerous’, ‘wobble’, and  ‘rotation’. It simply says that the earth was unsteady and Shesha was given the task of bearing the planet to make it steady. However, I believe Brahma Deva was asking Shesha to become the axis around which the earth could rotate steadily. This story might be describing a time when the earth’s wobble was very unsteady and certain natural forces — like gravitational or geo-magnetic — caused the earth to rotate relatively steadier around her axis.

You may have a different,
and perfectly valid, interpretation for this story. Do read the next post, tomorrow, and share your thoughts.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sesha Naga Becomes the Earth’s Axis

The victorious Garuda

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

Note: In the previous post, we read how the snakes became Garuda’s natural food.

In this post, we will find out how Garuda frees his mother from slavery.

Upon reaching the island with the pot of amrit in his claws, Garuda addressed the snakes joyfully in the following words, “Here, I have brought the amrit for you. I’ll place it on a bed of kusa grass. O snakes, sit here and drink the amrit after performing your ablutions and religious rites.”

Garuda continued, “Since I have brought the amrit, free my mother as you had promised.” 

The snakes said to Garuda, “So be it,” and went to perform their ablutions so they could drink the amrit.

As soon as the snakes went to perform their ablutions, Indra came to that spot, quickly took the amrit, and returned to heaven. 

The snakes returned after completing their ablutions, but, to their dismay, the bed of Kusa grass was empty. The amrit was no longer there.

Note: Here, Vyasa Muni mentions the plan that Garuda and Indra had made, as a counter-act of deceit.

Disappointed and saddened at not finding the amrit, the snakes began to lick the kusa grass on which the amrit was placed. Licking the kusa grass caused the initial part of the snakes’ tongues to become split into two parts.

From that day onwards, having come in contact with amrit, kusa grass became sacred.

Thus, the illustrious Garuda brought the amrit by battling the devas, freed his mother, did not allow the snakes to take the amrit, and also caused the snakes’ tongues to be split.

Garuda, that bird of fair feathers, roamed the beautiful woods of that island with his mother. He also gratifiedehis mother by devouring the snakes.

It is said that great merit is acquired by the person who listens to this story or recites it to an assembly of good brahmanas.

Reading or reciting this story of Garuda’s feats creates the conditions for a person to go to heaven.

Note: It’s worth contemplating on Garuda’s decisions of not battling the snakes but, instead, battling the devas to seize the amrit, and then, eventually supporting Indra and not allowing the snakes to drink the amrit, and finally, devouring the snakes after freeing his mother. 

In the next post, we will find out the names of the principle snakes involved in this tryst with Garuda.

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Next Post: Names of the Principal Snakes Involved in the Tryst With Garuda

13th-century Cham sculpture depicting Garuda devouring a Naga serpent (Image by DoktorMax – Own work. Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by User:Vinhtantran using CommonsHelper)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Indra and Garuda Become Eternal Friends

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra and Garuda became eternal friends.

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

After the friendship between Indra and Garuda was sealed, Indra said, “If you don’t need the amrit, return it to me because the beings to whom you plan to give the amrit have always been opposed to us.”

Garuda replied, “I have taken the amrit for a specific reason. However, I won’t allow anyone to drink it. O Indra, when I place the amrit on the ground, you can take it immediately and bring it back to heaven.”

Indra was very pleased with Garuda’s reply and offered the king of birds a boon.

Having been offered a boon, Garuda recollected how the serpent sons of Kadru had deceived his mother into slavery. But Garuda also knew that his mother’s misfortune was due to his brother, Aruna’s curse. That’s the reason he did not fight the snakes even though he could have easily overpowered them. Remembering all this, Garuda asked Indra for the following boon. He said, “O Sakra, let the mighty snakes become my food.”

“So be it,” Indra replied. However, Indra also considered it necessary to seek Vishnu’s permission before Garuda could make snakes his natural food. Therefore, Garuda and Indra approached the great Shri Hari Narayan, who immediately consented to the boon.

Note: Once again, we are given a window into Indra’s wisdom, discernment, and nobility. In the previous post, we got a glimpse into Indra’s nobility when defeated by Garuda, he reached out to the great bird for eternal friendship instead of harboring ill-will against him.

In this post, we get a glimpse of Indra’s wisdom and understanding of his limits. He knew that the natural order of the food chain would be affected when the snakes became Garuda’s food. So, even though he had himself given the boon to Garuda, Indra did not allow his ego to bypass Narayana and enforce the boon simply because he was the king of the devas. Here we see Indra as someone who knew his limits, and therefore, consulted Shri Hari Narayan, to validate the boon he had granted to Garuda.

After meeting Vishnu, Indra turned to Garuda and informed him that he would take possession of the pot of amrit as soon as Garuda had placed it on the ground.

Having reached an understanding about how the amrit was to be safeguarded, Garuda sped to the island where the snakes had held his mother in slavery.

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Garuda deceived the snakes and freed his mother from slavery.

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Next Post: Garuda Frees His Mother From Slavery

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)

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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

Painting of Garuda as Vishnu’s vehicle (Image by Unknown author – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Breaks Past Obstacles to Seize the Amrit

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Garuda broke through the three layers of obstacles to get hold of the amrit. Once he got the amrit, he did not drink it to benefit himself. Instead, he left immediately for the island where his enslaved mother was waiting for him.

In this post, we will read about the interaction Garuda had with Vishnu when the kind of birds met the great lord while flying with the amrit, and how Garuda became Vishnu’s vehicle.

As he flew towards the island, Garuda met Vishnu who was pleased with Garuda for not drinking the amrit. And Narayana (another name for Vishnu), the deity who knew no deterioration, said to Garuda, “O ranger of the skies, I want to give you a boon.”

Garuda said, “O great one, I wish that I should always stay above you and I should be immortal and free of disease without drinking the amrit.”

The great Vishnu said to Vinata’s son, Garuda, “So be it!”

Having received his two boons from Vishnu, Garuda said to Vishnu, “O great one who possesses the six attributes, I also wish to give you a boon.” Granted a boon by Garuda, Vishnu asked the king of the birds to be his vehicle. After that Vishnu put Garuda’s image on his flagstaff which always flew above him and said, “O Garuda, this way, through your image on my flagstaff, you shall always be above me.”

“So be it,” Garuda replied to the great lord and swiftly flew toward his destination.

Note: In the next post, we will read about another conflict between Indra and Garuda, following which they became eternal friends.

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Next Post: Indra and Garuda Become Eternal Friends

Garuda returning with the vase of amrit — from a series of 100 drawings of Hindu deities created in South India. (Image by Unknown (production), Public Domain)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda’s Fierce Battle With the Devas

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Garuda battled with the devas and vanquished them. After winning the battle, Garuda proceeded to the place where the amrit was kept. There, he noticed that the amrit was surrounded by massive flames and was also protected by other layers of security.

In this post, we will read about how Garuda went past the various obstacles, devised by the devas, and took possession of the pot of amrit.

Garuda saw that the amrit was surrounded by massive flames of fire that covered the entire sky. Violent winds blew on these flames causing them to leap and sway from one side to the next. It seemed as if the flames were determined to burn the Sun itself. Garuda’s sharp mind immediately thought of a way to conquer the challenge. He changed his form to add more mouths to his body. He assumed 99 times 99 mouths, and with these 9801 mouths, Garuda drank water from several rivers on earth and released that water with great speed on the fire from all directions. It was like aiming 9801 powerful water hoses on a fire. And the fire that blocked access to the amrit was indeed extinguished. 

With the fire put down, Garuda once again changed his form. This time, he reduced the size of his body and assumed a small, bright, golden body and crossed the ashes and water with great speed like a torrent entering the ocean. There he encountered the next obstacle.

The amrit was surrounded by a treacherous machine designed by the devas. The machine consisted of a rapidly rotating wheel that had sharp, razor-like blades which could slash to pieces anyone who tried to take the amrit. However, Garuda’s keen eyes spotted a passage through the spokes of the machine. He immediately made his body very small, and, with great speed, flew through that passage that opened for a brief moment.

Having gone past the rotating wheel, Garuda came face to face with the third and most dangerous obstacle. The amrit was protected by two great snakes. These snakes blazed with fire. They had sharp and bright eyes filled with anger. And these angry glowing eyes, ever watchful for an intruder, never blinked. Their tongues were like lightning and their mouth constantly emitted fire. These venomous snakes, filled with anger, were capable of burning any transgressor to ashes.

Garuda, the bird of fair feathers, acted quickly to raise an immense amount of dust with his wings. The dust covered the snakes’ eyes, and unseen by the snakes, he attacked them from all sides and tore their body into pieces.

Having vanquished the snakes, he seized the amrit, and without wasting any time, the mighty son of Vinata, who was currently within the machine made of a rotating wheel and sharp blades, spread his wings and expanded his body. As he rapidly grew in size, he shattered the apparatus into pieces.

Finally, having overcome all the obstacles, he did not stop to drink the amrit. Instead, he held the pot with his claws and ascended the skies. Garuda headed back to the island where Kadru and her snake sons had enslaved his mother, Vinata.

Note: In the next post, Garuda will meet Vishnu. We will read about the interaction they had that led Garuda to become Vishnu’s vehicle.

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Next Post: How Garuda Became Vishnu’s Vehicle

A sandstone statue of Garuda made in the 1st half of the 10th century, during the Angkor period, on display at the National Museum of Cambodia (image credit: User aks.9955 own work distributed on a Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, license).

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Sage Kasyapa’s Decision Regarding a Second Indra

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Sage Kasyapa arbitrated on the matter of the second Indra. It balanced Brahma Deva’s appointment of the current Indra as well as the sacrifice of the Valakhilya Sages. In this post, we will return to the battle between Garuda and the Devas for amrit. 

If you remember from earlier posts, disturbing omens started appearing in heaven when Garuda flew towards the abode of the devas to seize the amrit and free his mother from slavery. When Indra and the other devas realized what was happening when they went to their teacher, Brihaspati, to inquire about the omens. The devas prepared for battle in response to the threat.

In this post, we will read about the fierce encounter between Garuda and the devas.

Even though the devas were prepared for battle, they shook with fear when they saw the mighty Garuda approaching them. In that fear and the confusion that followed, some devas even struck one another with their weapons.

The first deva to fight Garuda was a deva called Brahmana. He was a celestial architect and was of immeasurable strength and bright like an electric fire. However, his encounter with Garuda did not last long. The great bird struck the deva called Brahmana with his beaks, talons, and wings, and within a moment, Brahmana lay dead on the battlefield.

Having vanquished Brahmana, Garuda flapped his wings with great force and raised a dust storm in heaven. Everything became dark and the devas, blinded by the dust, could no longer see their foe, Garuda. The mighty bird then struck the confused devas with his wings and beak and mangled them with wounds.

Seeing the devas confused and wounded, Indra (the deva of a thousand eyes) commanded Vayu to dispel the dust storm, and, following Indra’s command, the mighty Vayu drove away the dust giving respite to the devas. As soon as Garuda was visible, the devas attacked him in unison.

Garuda roared at the devas. His roar was like the sound that is heard in the universe at the end of the yugas. Garuda then ascended the skies with his mighty wings and swooped down attaching the devas who were with various weapons like double-edged swords, lances, arrows, simple maces, spiked maces, and discusses as bright as the sun. A fierce encounter took place between the devas and Garuda where the devas hurled their weapons with all their might at Garuda and, in response, Garuda moved swiftly and attacked them from all sides with his beak, talons, and wings.

The devas were no match for the mighty Garuda. Their bodies became mangled with the wounds inflicted by the great bird and they lay bleeding on the battlefield. The remaining devas fled to save their lives. The Sadhyas and the Gandharvas ran towards the east, the Vasus and the Rudras escaped from the south, the Adityas escaped from the west, and the Aswin twins fled in the northern direction. The devas, who were endued with great energy, retreated from the battle, making a few glances at their enemy while fleeing.

The valiant Yakshas, however, remained on the battlefield and continued to fight with Garuda. There was Aswakranda of great courage, Rainuka, the brave Krathanaka, Tapana, Uluka, Swasanaka, Nimesha, Praruja, and Pulina. They attacked Garuda with all their might, but the king of birds vanquished them with the power of his beak and talons and he wreaked havoc like the enraged Siva (the holder of the Pinaka) does at the end of a yuga. Those mighty and brave Yakshas, who fought without fleeing, lay dead, and the battlefield was filled with blood all around. After having vanquished the Yakshas, Garuda went to the place where the amrit was kept. He saw that the amrit was surrounded by a huge fire on all sides.

Note: In the next post, we will find out how Garuda seized the amrit that was protected by multiple layers of security.

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Next Post: Garuda Breaks Past Obstacles to Seize the Amrit

Indra is usually the guardian deity of the eastern direction in a Hindu temple (This image was contributed by Nomu420 on a Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, license)

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Previous Post: Indra’s Past Mistake That Created Karmic Disturbances in Heaven

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra’s rude words infuriated the Valakhilya Rishis and they performed a sacrifice where they wished for a second Indra who would be more powerful than the current Indra and would strike fear in his heart. When Indra heard about Valakhilya Rishi’s prayer, he was scared of losing his position of power and went to Sage Kasyapa for help.

In this post, we will read about what Sage Kasyapa does regarding the matter of a second Indra.

After hearing Indra’s concerns, Sage Kasyapa (who was also one of the Prajapatis) went to the Valakhilya Rishis and asked them if their sacrifice was successful. The truth-speaking Valakhilya Rishis said, “O Kasyapa, may its success depend on your wish.”

Sage Kasyapa then pacified the Valakhilya Rishis and explained that the current Indra had been appointed by Brahma Deva and that creating another Indra would nullify Brahma Deva’s word. However, Sage Kasyapa did not want the Valakhilya Rishi’s sacrifice to go in vain. He found a way out by requesting the Valakhilya Rishis in the following words:

“O excellent ones, be gracious to Indra who is now bowing before you for forgiveness, and let the being who is born as a result of your sacrifice be the king of birds. This second Indra, who will be the king of winged creatures, will be born with all the qualities you have asked for.”

The Valakhilya’s replied, “O Prajapati Kasyapa, we performed this sacrifice for two reasons: a second Indra and also for a son who will be born to you. We now leave the final decision to you. Do what is proper in this situation.”

Note: You might remember from a few posts back that Sage Kasyapa had offered a boon to both his wives: Kadru and Vinata. Kadru had asked for a thousand splendid serpent sons and Vinata had asked for two sons who would surpass Kadru’s thousand. However, only one part of the details was revealed to us at that time. We learned that, very soon, Kadru received a thousand eggs and Vinata received two. Back then, we did not know about Sage Kasyapa’s sacrifice for begetting children and about the conflict between Indra and the Valakhilya Rishis. The story narrated in this post is the piece of the jigsaw puzzle that would fit between the time Vinata asked for two sons from Sage Kasyapa and the time she conceived.

At the time when this conversation was going on between Sage Kasyapa and the Valakhilya Sages, Vinata completed her ascetic penances and purified herself by having a bath. Her body was in the fertile period when a sexual relationship would be fruitful to have children. She approached Sage Kasyapa. 

The Sage said to Vinata, “O respected one, the sacrifice I did for children has been successful. You will be the mother of two heroic sons. By the penances of the Valakhilya Rishis and by the desire with which I began the sacrifice, these sons will be very fortunate and will rule over the three worlds. Bear the auspicious seed with care for your sons will be the chiefs of all birds and will be respected by everyone. They will also have the power to assume any form at will.”

Sage Kasyapa, happy with the result of all the events that took place, addressed Indra saying, “O Indra, you will soon have two brothers of great strength and power. They will help you and not injure you in any way. Do not be sad, you will continue to be the king of the devas. But, be careful to never mock those who are engaged in ascetic practices and whose very words are like the thunderbolt.”

Sage Kasyapa’s words gave relief to Indra who subsequently returned to heaven.

Vinata was also very happy to have her wishes granted. Eventually, she gave birth to two sons: Aruna and Garuda. Aruna, whose body was underdeveloped, became the forerunner of the Sun and Garuda became the king of the birds.

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Garuda vanquished the devas in the battle for the amrit.

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Next Post: Garuda’s Fierce Battle With the Devas

Garuda is known as Karura in Japan. This is a statue of the wingless Karura in the Kofukuji Temple in Nara, Japan.

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Previous Post: Garuda’s Mission Causes Disturbing Omens in Heaven

Note: In the previous post, we read about the disturbing omens that appeared in heaven when Garuda flew toward heaven to seize the amrit. 

In this post, we will find out how Indra responded when Brihaspati, the teacher of the devas, told him that Garuda was on his way to heaven to take the amrit.

Upon hearing Brihaspati’s words, Indra addressed the devas who guarded the amrit. He said, “A bird possessing great strength and energy is determined to take away the amrit from us. Brihaspati told me that his strength is immeasurable and that nothing is impossible for him. Therefore, O devas, be very careful. Protect the amrit and do not allow him to take it.”

The gods who guarded the amrit were surprised to learn that a bird might have the power to take it from them, but they took note of Indra’s words and surrounded the amrit determined to protect it. Indra himself also stood guard with them.

The other devas started preparing for the battle by putting on their armor and getting their weapons. They wore expensive golden breastplates set with gems, over which they put on a tough bright leather armor. Having protected themselves with the breastplate and armor, they took sharp weapons in their hands. Some took maces with spikes, some took double-edged swords, some took tridents, while others took a discuss. Some devas even took various types of missiles. Each warrior equipped himself with a weapon that suited his body type. These weapons emitted smoke and sparks as the devas raised them.

Decked with celestial ornaments and equipped with bright and terrible weapons, the devas of incomparable strength, capable of splitting towns of asuras, stood there to protect the amrit

Note: In the next post, we will find out what Indra had done in the past to create a karmic situation that threatened heaven, and in the post after that, we will return to the battle between Garuda and the devas.

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Next Post: Indra’s Past Mistake That Created Karmic Disturbances in Heaven

Thunder and Lightening: Photo by Rahul Viswanath on Unsplash

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Sage Kasyapa Guides Garuda and the Valakhilya Rishis

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Sage Kasyapa requested the Valakhilya Rishis, who were doing penances on the branch that Garuda had mistakenly broken, to leave the branch and grant permission to Garuda to continue with his mission. After the Valakhilya Rishis left, Garuda ate the elephant and the tortoise on a remote mountain peak and proceeded toward heaven to seize the amrit.

In this post, we will read about the disturbing omens that appeared in heaven when Garuda flew toward Indra’s abode.

As Garuda proceeded toward Indra’s abode, various disturbing omens began to appear in the heavens. 

Indra’s favorite weapon – the thunderbolt – suddenly caught fire and blazed into a frightful flame. 

Thousands of meteors filled with smoke and fire began to rain from the sky.

The weapons of the Vasus, Rudras, Adityas, Sabhyas, Maruts, and other gods began to direct their force against each other. This was unheard of. An event like this, where the weapons of the devas turned against each other, had never happened in any war between the gods and the asuras.

The sky resounded with loud thunder even though no clouds could be seen in it.

The flowery garlands that the devas wore around their necks started to fade and the devas felt as if they were losing their power.

And then, suddenly, the sky filled up with dense clouds and started raining showers of blood. The god of gods (Mahadev) had caused those showers.

Gusts of winds began to blow raising a storm of dust that made everything in heaven, including the crown of the devas, appear dark.

These events filled the devas with fear. Even the king of the devas, Indra – the deva of one thousand sacrifices – was confused and afraid. Seeking to understand these omens, the devas, along with Indra, approached their teacher, Brihaspati (Jupiter).

Indra said to him, “O worshipful one, why have these disturbances of nature started occurring? I do not see any foe, capable of oppressing us in war, approaching.”

Brihaspati replied to Indra, “O king of the devas, these fearsome omens are a result of your own fault and the ascetic penances of the Valakhilya Rishis. These two reasons have combined to become the cause for Garuda, the immensely strong son of Vinata and Kasyapa, to come to your abode to seize the amrit. O king of the devas, everything is possible for Garuda. He is capable of achieving the impossible.”

Note: I am sure you are eager to find out what Indra had done in the past to bring this misfortune to heaven. We’ll read about Indra’s mistake the day after tomorrow, because, even though Brihaspati mentioned it, Indra did not acknowledge any mistake at that time. Instead of asking Brihaspati about his mistake, Indra decided to first safeguard heaven by getting the devas ready for a battle with Garuda. 

In the next post, we will find out how the devas got ready for the impending battle, and in the post after that, we will return to Indra’s actions that were the root cause for Garuda’s hostile arrival in Indra’s abode.

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Next Post: The Devas Get Ready For a Battle With Garuda

Today being Vasant Panchami, the post’s featured image is a statue of Goddess Saraswathi (from the Fine Arts College, Davanagere)

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Previous Post: Garuda Takes a Detour to Protect the Valakhilya Rishis

Note: In the previous post, we read how Garuda went in search of a place where he could put the massive elephant and tortoise to eat them. Invited by a huge banian tree, he tried sitting on its branch, but the branch broke with his weight. Garuda immediately caught the branch with its beak because it was home to tiny Valakhilya Rishis who were hanging upside down performing ascetic penances. In his attempt to understand how to ensure the rishis’ safety, Garuda reached Mount Gandhamadana, where his father, Sage Kasyapa, was engaged in ascetic practices.
In this post, we will read about how Sage Kasyapa guided Garuda and the Valakhilya Rishis.

As Garuda approached Mount Gandhamadana, he looked like a huge mountain filled with divine splendor. This noble bird, who could fly with the speed of the wind or even the mind, possessed immense strength. He was invincible. No human, deva, or danava could defeat him in battle. Even the invincible rakshasas were incapable of defeating him. He looked frightful like Agni himself, and indeed, he was capable of splitting mountain peaks, sucking up all the water from the great oceans, and even destroying the three worlds. 

Sage Kasyapa, who was performing ascetic devotions on the mountain, also saw his son. The great sage immediately noticed the Valakhilya Rishis hanging on the branch that Garuda held in his beak.

“Be careful, my child,” the sage cautioned his son. “These Valakhilya Rishis, who sustain themselves with the rays of the sun, have acquired great powers through their ascetic penances. When angered, they are capable of blasting anything, including you.”

Kasyapa turned to the Valakhilya Rishis, whose sins had been burnt away through ascetic penances, and propitiated them to help Garuda. He said, “O great ones whose wealth is asceticism, the work Garuda is doing right now is for the good of all creatures. This task is immensely difficult, therefore, it is fitting that you give him your permission.”

When the Valakhilya Rishis heard Sage Kasyapa’s words, they immediately left the branch and went to the sacred Himavat mountains to continue their penances. 

After the rishis had left, Garuda spoke to his father, with the huge branch still in his beak. “O illustrious one, where shall I throw this branch? Please recommend a place that doesn’t have any human beings.”

Kasyapa directed Garuda to a snow-clad mountain, that was incapable of being approached by ordinary creatures and asked him to throw the branch there. 

The mountain indicated by Sage Kasyapa was hundreds of thousands of yojanas away, yet, Garuda, still holding the huge branch, elephant, and tortoise, reached it within a few moments. As Garuda flew over the mountain, the flapping of his wings created such a storm that the entire mountain shook. All the trees swayed violently dropping their flowers to the ground. The peak of the mountain was filled with gold and jewels. When the mountain shook, the gold and precious stones started tumbling down the slopes.

Finally, Garuda released the branch, whose circumference was so huge that even a thousand cow hides were less to tie it. When that branch fell on the mountain it took down several trees that bore golden flowers and had trunks covered with bright mountain metal.

After dropping the branch, Garuda sat on the mountain peak to eat the elephant and the tortoise. Once his meal was over and hunger satisfied, he flapped his wings once again and flew with great speed towards the abode of the gods to take the amrit.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the strange omens that appeared in Indra’s abode when Garuda flew to accomplish his mission.

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Next Post: Garuda’s Mission Causes Disturbing Omens in Heaven

A view of the western part of Pamban island from the summit of Mt. Gandhamadana which is the tallest peak on Pamban Island, which lies in the Palk Strait between mainland India and Sri Lanka. It is believed by many people that Hanuman Ji resides on this mountain. (The image is available on a Creative Commons — CC BY 2.5 IN — license and has been contributed by Ravichander84).

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Vibhavasu the Tortoise and Supritika the Elephant

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Vibhavasu became a tortoise and Supritika became an elephant.

In this post, we will read about how Garuda seized the fierce and violent animals and what happened when he went in search of a place where he could eat them.

After telling the story of the hostile brothers who were reborn as an elephant and a tortoise, Sage Kasyapa blessed his son, Garuda, with the following words. 

“O son may you be blessed when you have to fight the gods. May water pitchers filled to the brim, brahmanas, cows, and other auspicious objects bless you. O Garuda of great strength, when you are in combat with the gods, may the Riks, the Yajus, the Samas, the sacred sacrificial butter, and all the mysteries explained in the Upanishads contribute to your strength.”

Blessed by his father, Garuda went to the sacred lake of clear water with birds all around. The noble bird, who could move very quickly seized the elephant with one flaw and the tortoise with another.

With the violent animals in his claws, the noble bird soared high into the sky to search for a proper location where he could place the animals to eat them. In his search, he first reached a sacred place called Alamva which had many divine trees that were capable of granting any wish. When Garuda flew close to the trees the tremendous wind created by his flapping wings caused those holy trees, which had golden branches, to tremble with fear. Garuda saw the trees filled with fear and decided to go somewhere else.

As he flew ahead, he soon reached another sacred place that had huge trees adorned with fruits of gold and silver. The branches of these trees were covered with precious gems. Being close to the sea, these trees were washed by sea-water. Among these trees was an unusually large banian tree which had a branch that was a hundred yojanas long. The tree called out to Garuda and said, “Sit on this branch that is a hundred yojanas long and eat the elephant and tortoise.

However, when the massive bird, Garuda, who resembled a mountain, sat on the branch, it shook and snapped. The branch which was a hundred yojanas long and filled with leaves and birds, detached from the tree and fell due to Garuda’s impact. When Garuda looked around, he saw Valakhilya rishis, who were engaged in severe penances, hanging upside down from the branch. The noble bird was afraid that the rishis might die because of his fault and he also desired to save them. Therefore, without wasting any time, he caught the massive branch firmly in his beak while still clutching the elephant and the tortoise with his claws

The Valakhilya rishis were filled with wonder when they saw Garuda hold such a massive branch with his beak – a feat that would have been difficult even for the devas. The great rishis said, “May this foremost of birds be called Garuda.”

Note: The name, Garuda, means — one who can bear heavy weights.

Desirous to save the rishis, Garuda flew over many places searching for a location where he could gently place the huge branch and allow the rishis to escape unhurt. However, unable to find any suitable place, he flew towards Mount Gandhamadana, where he once again saw his father, Sage Kasyapa, performing ascetic devotions.

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Sage Kasyapa guides Garuda to avoid sin, and also guides the Valakhilya Rishis to safety.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sage Kasyapa guides Garuda and the Valakhilya Rishis