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Great Golden-Winged Bird – Garuda Mythology

Updated on September 4, 2017
Vishnu with mount Garuda
Vishnu with mount Garuda | Source

In Hindu mythology

Garuda, an enormous mythical bird, originated from Hindu mythology. A powerful predatory bird, he feeds exclusively on Nagas (serpents or dragon-like divine beings).

Different images

Garuda comes in different forms, such as:-

Ø Purely bird shape – as seen in India Sanchi relics. (Sanchi is the location of several Buddhist monuments.)

Ø A bird’s head, red wings and a human body, golden in colour.

Ø A human face with bird’s beak and crest. Human body above the waist and bird shape from waist downwards, with feathers.

Brass Image of Garuda, Jagdish Mandir, Udaipur.
Brass Image of Garuda, Jagdish Mandir, Udaipur. | Source

China’s earliest image of Garuda is found in Dunhuang Frescos.

The white jade Garuda in the Tianjin Museum collection is one with feathered crown, human face with bird’s beak, eyes inlaid with blue precious gems, mouth empty, feathered wings on its back, wearing ribbons, and standing atop of the clouds.

The jade Garuda in the Palace Museum and Heritage Company of Tianjin is in the lying position.

Prominent Family Background

Garuda’s father, Kashyap, was a Rishis (sage) and had 13 wives, all of whom were daughters of Prajapati Daksha (creator deity). Besides Garuda, Kashyap also fathered the Devas, Asuras, and Nagas (all demi-gods of Buddhism Tian Long Ba Bu).

Vinata, Garuda’s mother, one day betted with her sister Kadru on the colour of the tail of a fairy horse. The loser will have to become slave of the winner. Vinata lost and was enslaved by Kadru and her Naga serpent sons. Kadru was one of the wives of Kashyap.

According to Mahabharata (great ancient Indian epic), when Garuda burst from an egg, he was surrounded by raging fire looking like an inferno. Mistaken it to be the Fire God pouring out his rage, there were fright and panic amongst the heavenly beings.

At the same time, there were signs suggestive of impending turmoils – flames suddenly flared out of God of Sky Indra’s vajra (weapon), arms of celestial beings automatically clashed with each other, successive plummetting of meteors from clear sky, showers of blood – never seen before in heaven.

Magnificent battle

To exchange for his mother’s freedom, Garuda has to steal for his serpent half-brothers the amrita (nectar of immortality) from the gods.

After fierce fighting and wreaking havoc in heaven, Garuda successfully took off with the elixir. En route, he met god Vishnu.

Seeing Garuda has no selfish thought of keeping the elixir for himself, Vishnu wanted to extend him a favour. Garuda responded by saying that he wanted to be superior to Vishnu, as well as having immortality.

As Garuda had asked for 2 favours, he offered to grant Vishnu one wish in return. Vishnu wanted him to be his mount but will have Garuda’s image on his banner, so that Garuda will still be on top of him. A deal was made.


Sworn enemy of Nagas

Flying onwards, Garuda met Indra who seeked the former’s help in returning the nectar to its rightful owner. In return, Garuda was promised the snakes as food.

After using the amrita to exchange for his mother’s freedom, he managed to convince his half-brothers to go for religious cleansing before taking the elixir. In their absence, Indra took the opportunity to regain possession of it.

As a result, Garuda and snakes became sworn enemies eternally.


As a symbol

Garuda is huge in size. His wings, when outspread, can span thousands or even millions of miles. He can cause sea water to dry up and mountains to level with just a flap of his wings. People can get blinded by the hurricane-like winds created by his flapping of wings.

He symbolizes valour and martial prowess.

Garuda in Buddhist mythology

Garuda, in Chinese, is known as the Great Peng, the Golden-Winged Illumination King. He is one of the 8 demi-gods of Buddhism (Tian Long Ba Bu) and helps to guard Mount Sumeru and trayastrimśa heaven from being attacked by the Asuras. He chirps sorrowfully.

This Great Peng Bird swallowed 1 king serpent and 500 poisonous snakes daily. After 8,000 years on such diet, the poison began to take effect. Unable to eat, he fluttered to and fro 7 times and landed at Mount Kumgang. Upon his death, his poisoned body flared into flames, leaving behind a green liuli (crystal glass) heart.

Buddhism’s depiction of Garuda’s demise is didactic in purposes. It is a good illustration of their teachings on Karma, the Law of Cause and Effect.

Interpretation of Garuda dreams

Dream of Garuda
flying in the air 
Good Luck. Comfortable life. 
perching on a high place 
Respected by others 
landed on top of one's head 
Inauspicious sign 
Two birds fighting
New competition in one's business
having hunted food in its mouth
Money luck
resting in its nest
Comfortable life
Two birds in other bird's nest
Expansion of one's business
standing on ground
Decline in one's position or rank

NOTE: For detailed explanation of the terminology (in italics), please check it out at the Wikipedia link provided here.

© 2011 pinkytoky


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    • pinkytoky profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Singapore

      Hi Simone, thanks for dropping by.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, how amazing! Garuda is a fascinating bird indeed.


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