Mahabharata Ch 26-30, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 21,22,23,24,25 « Ch 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 » Ch 31,32,33,34,35]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:26; Shlokas:47
As soon as Garuda landed on the tree, its branch broke, and as Garuda caught the falling branch, he saw the valakhilyas (वालखिल्य) ("Rishis who number 60,000 and were generated from the creator's body. They are the size of a thumb and precede the sun's chariot.") hanging upside down from the branch. Anxious to avoid hurting them, Garuda soared into the sky, looking for a safe place to set the branch, but couldn't find any. He then made his way to the Gandhamadana mountain.
There, Kashyapa, Garuda's father, saw him and advised him to be careful, and requested the valakhilyas to leave the branch so that his son could continue on his journey. The valakhilyas obliged. Kashyapa then told Garuda where to discard the branch, and Tarkshya (Garuda) headed to that "inaccessible and incapable of being penetrated" mountain, carrying the branch and the tortoise and elephant. Once there, when he let go of the massive branch, the massive mountain shook. Garuda sat down and ate both the tortoise and elephant, and then arose again.

Garuda's flight caused many "terrible portents" to appear, which frightened Indra, and he went to Brihaspati to inquire. Brihaspati replied that because of Indra's fault and negligence, the valkhilyas had created Garuda. A worried Shakra (Indra) warned the guardians of the amrita to be prepared and stationed himself there, armed with his vajra.

[Note the lead-in to the next story that is introduced in this chapter. Brihaspati talks about Garuda being the fault of Indra, without telling us why. This is the story-telling structure that would be adopted by the Panchatantra and Arabian Nights and others much later.]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:27; Shlokas:35

Shaunaka wanted to know from Souti what was Indra's fault that led to Garuda's birth? Souti replied that Kashyapa once undertook a sacrifice, assisted by the rishis, the gods, and the gandharvas, to have a son. Kashyapa asked Indra and the valakhilyas to get firewood. While Indra could carry a large load, the valakhilyas struggled to carry a single leaf of a palasha tree. Furthermore, because they were so small, they even struggled in the print left behind by a "cow's hoof" that had filled up with water. Purandara (Indra) contemptuously laughed at them. Enraged, the valakhilyas performed a sacrifice to create another Indra. Hearing this, a "greatly alarmed" Shatakratu (Indra) sought the help of Kashyapa, who then requested the valakhilyas that they instead create an "Indra for winged beings." This was because Brahma had already appointed an Indra and that the valakhilyas should not make Brahma's words false. The valakhilyas agreed, and told Kashyapa that their sacrifice was also to bring him a son.

Thus Marichi's "illustrious son" (Marichi was Kashyapa's father) blessed "Dakshayani Vinata" (दाक्षायणी) (Daksha's daughter) with "two powerful birds as brothers", and also admonished Purandara (Indra) to "never insult those who have knowledge of the brahmana." Thus were born Aruna and Garuda.

[Note here the motif of unintended consequences. Kashyapa interferes with the valakhilyas' sacrifice with the best of intentions, only to have the Indra of a son he would have had in the first place be replaced with an Indra of the skies - Garuda.]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:28; Shlokas:25

Garuda then arrived where the soma was, and after a fight, Bhouvana, one of the guardians, "lay dead, ripped apart by the beaks, talons and wings of the Indra among birds." Garuda then used his wings to create a great dust storm, blinding the gods. Indra commanded Vayu to drive the dust away, after which the gods again attacked Garuda. The battle continued in the skies. After a terrible battle in which the "saddhyas and gandharvas fled to the east, the vasus and rudras to the south, the adityas to the west and the Nasatyas to the north," Garuda returned to where the amrita was, to find it surrounded by fire on all sides. Garuda assumed "ninety times ninety mouths and drank up" the waters from rivers and used them to douse the fires. He then assumed a very tiny form.
ततो नवत्या नवतीर्मुखानां; कृत्वा तरस्वी गरुडो महात्मा
नदीः समापीय मुखैस्ततस्तैः; सुशीघ्रमागम्य पुनर्जवेन [1.28.24]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:29; Shlokas:23
Garuda entered where the amrita was. He saw the amrita surrounded by a revolving wheel with sharp blades that could "slice down those who wished to steal the soma." Garuda assumed a very small form and "passed through the spokes of the wheel." Once inside, he saw two large snakes with unblinking eyes guarding the amrita and who could burn anyone just by looking at them. Suparna (Garuda) flung dust into their eyes and then tore them into shreds. Garuda picked up the amrita and rose into the skies. Seeing Garuda's selfless act (of not having any of the amrita for himself), Narayana granted him a boon. Garuda asked that he wished to remain above Narayana, and furthermore, he wished "to be immortal, free from the decay of age, without the amrita." Garuda then wanted to grant Narayana a boon too, who asked that Garuda always be his vehicle. Narayana placed Garuda on his flagstaff, and thus Garuda was always above Narayana.

As Gaurda flew, Indra hurled his vajra at him. Garuda did not even flinch, and "tauntingly told Indra in a pleasant voice, 'I shall respect the rishi from whose bones the vajra has been constructed. O Shatakratu! I shall respect the vajra and you too. I will cast off one of my feathers and you will never be able to find its ends.'" Everyone was amazed at this feat of Garuda, and Indra wanted to know from Garuda the extent of his strengths, and asked for his friendship.

[Even though Garuda doesn't partake of the amrita, he still gets the boon of immortality from Vishnu. The encounter of Indra with Garuda teaches us a valuable lesson about strength respecting strength. Does the "revolving wheel mean that it was not only spinning but also revolving around the amrita?]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:30; Shlokas:22

Garuda agreed to Indra's offer of friendship, and before answering the other question, did acknowledge that "the learned do not approve of speaking highly of one's own strength or of praising one's own qualities." Garuda then proceeded to tell Indra about his strength. Indra then asked Garuda to return the soma. Garuda replied that he was taking the soma for a reason, but that he would make sure no one drank it. Indra then offered a boon to Garuda, who replied that although he had "the power to do what I desire," he remembered Kadru's and her sons' and the enslavement of his own mother, and asked Indra that snakes be his food.

Garuda took the amrita to the snakes, placed it on the soft kusha grass, and asked the snakes to come back after bathing and purifying themselves. Now that he had brought the soma as asked by the snakes, he asked that his mother be freed of slavery. The snakes agreed and as soon as they went off to bathe, Indra picked up the soma and left. When the snakes came back and found the amrita missing, they began to lick the kusha grass where some of the amrita had spilled. "Because of this act, the tongues of the snakes were split in two and became forked. From that day, because of contact with the amrita, the darbha grass became sacred."

[Garuda here is not only possessed of incredible strength, but also of intelligence and an awareness of his own strength. No false humility and no vain boasting either.]

These chapter summaries are based on the unabridged translation of the Mahabharata done by Dr Bibek Debroy, and published by Penguin Books India, and which I have been reviewing on my blog. The Sanskrit shlokas are from the electronic text of the Mahabharata - based on John Smith's revision of Prof. Muneo Tokunaga's version of the Mahabharata Critical Edition of the text from and copyright of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.