Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi riding on divine vehicle Garuda
Vahanas – the Divine Animal Mounts of Hindu Gods
Many of the main Indian Gods and Goddesses (Devas and Devis) have their own vehicles, mounts or vahanas that comprise various types of animals and birds. While this seems peculiar at first glance, there is a deep inner significance behind their choosing particularly those vahanas. This detailed article gives you invaluable information about these vahanas and their significance both in mundane and spiritual terms.
Sometimes, the deity is shown mounted on or riding his or her vehicle, while at other times, the vahana is shown by the deity’s side. Many times, this vehicle is also represented by way of symbolisms, as a divine attribute. Though the vahana appears to be independent, it is part and parcel of the deity’s presence and has an emblematic or syntagmatic inner meaning to it. Sometimes, the deity’s vehicle may also symbolize the evil force, which the deity embodies.
We now take a detailed look at the various main Devatas and their vahanas.
Garuda – Sri Maha Vishnu’s Vahana
The Garuda, the vahana of Sri Maha Vishnu, one of the Divine Trinity, is a large mythical eagle-like entity that is part of both Hindu and Buddhist culture. The Garuda is often depicted as having a shiny, golden body, red wings, white face, a sharp, eagle’s beak and a man’s body. He is a powerful creature, full of energy and a size big enough to block the Sun God Himself!
The Garuda is one of the most powerful demigods and is given an important place in Indian mythology. This can be gauged by the very fact that there is a complete Upanishad and Purana (Garudopanishad and Garuda Purana respectively) on him. Garuda has several other names such as Syena, Gaganeshvara, Chirada, Khageshvara, Kashyapi, Kamayusha, Sitanana, Sudhahara, Nagantaka, Tarkshya, Suparna, Vishnuratha, Vainateya and so on.
Garuda’s true power
Garuda has always played a very important and vital role in his master, Vishnu’s life. In fact, Indian art itself is a testimony to Garuda’s gigantic persona. It is said that the Veda chants can be heard with each movement of Garuda’s massive wings. There are several Indian sculptures and paintings that depict Vishnu and His consort, Lakshmi, seated on the bird. Krishna also carries an image of Garuda on His banner.
According to the Vedas, Syena was the one responsible for delivering the Deva Amrut (nectar of immortality) from earth to heaven. Worshipping this divine bird is even said to remove poison from one’s body. Lord Krishna Himself declared in the middle of Kurukshetra, the battlefield, “Of birds, I am the son of Vinata (Garuda)”. Krishna and His consort, Satyabhama rode on him to kill Narakasura. In yet another incident, Krishna mounts Garuda to save His elephant devotee, Gajendra.
Garuda was born to sage Kashyap and Vinata. When Garuda first emerged from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno, consuming all in its wake. When the Devas pleaded with him for mercy, he consented and reduced his own size and energy.
Reaching the Amrut to the Devas
Vinata, the sister of Kadru, the mother of serpents, once lost a bet to her sister and consequently became enslaved to her. In a bid to free his mother from the bondage, Garuda promised to bring the serpents Amrut, in exchange for his mother’s freedom. This elixir was at that time fiercely guarded by the gods and was kept safely within a fiery ring that covered the entire sky. This was further protected by a machine with sharp rotating blades. The potion was further guarded by two vicious poisonous serpents.
The gods, knowing Garuda’s intentions, proceeded to save the elixir by stationing a huge army against him. But Garuda destroyed them effortlessly. Then, collecting the water of many rivers in his mouth, he extinguished the fires surrounding the potion. Becoming a fraction of his size, he then manouvered his way through the rotating blades, killed the two serpents and took the pot of nectar in his mouth.
On the way back, he met Vishnu. While Vishnu promised him immortality without having to consume the nectar, Garuda promised he would become His permanent mount. He also met Indra, to whom he promised that he would indeed deliver the nectar back to the Devas. Indra, in turn, promised Garuda the serpents as food.
Finally freeing his mother, Garuda asked the serpents to finish their religious rites before consuming the amrut. While they were at it, Indra made off with the pot. Garuda thus became the ally of the gods and the vehicle of Sri Vishnu.
Garuda is said to have had six sons who gave rise to the spicies of the birds. Like Garuda, they too were strong beyond compare and also preyed on the snakes as did Garuda. Lord Vishnu continued to be their Protector as well.
Garuda in Buddhism
In Buddhism, the Garuda is said to be a huge bird, his wings spanning several miles! He is said to have amazing power, intelligence, strength and wisdom and can change to human form at will. There are some stories which even talk of Garuda kings having romantic dalliances with human women. The Buddha, in the Mahasamyatta Sutra, is shown as making peace, albeit temporarily, between the Nagas (serpents) and the Garudas.
Next Vahana: Nandi