Sage Kashyap was one of the sapta rishis. He is considered to be the father of the Devas, Asuras, Nagas and even the birds.
The story of Garuda starts with the two wives of the Sage Kashyap – Vinata and Kadru.
Sage Kashyap called Vinata and Kadru and told them, ‘ I am going to conduct a yagna for more children.’ He turned to Kadru first, ‘How many children would you like Kadru?’
Kadru looked pleased at being chosen first. I want plenty of sons to obey my wishes and make me more powerful than Vinata. She said to Sage Kashyap, ‘I wish to have a thousand brave sons…’
Sage Kashyap nodded and then turned to Vinata, ‘And you, my dear?’
Vinata thought, ‘I just want two sons who are braver and stronger than all of the sons of Kadru… She said looking triumphantly at Kadru. Kadru angrily stared at Vinata for outsmarting her. But there was nothing that could be done. Sage Kashyap had accepted Vinata’s request.
So Sage Kashyap decided to perform the yagna. He needed the wood of a special tree for performing the yagna. He summoned Lord Indra, the king of the Devas. Indra was the son of Sage Kashyap and Aditi.
‘Father you called me?’ Indra said bowing before his father. Sage Kashyap nodded looking pleased at his son for coming immediately. ‘I am about to perform a yagna, son. I am going to need lots of wood for the yagna. So would you please help the Valakhila rishis in collecting the wood?’ Sage Kashyap said pointing at four sages who were dwarves but radiated the power of knowledge. Indra saw the small sages and wanted to laugh out. But he knew that his father would be offended and did not say anything. He went ahead with the sages.
Indra was phenomenally powerful. He felled big trees all by himself and was also able to carry it himself.
The Valakhila rishis painstakingly cut the trees and cut them into small size for them to carry.
From behind them Indra lifted the tree and put it in his back and carried it. The Valakhila rishis tottered as they were lifting a particularly heavy tree. As Indra passed them, the Valkhila rishis unable to bear the weight dropped the log and fell down.
Unable to control himself, Indra burst out laughing. Still laughing he walked past the rishis, without even offering to help them.
The sages looked at Indra angrily and wondered how such an arrogant man could become a god, let alone the King of the Gods and decided that something had to be done about it.
Painstakingly the sages brought all the wood for the sacrifice and soon afterwards the preparations were over. The yagna began and soon Kadru had a thousand eggs out of which the thousand sons of Kadru would emerge. Kadru kept the eggs in a pot of warm water to keep them warm and took good care of the eggs.
The Valakhila sages then started another yagna for the two sons of Vinata. The Valakhila sages due to their knowledge were chosen to say the mantras for the yagna. The yagna started and the sacrificial fire was burning and the ghee was poured into the fire so that the fire burnt even more brightly.
The Valkhila sages then spoke the mantras, ‘By this yagna, let there be another Indra, more powerful than the present Indra. He should be able to change his appearance at will and lift very heavy loads and should be very brave….’
The next line they were about to say was that ‘Let this Indra be the new Indra.’
However Indra was very watchful throughout the second yagna. He had noticed the angry stares of the Valakhila rishis. He realised that he should not have laughed at the rishis. It was not their fault that they were short….
Since the Valakhila rishis read out the mantras, Indra realised that the person emerging from the yagna could not only defeat him but also become the King of the Gods. Indra became worried and ran to the only person who could help him – his father.
‘Father…’ He hissed sharply in Sage Kashyap’s ears. Startled Sage Kashyap turned to face him.
‘Father, you have to stop the yagna…’ Sage Kashyap said nothing and looked questioningly at his son.
‘Father, they are creating another Indra stronger…’Indra swallowed, ‘stronger than me…’
Sage Kashyap looked at Indra and wonderingly asked him, ‘Why are you feeling so insecure about that? Have you done something wrong?….’
‘It is all my fault…’ Indra said in a rush. ‘…I ….I made fun of the Valakhila sages…’ Indra finished in a very small voice.
‘YOU WHAT?’ Sage Kashyap asked in a shocked voice, ‘How could you Indra? You are…you are not just a Deva, you are the king of the Gods…you cannot act like this…’Sage Kashyap angrily ranted, ‘This is very bad…’
‘Father…’ Indra said miserably, ‘I am sorry. I will apologise to the rishis too. But please ask them to stop…’ He said pointing to the rishis who were pouring more ghee and were about to say the next mantra.
Realising that time was short, Sage Kashyap stepped forwards and bowed to the rishis. The rishis paused and waited for Sage Kashyap to continue.
‘Sages, I have just learnt from my son that…’ Sage Kashyap said looking at Indra angrily, ‘…that he has misbehaved with you…’ The rishis looked from Indra to Sage Kashyap, but still did not say anything. ‘My son apologises to you…’ Sage Kashyap continued as Indra bowed before the sages and whispered ‘I am sorry…’ softly looking down at his feet. Sage Kashyap continued, ‘Lord Brahma has appointed Indra as the King of the Devas. Please do not change the order created by Lord Brahma due to my son’s misbehaviour.’ The rishis glanced at the down-faced Indra once more. ‘Let the person created from the fruits of the Yagna be considered as the Indra of the birds…’ Sage Kashyap said.
Finally the Valakhila sages relented and they modified the mantra to make the creature emerging from the yagna as the King of Birds. Indra breathed freely.
From the second yagna came two eggs. Sage Kashyap thanked the Valakhila sages, who went to the Himalayas to meditate. Indra also went back to the heavens. Sage Kashyap handed over the two eggs to Vinata. ‘Take goods care of them, my dear. And remember,’ Vinata turned to hear a sharp note from Sage Kashyap, ‘Please do not lose your patience…’
Vinata nodded not fully understanding the words of the sage.
Some time later, the thousand eggs of Kadru hatched and from them came thousand snakes. Kadru was very happy and took good care of all her sons.
However Vinata’s two eggs did not hatch. Vinata waited and waited, however nothing happened. Vinata looked jealously at Kadru playing with her children.
Kadru laughed at Vinata, ‘Vinata, I guess the yagna did not work for you. The eggs are probably never gong to hatch. Or worse still, you probably did not take good care of the eggs. Who knows?’ Kadru said carelessly walking away.
Vinata thought that over. Probably I have to keep the eggs differently. Probably there is something I have to do. I will break one of the eggs just a little and see inside…Without thinking it through, Vinata cracked one of the eggs.
Inside the egg she saw a healthy boy with good strong hands, in a purplish colour. Much to her horror, she found that bottom of the child was not well-formed and was just a lump of flesh.
‘Mother’, Aruna (the name of the child) cried. ‘You were impatient. You acted out of jealously. For this I curse you…’ Aruna pointed an accusing finger at Vinata.
Vinata stammered helplessly, unable to forgive herself for what she had done, ‘No…NO…I ….’
Aruna said even more angrily, ‘You will work for someone else as a servant…’
‘NO!…’ Vinata howled as she heard the words of Aruna. ‘Please son…’
Aruna went on relentlessly, ‘However if you are patient enough with my younger brother, he will set you free from the bondage.’ Saying this, the child flew away.
As Aruna was only half formed, Aruna was placed before the Sun God as his charioteer to reduce the glare of the Sun. It is believed that the purplish glow at sunrise comes from the body of Aruna.
Vinata was broken hearted at what she was done and was determined that she would never let her emotions run away from her. She however checked on the other egg carefully and took good care of the egg.
Some time later, Vinata and Kadru went for a walk in the garden, when they saw Ucchashravas, Indra’s horse. The horse had emerged from the ocean, when it was churned for nectar
‘What colour is that horse, Vinata?’ Kadru asked Vinata as the horse galloped away so fast, that it almost vanished.
‘Oh it was pure white’ Vinata replied instantaneously.
Kadru smiled. ‘I guess your vision is getting bad. It had a black tail.’ Vinata frowned as she shook her head slowly. She recollected the image of the horse and shook her head more confidently, ‘No Kadru, the horse was pure white.’
Kadru said imperiously, ‘I say that the horse had a black tail’ Vinata was about to interrupt, when Kadru held up her hands. ‘Wait Vinata. We will have a bet. Whoever is wrong, will work for the other as a servant…deal? We will go to Indra’s palace and see the horse, tomorrow.
Vinata confidently accepted the condition.
Kadru went to her room that night thinking hard. What if I am wrong? Oh what a rash bet I have made. I cannot bear to be Vinata’s servant. I would rather die first…
She summoned her sons. After her sons came in the room she told them of the bet.
‘But mother…’ one snake said, ‘Ucchshravas is fully white in colour…’
Kadru was terrified when she heard this. ‘Then I ask you sons. Please obey your mother. Please go and twine yourself around the tail of the horse so that when we come to check the horse, the tail would be black and I would not lose the bet.’
The snakes looked at each other dumb folded. This was not right. They turned to their mother and one of them said hesitatingly, ‘Mother this is not right…You cannot expect us to lie…’
Kadru blazed angrily at her sons. ‘Why should I have you as my children? You don’t even listen to one single request of mine…Listen to me.. I curse you…I curse you all to either die by your brother’s hands or by a yagna fire…’ She said not thinking properly and blindly cursing her own children.
The snakes were aghast when they heard this. However before they could even appeal to Kadru she had walked out of the room. The snakes knew that if they did not carry out Kadru’s instructions, she would curse them further.
So the next day they went and warped themselves around the tail of the horse.
Kadru and Vinata came to Indra palace and when they saw the horse, Vinata was shocked to find the black tail. Kadru imperiously ordered around Vinata and Vinata became Kadru’s servant.
Vinata worked for Kadru and her snake sons. It was at this time that the second egg of the Vinata hatched and from it came a small child. The child had the head, beak, wings and talons of an eagle but had the body of a human being. This child was Garuda (Garuda means someone who can lift heavy things) Being empowered by the power of the yagna of the Valkhila sages, Garuda could change his form at will. He immediately grew to a colossal size and was so bright that everyone thought that the universe was about to burn up.
However as Garuda was born when his mother was the servant to someone else, he too was considered as a servant. How he won his and his mother’s freedom is another story!
Unfortunately for the snakes, their mother Kadru’s curse also came true. Most of the snakes were burnt in the Snake Sacrifice conducted by King Janamejaya and some of them were also eaten by their brother Garuda.