Garuda is both the mount of VISHNU and the king of birds. He is depicted with the body of a man and the face of an eagle. He is considered the son of the RISHI Kashyapa and his wife, Vinata.
   Garuda is known to be an enemy of snakes, a natural characteristic of a bird of prey such as the eagle. In his case the enmity is attributed to a rivalry between his mother and her sister Kadru, mother of the serpents. Kadru had taken Vinata captive but agreed to set her free if she would give her the nectar of immortality (AMRITA). Garuda was successful in going to heaven and defeating the two snakes who guarded it there. It was this deed that gained him the reward of being Vishnu’s mount.
   The story did not end at this, however. INDRA, ruler of heaven, wanted his nectar returned. Finally, he allowed Garuda to feed on snakes, the traditional food of eagles, in exchange for return-ing the nectar of immortality. Sometimes Garuda is iconographically represented holding a pot of ambrosia (amrita).
   Further reading: Shanti Lal Nagar, Garuda, the Celestial Bird (New Delhi: Book India, 1992); Margaret Stutley, An Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Iconography (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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