Vishnu: Garuda and Adisesha


Garuda with the head and wings of eagle and sometimes with the rest of his body like that of a man is called the king of birds and he is also the carrier of god Vishnu.

Vinita, the wife of Kashyap, the progenitor of gods and men, laid an egg and became the mother of this bird-god. Garuda is also known by another name of Vinayak, which name he shares with god Ganesh. Thus this god-bird is thought to be the remover or destroyer of obstacles.

It is stated that as a result of a dispute between Vinita, the mother of Garuda, and Kadru, the mother of serpents, a continuous enemity has been going on between the two and Garuda is on the look out to devour all the serpents he can find.

The story of his becoming the carrier of god Vishnu is related thus. Garuda with his great strength surmounted many dangers. At last one day Garuda seized the moon and concealed it under his wings. This worried all the gods in heaven and under the leadership of lndra the gods attacked Garuda.

He overcame all gods but could not conquer Vishnu. However, when Garuda relented god Vishnu made the bird immortal and permitted him the honor of being Vishnu’s carrier.

The elder brother of Garuda is called Urud or Aruna and he is the charioteer of Surya, the sun god. The image of this bird is shown as that of a man without thighs.

Garuda is also said to have stolen Amrit (ambrosia) from the gods in order to purchase his mother’s freedom from the thralldom of Kadru, the mother of a thousand powerful many headed serpents. Indra discovered this theft and fought a fierce battle with Garuda. The amrit was recovered but the thunderbolt of lndra was smashed in the battle.

Garuda is identified with the all consuming sun’s rays and popular belief credits him with the power to cure those suffering from snakebite. The mantra (hymn) that is effective in such cases reads thus, “Om Tarakishya (Garuda), cast down my enemies, trample the diseases and venom that might invade me”.

The emerald stone traditionally deemed as the antidote of poison, is also associated with Garuda. Garuda is not separately worshipped widely as an independent god; he is worshipped together with Vishnu. His image is placed near Vishnu in temples and in pictures he is shown as carrying Vishnu in the skies on its back.

The name of Garuda’s son is Jatayu. This bird tried to rescue Sita, when Ravana was fleeing after kidnapping her. Ravana fights him and wounds him fatally. Rama himself cremated this bird after death and sent it to heaven.

Lord Vishnu’s consort is Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.


In some images where in place of Mace, the Bow, Arrows and Quiver are shown, the symbols represent as follows. The bow called SARANGA represents the ego, origin of sensorial perception which means that it is the symbol of the divine power of illusion (Maya), while the numerous Arrows of Vishnu are the senses, the fields of activity of the intellect and the Quiver is the store-house of actions.

In iconography Vishnu may appear as any of his ten incarnations but often stands in sculpture as a princely male with four arms that bear a club, discus, conch, and lotus flower.

He may also appear lying on his back on the thousand-headed king of the serpents, Shesha-Naga, in the milk ocean at the center of time, with his feet massaged by Lakshmi, and with a lotus growing from his navel giving birth to the god Brahma, a four-headed representation of the creative principle.

Vishnu in this representation is the ultimate source of the universe that he causes to expand and contract at regular cosmic intervals measuring millions of years.

On a more concrete level, Vishnu may become incarnate at any moment on earth in order to continue to bring sentient creatures back to himself, and a number of great religious teachers (including, for example, Chaitanya in Bengal) are identified by their followers as incarnations of Vishnu.

Vishnu is the sustaining, fostering, stabilising and strengthening aspect of God. He takes care of the “Rtham” or “Rta” – the rhythm of righteousness in the world. Vishnu incarnates in order to revive the practice of Dharma in the world.

The word Vishnu means that which is omni-present. Vishnu is pictured reclining on an ocean of milk on and under the shadows of the spread hood of a serpent called Sesha.

Sesha moves in curves and not in a straight line. Man, too when he is following the senses moves in a crooked path. He has greater poison in him than the snake, his venom is to be found in his eyes, his tongue, his hands, his mind, his heart, his thoughts whereas the cobra has it only in its fangs.

The cobra raises its hood and sways in joy when it hears music. Likewise, man when he realises divinity will dance in heavenly bliss.