“That very powerful Garuda in the form of Rama will swiftly uproot the great serpents in the form of the Rakshasa kings, just as Vainateya swiftly uproots serpents.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.27-28)
rākśasendramahāsarpān sa rāmagaruḍo mahān ||
uddhariṣyati vegena vainateya ivoragān |
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna gives a list of different important personalities which represent Him. At the time the Bhagavad-gita was spoken, some five thousand years ago, these personalities were well known to the population. In one section, He says that among birds He is Garuda. Garuda is the carrier of Lord Vishnu, and he is known for his speed and the fear he instills in the serpent race. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi makes a similar mention. In Krishna’s case the reference is to show how He, as God, is the life of everything and also the best of everything. In Sita’s case, the reference was a mere statement of fact that might also make the fiendish king of Lanka think twice about his ill-fated plan.
“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)
God is one. There can only be one Supreme Being. There can only be one origin to everything. This makes sense. We have only one mother and one father. Others can take care of us and behave in a fatherly manner, but there is still the original biological father. The same goes for the mother. With respect to the entire creation, the mother is the material nature and the seed-giving father is the Supreme Lord.
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.4)
It’s difficult to comprehend what the origin of everything could be. We are awestruck just looking into the clear night sky during the summertime. If we gaze above for long enough, we’ll realize how insignificant everything around us is. Since there is a limitation on sight, we don’t constantly realize this same fact on a daily basis. We simply can’t see everything. When we’re taking off or landing while on board an airplane, we get a similar extended vision. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna Himself shows the universal form to Arjuna, which naturally instills fear.
“After seeing this universal form, which I have never seen before, I am gladdened, but at the same time my mind is disturbed with fear. Therefore please bestow Your grace upon me and reveal again Your form as the Personality of Godhead, O Lord of lords, O abode of the universe.” (Arjuna, Bg. 11.45)
The virata-rupa, or universal form, is the complete picture. It has everything in it. Think of the “panoramic” setting on a smartphone with a camera. You steadily move the camera from left to right so that many images can be taken in sequence. Then the pictures are stitched together to make a panoramic image. This image is wider than the normal one taken by a camera. The universal form is like the widest panoramic image. It extends up and down as well as left and right. It goes into the third dimension as well. One who sees this is naturally awestruck, afraid of how gigantic the sum total is.
To help understand Him better, the Supreme Lord points out different aspects of nature and different personalities which represent Him. Garuda is one of those personalities. He is of the bird species, but his qualities are divine. He acts as a servant of Vishnu, who is the Supreme Lord in His awe-inspiring figure with four hands, which hold a conch, a club, a disc, and a lotus respectively. Vishnu is the source of the creation, and He expands into other Vishnu forms to take on various roles. In the material creation He is the maintainer. Sometimes He is asked to deal with miscreants, and so when He appears He rides on the back of Garuda. Garuda is thus a great servant of the Supreme Lord. He is trusted because of his devotion.
Rama is the same Krishna. He has a different visible manifestation, but as a personality He is identical to Krishna, or God. Rama is an avatara, or incarnation, of Vishnu. Thus Krishna’s comparison in the Gita applies to Rama as well. Among the birds, Rama is Garuda. This is the point made here by Sita. When not directly serving as Vishnu’s carrier, Garuda terrorizes the snakes. This is his behavioral trait. Not all animals are vegetarians. Some kill other animals for food. Though these animals are dangerous in this way, in one sense they can’t be blamed for their violent tendencies; they are merely trying to survive.
The snake attacks without due cause. It bites for no apparent reason. It does so in a sneaky manner as well. When you’re not looking, when you think you’re safe, the snake comes in and attacks. And then it goes about its merry way. Garuda is an enemy to the snakes. He eats them for food. The snakes are thus always afraid of him; Garuda swiftly arrives and carries them away in his mouth.
Here the leading Rakshasas of Lanka are compared to snakes that Garuda will uproot. Rama will act as Garuda in this instance. He will come to kill all the snake-like Rakshasas. Behaving snake-like, the Rakshasas, who are a kind of human species that is known for eating human beings, would regularly attack innocent people for no reason. They could have eaten any other kind of food, but they decided to feast on the flesh of slain sages who weren’t bothering anyone. In this instance, Ravana had taken Sita away from her husband Rama. She had done nothing wrong. Ravana acted like a snake by taking her away in secret, without fighting for her against Rama.
Interestingly enough, the area where Ravana lived had previously been visited by Vishnu and Garuda. The Rakshasas were driven out of Lanka by Vishnu Himself, who arrived on the scene riding on the back of Garuda. Then Kuvera was installed as the leader, and he was pious in nature. Through boons obtained from different gods, Ravana drove Kuvera out of Lanka and turned it into a sinner’s paradise.
As Sita rightly predicts, Garuda will arrive again in the form of Rama. Rama’s arrows fly as swiftly as Garuda does, and so for the snakes in Lanka there would be no chance for survival. Such is the punishment due for one who has offended the Supreme Lord’s beloved wife and neglected all advice for rehabilitation. Garuda’s swift travel terrorizes the miscreants and simultaneously protects the devotees. In the form of Rama and His arrows, Garuda would arrive to save the distressed Sita.
Destruction to come although now calm,
Bird carrier Garuda to arrive as Rama.
Garuda like Krishna, in potency close the same,
Comparison used for us knowledge to gain.
Rama and Krishna identical, difference is none,
His bird-carrier to snakes enemy number one.
Rakshasas of Lanka like snakes they are,
Rama to uproot them though travelling from afar.
Categories: ravana threatening sita