Outside Shiva’s cave, Garuda sat perplexed (short story)
Garuda – the carrier of Lord Vishnu
Yama – the lord of death
High in the reaches of Mount Kailasha is the abode of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. One evening Vishnu, the god responsible for preserving the cosmic order, came to see Shiva. He left behind at the entrance Garuda, the half-man, half-eagle composite, who served as his vehicle.
Garuda sat alone, marveling at the natural splendor of the place. Suddenly his eyes fell on a beautiful creature, a little bird seated on the arch crowning the entrance to Shiva’s place. Garuda wondered aloud: “How marvelous is this creation! One who has created these lofty mountains has also made this tiny bird – and both seem equally wonderful.”
Just then Yama, the god of death who rides a buffalo, came passing by with the intention of meeting Shiva. As he crossed the arch, his eyes went over to the bird and he raised his brows in a quizzical expression. Then he took his eyes off the bird and disappeared inside.
Now, in the ancient thought of India, even a slight glance of Yama is said to be the harbinger of death. Garuda, who had observed Yama’s action, told himself, “Yama looking intently at the bird can mean only one thing – the bird’s time is up. Perhaps on his way back he will carry away the bird’s soul with him.” Garuda’s heart was filled with pity for the helpless creature. That it was oblivious of its own impending doom further agonized Garuda and he resolved to save the bird from the clutches of death. He swooped it up in his mighty talons, rushed to a forest thousands of miles away and left the bird on a rock beside a brook. Then he returned to Kailasha and regained his position at the entrance gate.
Soon after, Yama emerged from inside, and nodded to Garuda in recognition. Garuda greeted the god of death and said: “May I put a question to you? While going in, you saw a bird and for a moment you became pensive, why?”
Yama answered him thus: “Well, when my eyes fell on the little bird, I saw that it was to die in a few minutes, swallowed by a python, far away from here in a forest near a brook. I wondered how this tiny creature would traverse the thousand of miles separating it from its destiny in such a short time. Then I forgot. Surely it must have happened somehow.”
Saying this, Yama smiled and went away. Did he know about Garuda’ s specific role in the matter? Nobody can know for sure. Garuda sat perplexed, mulling over the surprising turn events had taken.