Garuda wanted to get amrit from the gods to free himself and
his mother, Vinata from the slavery of his stepmother,
the snakes. He asked his mother how he could get the amrit. Vinata
replied, "You will have to fly to the kingdom of Indra, the king of
the gods and get it. But for flying such a distance, you need to have lots
of food to make you strong. You should go to the ocean and eat the
nishadas (a tribe of fishermen). This will satisfy your hunger. But a
brahmin lives with the Nishadas, do not eat him. Garuda followed his
mother's instructions and ate the Nishadas but by mistake he swallowed the
brahmin too. Soon after, he felt a fire burning in his throat and he
immediately released the brahmin. Even after eating the Nishadas, his
hunger was not satisfied and so he went to his father, Sage Kashyapa.
Kashyapa said, "At some distance, you will find an elephant
dragging a tortoise. The two of them were sages in their previous birth.
They were brothers who had quarlled over property. They had cursed each
other to become an elephant and a tortoise. If you eat both of them,
your hunger will be satisfied." So Garuda went and ate the two
animals. Then he flew towards the kingdom of Indra to get the amrit. When
the gods came to know that Garuda was coming to take the amrit from them,
a fierce battle started between them but Garuda defeated them easily. Then
he went to the place where the amrit was kept. Huge flames surrounded the
vessel containing the amrit. Garuda went to the ocean and swallowed lots
of water to put out the flames. As he moved towards the amrit, he noticed
a big wheel with sharp spokes revolving in front of the vessel. Garuda
became small in size and flew between the spokes of the wheel. Then he
saw two ferocious animals guarding the vessel. He flapped his wings
rapidly and blew dust into the eyes of the monsters and blinded them. Eventually, he reached the vessel and took it away using his talons.
Garuda could have drunk the amrit himself and become immortal but he
had to offer it to the snakes to free his mother. This selfless act of
Garuda impressed Vishnu, who granted him a boon that he would become
immortal even without drinking the amrit. But Vishnu asked him to prevent
the snakes from drinking the amrit. Garuda took the amrit to the snakes
who released Vinata and Garuda from slavery at once. As they were about to
drink the amrit, Garuda stopped them and said that they should clean
themselves first. The snakes agreed and went to clean themselves first. In the meantime, the gods
were furious with Garuda for stealing the amrit and wanted to stop him.
Indra tried to attack Garuda and a battle followed. Garuda smashed Indra's
thunderbolt but Indra managed to escape with the amrit. However, a few
drops of amrit fell on the ground and the snakes licked it. The amrit was
so strong that it burnt their tongues and made them forked. This is
the reason why snakes have forked tongues.
Meanwhile, Vishnu was watching everything from a distance and was
pleased with Garuda's strength and determination. He made him the king of
all birds. In return, Garuda agreed to become Vishnu's mount and since
then, Vishnu is always accompanied by Garuda.