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Adi Parva

Astika Parva

The characters of Garuda and Shesha, beautifully represent the theme of ascent and descent. This theme is, in fact, delicately brought forward by the narratives associated with those characters itself. The story appears in the Astika Parva of the Adi Parva of Mahabharata. The account begins with Vinata, the mother of Garuda being tricked by her sister Kadru- the mother of the snakes, into slavery. After Garuda is born, wishing to free his mother from slavery, Garuda asks Kadru and the snakes, what they want in return for freeing Vinata. They ask them to bring Soma, the Elixir. Garuda then ascents from one height to another and finally reaches Swarga to fetch the Elixir. There, he fights with various deities and finally procures the Soma. But, he does not consume it. Next, in his ascent, he meets Narayana, who grants two boons to Garuda. One, he would always stay above Narayana; two, he would become immortal even without the Soma. Garuda in turn grants the boon to Narayana that he would remain as the mount of Narayana.
Shesha, the eldest son of Kadru, on the other hand, deserted his mother, who had cursed all her thousand sons to die at the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya. He performed very severe austerities for many years and pleased Lord Brahmaa. Brahmaa asks Shesha to descend into the bottom of the earth and uphold it and maintain its stability. The Mahabharata, further adds that while Shesha dwells underneath holding the earth up, the Garuda also acts as his helper in this endeavor.
There are a number of interesting themes and philosophical connotations embedded in this account. The first is that of Ascent and Descent. While Garuda takes up the ascent of Nivritti towards Moksha, Shesha descents into the bottom and upholds the Universe. While, Garuda denotes Moksha, Shesha denotes Rta/Dharma. And the fact that Garuda and Shesha work together in this whole Lila of Srishti, point towards the two-fold essence of Veda: Nivritti and Pravritti Dharma, which are complementary to each other. Garuda’s fetching of Soma, but not consuming it denotes the value of Vairagya/dispassion in the pursuit of Moksha. Narayana’s boon that Garuda will always stay above it denotes Garuda’s attainment of Turiya, the transcendent state, while his boon that Garuda will remain immortal despite not consuming Soma, denotes Garuda’s attainment of Jivanmukti. And finally Garuda becoming the vehicle of Narayana denotes how Garuda has taken up the role of Guru, who helps Narayana manifest within the competent Shishyas and impart to them ultimate Jnana. Shesha and his austerities, on the other hand, denotes the importance of Karma, Tapas, and the practice of Svadharma, for those who are not competent for practicing Nivritti. Then, there are the Kadru and other Snakes, who indulge in one sensual pleasure after another without a care for its utility or consequences. They keep wishing to travel from one attractive island to another to fulfill their desire for sensory pleasures, but are all eventually destined to perish in the Snake Sacrifice. A good representation of those, who are neither eligible for Nivritti path, nor choose to practice Pravritti path of Svadharma.
What is interesting is the fact that this entire narrative of Garuda-Shesha and other snakes beautifully bring out the essence of Isha Upanishad. Garuda’s flight first from being a slave to Snakes to the realm of deities and then transcending even the Devas to attain true immortality represent the journey from Avidya to Vidya and then transcendence of Vidya itself mentioned in verse 9-11 of the said Upanishad. Shesha’s journey on the other hand, is a good depiction of Verse 2 of Isha Upanishad, wherein those who are not competent for Nivritti path and have wish to live for long can do so by renouncing Adharma and performing Svadharma. The fate of snakes is well depicted in the verse 3 of Isha Upanishad, which says how those who are slaves to their desires and as if slay their inner Self, enter Asuric realms and hence suffer.
Returning to Garuda, contrasting the path taken by Garuda with that taken by Mandapala and sons is also revealing in their philosophical reference to Devayana and Pitrayana. While Garuda as we have seen above, took the path of Devayana to Moksha, Mandapala had to remain satisfied with attaining Pitrloka through the path of Pitr-yana. Then, there are many other accounts like Nara-Narayana, which can serve as a motif for Jivatma and Paramatma, represented as two birds in one of the Upanishads.

3 stories:
Ocean churning
Ocean symbolizes mind. In this mind, we have samskaras. Samskaras - built in impressions we have collected in life. So clash between good and evil in mind is represented here.
Amritha - realization of brahman, realizing real self does not die, is immortality
Tortoise - withdrawal of senses into ourselves, control senses
on tortoise back churning rod is kept
lakshmi - ideas to get wealth. everyone wants her, but she wants someone who doesnt want her i.e.vishnu
shva - great tapas shakti, poison-difficulties. So tapas can help you withstand difficulties.
vishnu takes the form of mohini - maya?
Neelakantha says: Nara and Narayana meaning, Nara is being guided by Narayana. Arjuna is guided by Krishna. Human body is chariot guiding atma.
Parikshit - Sometimes, Hunger can make your angry and anger leads to commit adharma. So always control krodha.
I find this passage very awesome:
“Having heard these terrible words, the king, the descendant of the Kuru lineage and a great ascetic himself, remembered his evil act and the king was struck with remorse. Having heard that the great hermit in the forest had been under a vow of silence, the king’s remorse increased even more. On learning about the great compassion Shamika had shown for him and recollecting his sinful act towards the hermit, the king was even more miserable. The king did not grieve about his impending death. But like a god, he grieved over the act he had perpetrated. “
3. Snakes-Garuda
Also Jaratkaru when he sees his ancestors, the mouse biting represents passage of Time
Kadru - the lengths we go to to fool people when we commit mistake, by hook or crook she wanted to make tail black
Vinata - Jealousy, parallel to Kunti and Gandhari
betting is wrong, foreshadowing
Snake sacrifice - Kauravas die
bros dividing property - anger -

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