The Vedas are said to be the very breath of the Supreme Lord and Garuda is hailed as the very embodiment of the Vedas. In the Vaishnava tradition Garuda is celebrated as Periya Tiruvadi. He is said to be an avatar of Sankarshanan, a form of Vishnu, and is endowed with extraordinary powers through the grace and penance of his father Sage Kashyapa. It is held that Garuda earned the privilege of eternal service to the Lord through his devotion, humility and his prowess, pointed out Kalyanapuram Sri R. Veeraraghavan in a discourse.
Kashyapa had two wives, Vinata and Kadru. Garuda’s mother Vinata had lost a bet with Kadru, and had to become her slave. Garuda was irked by this slavery and he was promised freedom by Kadru and her serpent sons if he got them the celestial nectar.
Garuda braved all dangers and hurdles and secured the nectar while Indra and his celestial coevals were mere helpless spectators. Even the vajrayudha was powerless against Garuda. Indra requested Garuda not to allow the serpents drink the nectar. Garuda placed the nectar in the midst of the serpents and won his freedom. But when the snakes were about to taste it, he told them they should first have their ablutions and Indra took away the nectar when the serpents had gone for their bath.
Commending Garuda for his extraordinary act, Vishnu offered him a boon. Garuda sought surrender at His feet as well as the honour of being the emblem of the Lord’s flag. Granting this wish, Vishnu conferred immortality on him and in addition requested him to be his vahana to which Garuda willingly agreed.
Garuda has since then rendered selfless service to the Lord at all times — be it to carry the Lord to Gajendra’s presence, or bring the Mandara mountain for the churning of the milky ocean. During Rama avatar, Garuda relieved Rama and Lakshmana from the ill effects of the Naga-astra launched by Indrajit during the battle.
Vedanta Desika is said to have meditated on the Garuda mantra. Periazhwar, who sang the Tiruppallandu hymn for the Lord and His attendants when he had a vision of them in Madurai, is held to be an incarnation of Garuda.