His stature in Hindu religion can be gauged by the fact that an independent Upanishad, the , and a Purana, the Garuda Purana, is devoted to him. Various names have been attributed to - Chirada, Gaganeshvara, Kamayusha, Kashyapi, Khageshvara, Nagantaka, Sitanana, Sudhahara, Suparna, Tarkshya, Vainateya, Vishnuratha and others. The Vedas provide the earliest reference of , though by the name of Śyena, where this mighty bird is said to have brought nectar to earth from heaven. The Puranas, which came into existence much later, mention as doing the same thing, which indicates that Śyena (Sanskrit for Eagle) and are the same. One of the faces of Śrī Pañcamukha Hanuman is Mahavira . This face points towards the west. Worship of is believed to remove the effects of poisons from one's body. In Tamil Vaishnavism Garuda and Hanuman are known as "Periya Thiruvadi" and "Siriya Thiruvadi" respectively.
In the Bhagavad-Gita (Ch.10, Verse 30), in the middle of the battlefied "Kurukshetra", Krishna explaining his omnipresence, says - "Of birds, I am the son of Vinata (Garuda)" indicating the importance of Garuda.
Garuda plays an important role in Krishna Avatar in which Krishna and Satyabhama ride on Garuda to kill Narakasura. On another occasion, Lord Hari rides on Garuda to save the devotee Elephant Gajendra. It is also said that Garuda's wings when flying will chant the Vedas.
The story of Garuda's birth and deeds is told in the first book of the great epic Mahabharata. According to the epic, when Garuda first burst forth from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno equal to the cosmic conflagration that consumes the world at the end of every age. Frightened, the gods begged him for mercy. Garuda, hearing their plea, reduced himself in size and energy.
Garuda's father was the creator-rishi Kasyapa. His mother was Vinata, whose sister was Kadru, the mother of serpents. One day, Vinata entered into and lost a foolish bet, as a result of which she became enslaved to her sister. Resolving to release his mother from this state of bondage, Garuda approached the serpents and asked them what it would take to purchase her freedom. Their reply was that Garuda would have to bring them the elixir of immortality, also called amrita. It was a tall order. The amrita at that time found itself in the possession of the gods, who guarded it jealously, since it was the source of their immortality. They had ringed the elixir with a massive fire that covered the sky. They had blocked the way to the elixir with a fierce mechanical contraption of sharp rotating blades. And finally, they had stationed two gigantic poisonous snakes next to the elixir as deadly guardians.
Undaunted, Garuda hastened toward the abode of the gods intent on robbing them of their treasure. Knowing of his design, the gods met him in full battle-array. Garuda, however, defeated the entire host and scattered them in all directions. Taking the water of many rivers into his mouth, he extinguished the protective fire the gods had thrown up. Reducing his size, he crept past the rotating blades of their murderous machine. And finally, he mangled the two gigantic serpents they had posted as guards. Taking the elixir into his mouth without swallowing it, he launched again into the air and headed toward the eagerly waiting serpents. En route, he encountered Vishnu. Rather than fight, the two exchanged promises. Vishnu promised Garuda the gift of immortality even without drinking from the elixir, and Garuda promised to become Vishnu's mount. Flying onward, he met Indra the god of the sky. Another exchange of promises occurred. Garuda promised that once he had delivered the elixir, thus fulfilling the request of the serpents, he would make it possible for Indra to regain possession of the elixir and to take it back to the gods. Indra in turn promised Garuda the serpents as food.
At long last, Garuda alighted in front of the waiting serpents. Placing the elixir on the grass, and thereby liberating his mother Vinata from her servitude, he urged the serpents to perform their religious ablutions before consuming it. As they hurried off to do so, Indra swooped in to make off with the elixir. From that day onward, Garuda was the ally of the gods and the trusty mount of Vishnu, as well as the implacable enemy of snakes, upon whom he preyed at every opportunity.
Throughout the Mahabharata, Garuda is invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess. Powerful warriors advancing rapidly on doomed foes are likened to Garuda swooping down on a serpent. Defeated warriors are like snakes beaten down by Garuda. The field marshall Drona uses a military formation named after Garuda. Krishna even carries the image of Garuda on his banner.
In Buddhist mythology, the (Pāli: ) are enormous predatory birds with intelligence and social organization. Another name for the is (Pāli: ), meaning "well-winged, having good wings". Like the Nāgas, they combine the characteristics of animals and divine beings, and may be considered to be among the lowest devas.
The exact size of the is uncertain, but its wings are said to have a span of many miles. This may be a poetic exaggeration, but it is also said that when a 's wings flap, they create hurricane-like winds that darken the sky and blow down houses. A human being is so small compared to a that a man can hide in the plumage of one without being noticed (Kākātī Jātaka, J.327). They are also capable of tearing up entire banyan trees from their roots and carrying them off.
The have kings and cities, and at least some of them have the magical power of changing into human form when they wish to have dealings with people. On some occasions kings have had romances with human women in this form. Their dwellings are in groves of the simbalī, or silk-cotton tree.
The are enemies to the Nāgas, a race of intelligent serpent- or dragon-like beings, whom they hunt. The at one time caught the nāgas by seizing them by their heads; but the nāgas learned that by swallowing large stones, they could make themselves too heavy to be carried by the , wearing them out and killing them from exhaustion. This secret was divulged to one of the by the ascetic Karambiya, who taught him how to seize a nāga by the tail and force him to vomit up his stone (Pandara Jātaka, J.518).
The Sanskrit word has been borrowed and modified in the languages of several Buddhist countries. In Thai the word for a is Krut (ครุฑ). In Burmese, are called ga-lon. In Japanese a is called Karura (however, the form Garuda ガルーダ is used in recent Japanese fiction - see below).
In the Qing Dynasty fiction The Story of Yue Fei, Garuda sits at the head of the Buddha. But when a celestial bat (an embodiment of the Aquarius constellation) farts during the Buddha’s expounding of the Lotus Sutra, Garuda kills her and is exiled from paradise. He is later reborn as Song Dynasty General Yue Fei. The bat is reborn as Lady Wang, wife of the traitor Prime Minister Qin Hui, and is instrumental in formulating the "Eastern Window" plot that leads to Yue's political execution.