Garuda’s mother, Vinata, lost a bet against her sister (due to trickery and deceit, but that is a whole other story), and was obligated to serve the Nagas, or snake kingdom, the duration of her life.
While growing up, Garuda was obliged to take orders from the snakes, waiting on them hand and foot, just like Cinderella, but did not understand why he, as king of the birds, was required to listen to the snakes. After some investigating, he found out about his mother’s debt and asked the Nagas how he could set her free.
They agreed to alleviate Vinata from her debt if Garuda brought them a pot of immortality nectar (amṛta). The nectar was being guarded by the devas, who surrounded it with three Indiana Jones type booby traps.
The first was a large ring of fire that Garuda extinguished by taking the water of the rivers in his mouth and pouring it on the fire. The second was a mechanical door with sharp rotating blades. Garuda wrapped himself in his wings, shrunk down in size and was able to slip through the door with ease. Garuda finally arrived where the nectar was being held, and found it was being guarded by two huge snakes (Indiana Jones would be in BIG TROUBLE!) Garuda rapidly flapped his wings, creating a dust storm that blinded the snakes, and while they couldn’t see, attacked them with his beak.
Garuda took the nectar into his mouth without swallowing it, and started flying home. Along the way, Indra caught up to him and asked Garuda to return the nectar, as this was how the Gods and Goddesses maintained their immortality. Garuda promised that once the nectar was delivered to the Nagas, he would make it possible for Indra to take it back.
Garuda finally arrived home and the Nagas could hardly wait to drink the nectar. He placed the nectar in a pot on the grass in front of them, and asked if his mother could now be set free. Greedy to drink the nectar, they immediately agreed. Garuda convinced them that before they drink it, they should perform a cleansing ritual.
As the Nagas went off to clean, Indra swept in and took the pot of nectar. When the Nagas returned, they saw a few drops of the nectar in the grass and started to lap it up with their tongues. The nectar was so powerful that it split their tongues in two, and because it was only a few drops, instead of becoming immortal, they would periodically shed their skin. From then on snakes were born with a split tongue and could shed their skin, and Garuda and his mother were free from their debt.