Aruna’s story must begin with an account of how he became the charioteer of the sun god, Surya. Aruna’s father was the famous KasSyapa prajapati (grandfather of all creatures). Two of KasSyapa’s wives, Vinata and Kadru, pleased him so much that he granted each a boon. Kadru asked for a thousand naga (snake) sons, and Vinata wanted only two sons, more powerful than those of Kadru. So Kasyapa granted their wishes and went to the forest to practice austerities (tapas). After some time Kadru gave birth to a thousand eggs and placed them in pots to incubate. Vinata gave birth to two eggs and placed each in a pot. After five hundred years Kadru’s pots broke open with her thousand naga sons. So
Vinata opened one of her pots, but that son was only half developed. This deformed child was named Aruna. He became the charioteer of Surya (the sun). His brother finally developed and was named Garuda, the great sun eagle, and was eventually chosen as the vehicle of Vishnu. (There are some accounts that say that Garuda’s mother was Kardu.)
In the Ramayana, Aruna appeared in an episode with Rama and his brother Lakshmana. Jatayu, a bird hero, was wounded by the demon king Ravana as he escaped with Sita. Ravana gained victory by cutting off Jatayu’s wings. When Rama and Lakshmana found him wounded in the forest, Jatayu explained that he had been Aruna in his previous birth. In another version Jatayu was only the son of Aruna.
Aruna was used in a Puranic myth to account for the birth of Bali (a demon)—a tale of sex changes and deception. This episode was nested in the story of Shilavati, who had performed tapas to prevent the sun (Surya) from rising, in order to save her husband. And while the sun slept, the sun’s charioteer Aruna used his time off to change into a female and go to Indra’s heaven, Deval- oka. He had learned that the women were dancing naked in their reserved area. But as he sported with them, Aruna, in his female form as Arunidevi, excited Indra—an Indra who had become the example of desire and excess in the Puranic myths. Indra enjoyed the night with Arunidevi, and they had a child, who was immediately given to Ahalyadevi, wife of the sage Gautama. Of course this introduced the need for another story to be told about what happened to this child and how it became Bali. But Aruna’s story continued. He had to return to his job as charioteer of the sun. Shilavati had stopped her tapas, Surya had awakened and was ready to be driven across the heavens in his chariot, but Aruna was late getting back. Surya made him explain the reason for this dereliction of duty, and Aruna told how he had changed himself into a woman and deceived the women in Indra’s heaven and been caught by Indra—and with what result. Now the sun—whose purity was never questioned in the Vedas but who had also become in later myth an example of how not to behave—reacted. Surya made Aruna show his female form, and of course Surya too had a child by Aruna; this child was also turned over to Ahalyadevi, wife of the sage Gautama. This child was named Sugriva. And this story continued when Indra gave both Bali and Su- griva to the monkey king, Riksha-raja.