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The story of Samudra Manthan

Posted By ServDharm

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Posted on November 12 2021

Samudra Manthan which literally means ‘churning of the milky ocean’, is part of the folklore of the Bhagvata Purana and the Vishnu Purana. This incident is said to have led to the creation of several divine gods and goddesses as well as many precious items.

Lord Indra, the King of the Heavens, while riding on his elephant Airavata, came across Sage Durvasa who offered him a special garland which had been given to him by a nymph. Lord Indra accepted the garland and put it on the trunk of his elephant. The flowers in the garland had a strong scent which attracted some bees. Irritated by the bees, the elephant threw the garland on the ground. This enraged Sage Durvasa as the garland was meant as a holy offering. The Sage proceeded to curse Lord Indra and all the Gods, saying that they would henceforth be bereft of all strength and good fortune.

In the ensuing battles following the incident, the Gods kept losing to the demons (Asuras), led by Bali, who gradually gained control over the universe. The Gods then approached Lord Vishnu for help, who advised them that only the elixir found at the bottom of the milky ocean could help them. However, it was impossible for the Gods to churn this vast ocean themselves and so they decided to form an alliance with the Asuras. The Gods convinced the demons that they would share this elixir with them. Lord Vishnu told the Gods that he would ensure that they alone obtained the nectar.

The Gods and Demons then proceed to undertake the tedious task of churning the ocean. Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod and Vasuki, a Nagaraja who abides on Lord Shiva's neck, became the churning rope. Mount Mandara began to sink when it was placed on the ocean so Lord Vishna took the form of a turtle (Kumra) on who’s back the mountain was placed.

Lord Indra knew that the serpent Vasuki would vomit the poisonous flames when twisted and pulled, and therefore advised the Asuras to hold the head of the snake while the Gods held the tail end. The Gods and the demons began to pull back and forth on the snake's body alternately, causing the mountain to rotate. This churned the ocean.

This released, among other things, a lethal poison called Halahala which was powerful enough to destroy all creation. Lord Shiva was approached for protection and he proceeded to consume the poison to protect the three worlds and held it in his throat which turned blue. This is why Lord Shiva is also known as Neelakantha.

The churning produced 14 ratnas or gems which were distributed among the gods and demons. Three categories of Goddesses emerged from the ocean namely, Lakshmi the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth, who was Vishnu’s consort, various Apsaras or nymphs, and Varuni, comprising three goddesses, the wife and daughter of the water god Varuna and a Matrika (power). All three merged into Varuni who rose during the churning of the ocean.

Various supernatural animals appeared namely, Kamadhenu  the wish-granting cow, taken by Lord Brahma and given to the sages so that the ghee from her milk could be used for Yajna and similar rituals and Uchhaishravas; the divine seven-headed horse, given to the demons.

Three valuables were also produced:

  • Kaustubha: the most valuable ratna in the world, worn by Lord Vishnu.
  • Parijata: the divine flowering tree with blossoms that never fade or wilt, taken to Indraloka by the Devas.
  • Sharanga: a powerful bow, given to Lord Vishnu.

In addition, the following were produced by the churning:

  • Chandra: the moon which adorned Shiva's head.
  • Shankha: Vishnu's conch
  • Jyestha (Alakshmi): the goddess of misfortune
  • The umbrella which was taken by Varuna
  • The earrings, given to Aditi, by her son Lord Indra
  • Kalpavriksha: a divine wish-fulfilling tree
  • Nidra or sloth
  • Amrita swallowed by the devatas
  • An Asura called Svarbhānu, also known as Rahuketu, was beheaded and sent into outer space as Rahu and Ketu.

 

Finally, the divine physician Dhanvantari emerged from the ocean holding a pot of nectar over which both the devas and asuras then began to fight. Garuda, Vishnu’s eagle, took the pot and flew away. A few drops of nectar fell in Prayag (Allahabad) and 3 other places – Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik, where the ‘Kumbh Mela’ is celebrated every 12 years. One of the asuras got hold of the pot. The devas then appealed to Lord Vishnu. He took the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini, and distracted the asuras. Volunteering to distribute the nectar to all of them, she gave some nectar to each of the devas. Rahu-Ketu, an asura, took the form of a deva and joined the line of the devas receiving the nectar. As soon as he sipped the nectar, Lord Vishnu immediately cut off the head of the demon, but it had already become immortal and split into two parts – Rahu, the head, and Ketu, the body. Rahu is known to swallow the sun and the moon at regular intervals, causing eclipses, angered by this deceit. By the time the asuras realized that Mohini was actually Lord Vishnu, the nectar had been distributed to the devas. The rejuvenated devas were then able to defeat the asuras in battle and regain their glory.

In a spiritual sense, the churning of the ocean is representative of the churning we all go through in life which causes us to discover various things, some detrimental to us, some good. It is parallel to a process of introspection.

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