Saturday, December 28, 2013

11. The Churning of the Ocean

There was a mountain called Meru, with peaks of golden lustre. It had an immeasurable size. It was beyond the reach of ordinary people. Only the Devas and the Gandharvas (celestial beings) would visit its peaks.

Once the Devas  assembled there to plan how they could obtain the Amrita (celestial ambrosia or nectar that would make anyone who drinks it immortal). Seeing this, Lord Vishnu told Lord Brahma that Amrita can be obtained if the Devas and the Asuras (demons) together churned the ocean. The churning would also release various other precious things like gems, drugs etc.

The Devas proposed to tear up the the giant Mandara mountain and use it as the shaft to churn the ocean. Vishnu agreed to this and asked Ananta (also known as Adhisesha), the thousand-hooded serpent that served as the seat and bed of Vishnu, to tear up the mountain.

The Devas along with Ananta went to the shore of the ocean and expressed their intention to churn the waters of the ocean. The ocean consented to it but wanted a share of the nectar as a compensation for its bearing the agitation of its waters.

The Devas approached the king of the tortoises and asked him to hold the mountain on his back. He agreed.

 The Devas and the Asuras started churning the ocean by placing the torn up Meru mountain on the back of the tortoise king and using it as the churning staff. Vasuki, the serpent was used as the chord, the Asuras holding its hood and the Devas, its tail.

Ananta, who was on the side of the Devas would, now and then, raise the snake's hood and suddenly lower it. As a result, black vapours with flames came out of Vasuki's mouth. While the impact of these vapors caused discomfort and agony to the Asuras, the vapors, after going up, turned into clouds and poured showers that refreshed the tired Devass. Fragrant flowers from the trees on the whirling Mandara also fell on the Devas and refreshed them.

The churning of the ocean produced a loud roar like that of the clouds. A large number of aquatic animals were crushed by the whirling movement of the great mountain. Large trees with birds on the whirling Mandara were torn up by the roots and fell into the water. The friction among the trees produced fires that blazed up frequently. The mountain thus looked like a mass of dark clouds charged with lightning. The fire spread, and many animals like lions, elephants etc. living on the mountain were consumed by the fire. Indra, the King of the Devas extinguished the fire by causing heavy showers to pour down.

After some time, gummy exudations of various trees and herbs having the properties of Amrita mingled with the waters of the Ocean. The Devas attained immortality by drinking this water. The milky water of the agitated deep gradually turned into clarified butter by virtue of those gums and juices. But nectar still did not appear.

The Devas went to Brahma and lamented at the nectar not coming out even after so much of churning. They said they were not left with any more strength to continue the churning. Hearing their plea, Brahma requested lord Vishnu to help them. Vishnu granted them the strength they needed and asked them to resume the churning.

The churning was accordingly resumed. After sometime, various objects emerged out of the ocean one by one. The major objects/beings that came out were:

1) The Moon

2) Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, dressed in white.
3) Soma, the divine elixir
4) Uchaisravas, the White Horse
5) the divine gem Kaustubha

Then came Dhanvantri, the God of Wellness with the white vessel of Nectar on his palm.

Then came Airavata, the celestial white elephant with a huge body and  two pair of white tusks.

Lord Vishnu took the Kaustubha and also took the hand of Lakshmi in marriage. Airawata was taken by Indra.

As the churning still went on, the poison Kalakuta emerged,blazing up like a fire attended with fumes. The three worlds were stupefied by the trenchant odour of the fumes.At the request of Brahma, Lord Siva, swallowed the poison but managed to hold it in his throat. He is therefore called called Nilakanta (blue-throated).

The Asuras were  about to  enter into a confrontation with the Devas for the possession of Amrita, when Lord Vishnu called his bewitching Maya (illusive power) to his aid, and assuming the form of an enticing female, made the Asuras hand over  the pot of Amrita to him (her!)

 Next Post:  The Deva-Asura Battle

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