SamudraManthan – The Churning of the Ocean – When Marvels Emerged

23 April 2024
10 mins read
SamudraManthan

The Need for SamudraManthan

The Asuras were at the pinnacle of their power. The strong and powerful King Bali with his massive asura hordes had wrested control of the cosmos from the Devas. The power of the Devas was at its lowest ebb, dented by their own arrogance and vanity. 

The Asuras had driven out the Devas from Indraloka and had captured, plundered, and looted many of their regions. They were becoming increasingly powerful, and as expected, conceited and vain too. It was time for the tide to turn.  

King Bali and Indra, the King of the Devas, were standing on the shores of the Ocean of Milk, or the Kshirasagara. “So, the nectar of immortality is hidden in the depths of this vast ocean?” queried Bali.

“Yes,” replied Indra. “And the combined strength of the Asuras and the Devas is needed to bring it up. Neither of us can do this task alone.”

“I get that. That’s why I also agreed to a temporary truce between us. But mind you, the nectar should be shared equally amongst all the Asuras and Devas. No trickery there!”

“You will be right there when the pot of elixir emerges. Nothing can be done without both our approvals,” responded Indra, although he quickly looked away to hide a meaningful glint in his eyes.

“So, how do we go about the churning?”

“Mount Mandara has agreed to be the churning rod, and Vasuki, the King of Snakes, will be the churning rope. You with your Asuras will hold one end and I with my Devas will hold the other end of Vasuki. Which end do you want?”

“We are always ahead of you, Indra,” mocked Bali. “So, we’ll take the head of the snake.”

“Agreed! We’ll take the tail end.”

The pact was sealed and the two leaders returned to their respective abodes, promising to come back on the agreed day for the churning of the Kshirasagara.

Shiva Drinking Halahala from the SamudraManthan

Parvati was furious. And as usual, she didn’t mince words! “Don’t do this, Shiva! What do the Devas think of themselves? They just can’t come and ask you to swallow the poison!”

“But, Parvati…..”

She stopped Shiva mid-sentence. “Yes! Yes! I know your body is so strong that it is immune to nearly all the venoms in this cosmos. And of course, who can miss that deadly snake you wear like a garland around your neck? But still, I am worried. Why can’t they wait and find another solution? They come running to you or go to Brahma or Vishnu the minute they have a problem. Why can’t they use their minds and do something on their own for a change?”

Shiva smiled at his wife grumbling away unceasingly. He knew it was her concern for him that made her speak like this. Else, she loved the Devas as much as he did. 

He held her in an affectionate hug. “Don’t worry, Shakti,” addressing her by another of her many names. “As long as you are by my side, nothing can happen to me! Come, let us go together to the place of action and see what is going on!”

Shiva and Shakti came out of her boudoir and saw the Devas standing with folded hands, and heads hanging in shame. 

Indra came forward and fell at Parvati’s feet. “Yes, Mother! We are guilty as you say. We come running to you for help more than we should!”

Parvati smiled mischievously at Indra. “Your ego hurts, eh?”

“No, Mother! Not at all! On the contrary, I feel no shame or guilt in declaring that we will keep coming to you and Shiva for help. After all, isn’t it natural for fools to turn to the wise for help?”

Shiva smiled at Indra and said, “Alright! Alright! Enough of your flattery. Repeat your story for Parvati’s sake.”

Indra got up and narrated the events until now. “As you know, we are collaborating with the Asuras to churn the Kshirasagara to bring up amrit, the elixir of immortality with the help of Mount Mandara and the mammoth Vasuki. The churning work started a few days ago.”

“The first hurdle we faced was the weight of the mountain. As we churned, Mount Mandara started slipping through the rope. We couldn’t hold it up.”

“Lord Vishnu obligingly took the shape of a gigantic tortoise, and this divine Kurma avatar forms the base on which Mount Mandara now stands firm. Happily, we started churning again, with the Asuras taking the head end of  Vasuki and Devas holding his tail end.”

“We churned like there was no tomorrow. Despite being weary, we kept at the gargantuan task hoping wondrous things would emerge from the Ocean of Milk. Instead, a horrible poison called Halahala has started foaming from the ocean. Many of our Devas have died as they breathed in the air, fouled horribly by Halahala.”

“It affected the Asuras too. But, their preceptor, Guru Shukracharya has access to the mritsanjeevani mantra, the powerful chant to revive the dead. He’s at the task without a break. You already know we are working with our guru, Brihaspathi and his son, Kacha, to learn that secret from Shukracharya. But that effort is still a work in progress. Our Devas are, therefore, falling dead in multitudes. And the worst part is the poison now threatens to engulf the entire cosmos. Only you can help us, Oh Lord!”

When Indra finished his narration, even Shakti accepted that Shiva had no option but to do something about it. Everyone rushed to the shores of the Kshirasagara. Even as they neared the place, they could see the toxic fumes covering everything in the vicinity. 

Telling everyone to remain at a safe distance, Shiva walked down to the shore. The fumes had no effect on his powerful immune system. With his divine power, he gathered all the poison emitted from the ocean and held the innocuous-looking clear liquid in the palm of his hand. Instantly, the atmosphere cleared and everyone could see Shiva looking down at his cupped hands. 

Without a second thought, he gulped it down. Shakti rushed to the shore and caught his throat, just in the nick of time. The poison was slowly seeping down Shiva’s throat. She held his neck with her strong hands in such a way that the poison got stuck to the lining of Shiva’s throat. Her husband was safe but his throat took on a permanent blue colour. 

The Devas and Asuras accompanied by Brahma, the Creator, and Vishnu, the Preserver, came to the shore shouting joyfully, “Neelakanta! Neelakanta!”

Shiva and Shakti exchanged smiling looks as the same thought struck both of them. “One more name!” Then, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti were accorded seats on a nearby cliff from where they could have an unhindered view of the celestial churning. 

The Halahala seemed to have cleared all the toxicity from the ocean because after Shiva swallowed it, the scene changed. A sense of euphoria enveloped the place. The Asuras and Devas began churning with renewed vigour. And soon, their efforts bore fruit. Beautiful, magical things emerged out of the ocean. 

There was Ucchaishravas, the seven-headed horse. The white skin of the wonderful animal gleamed in the sunlight and the pure-white mane of the animal was smooth and glossy. The horse enraptured Indra. Strangely, Ucchaishravas too walked straight up to Indra and neighed lovingly. Everyone agreed the horse had come for the King of the Devas!

Next, came the Parijata, a divine tree. Its trunk and branches were a burnished gold colour, its dense foliage was formed by deep-green mature leaves interspersed with copper-coloured leaf buds, and a million orange-centred white little flowers that seemed to burst joyfully from every nook and corner of the tree. The mesmerizing beauty of the Parijata tree left everyone gasping in delight. Shakti came down from her seat and stood under the shade of the grand tree.

“Do you want to take it to Mount Kailash?” Lord Vishnu who had joined her asked. She smiled at him, and said, “No! I am happy to see it from afar and enjoy its beauty.” It was agreed that this divine tree would find a home in Amravati, the capital of Indraloka. 

Another wondrous gift from the Ocean of Milk was Kamadhenu or Surabhi, a magical,  wish-granting cow. Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma decided that Surabhi would best serve her purpose with the seven celestial sages or the Saptarishis on earth, where her abundantly flowing milk would be used for sacred ablutions and she would also serve the humans. 

Shakti stared in wonder as many more splendid things emerged from the Kshirasagar. Tara was one of the fourteen gems that came out from the mystical ocean. She was gorgeous, and as soon as her feet touched the ground, the first person she saw was Vali, the Vanara King of Kishkindha. 

Thanks to Vali’s physical strength said to be equal to 70,000 elephants, the Devas sought his help with the churning. That’s how Vali, although a Vanara, was present at the Samudra Manthan. He was as bewitched by Tara as she was by him. It was love at first sight. The Devas were delighted to bless the union of Tara and Vali. 

When Chandra, the moon came out of the ocean, everyone was dazzled by his silvery brilliance. Shiva and Shakti exchanged a meaningful glance, knowing this individual would have a deep connection with them in the future. Along with Chandra, came Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. There was little doubt that she belonged with Lord Vishnu, the Preserver of the Universe. Their marriage was solemnized too. 

Many more spectacular things came from Kshirasagar including sparkling, magical jewels like the Kaustubha and Cintamani, wondrous weapons like the Saranga, the celestial bow, the ravishing Apsaras including Rambha, Menaka, and Punjisthala who were all married to Gandharvas, the celestial singers in Indra’s court. Varuni, the water goddess was taken by the Asuras. 

Despite the multitude of wondrous gifts emerging from the Ocean of Milk, the restlessness of the Devas and Asuras increased exponentially with each new item. They wondered exasperatedly when the ultimate element, the amrit, would emerge!

Who Should Get the Amrit?

In the meantime, Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, and Shakti were discussing the issue of distribution. 

Vishnu addressed the other three. “Should the Asuras get a share of the Amrit?”

Brahma was vehement. “No! No! They are already full of demonic characteristics. Giving them more power is unwise!”

Playing the devil’s advocate, Shiva asked, “So, you think the Devas are free of demonic characteristics?”

Vishnu and Shakti both laughed at this and Brahma smiled too. “I didn’t mean it like that. We all know that Devas primarily represent the “good and moral” aspects of the cosmos and the Asuras the “evil and immoral” aspects of the world, although both are a complex mixture.”

Vishnu continued, “Indeed! Both are as grey as they can get. But, the primary characteristics of the asuras and Devas are indeed distinctly opposite to each other. And we also agree that both are essential elements that keep the cosmos in a delicate balance. One without the other will create chaos and mayhem.”

Shakti said, “Exactly my thoughts too! I believe it is not right to favour the Devas over the Asuras or vice versa. Having said that, I do feel that choosing morality over immorality or good over evil is a big challenge. It is easier to give in to evil than to stand up for morality.”

“I tend to agree with my wife, considering that often I have allowed anger and frustration to rule me,” smiled Shiva. Brahma and Vishnu nodded in agreement too. “It is better to give the benefit of immortality to the good because evil has an inherent trait for survival and an innate power to thrive in all kinds of circumstances,” concluded Vishnu, wrapping up the discussion. 

“So, how do we do that?” quipped Shakti.

Vishnu gave her a meaningful smile. “Would the three of you repose faith in me and allow me to do what needs to be done?”

“Yes!” cried the three in unison. 

Suddenly, they heard a commotion from the shore. They turned towards the noise coming from the place of churning and saw Dhanvantri, the celestial physician emerging from the depths of the Kshirasagara holding the pot of nectar. 

The Asuras and Devas dropped Vasuki in an instant. If he hadn’t quickly slithered to the shore, the poor, forsaken Vasuki would have drowned. And thanks to the help from Vishnu’s tortoise form, Mount Mandara also found himself back on firm ground. Both their tasks were complete! 

The Asuras rushed towards Dhanvantri and many of them grabbed the pot of elixir from the startled divine doctor. The Devas were also planning to do the same. But, Indra stopped them. “Don’t panic and do something stupid. Vishnu has promised me that only we will get the Amrit. Just have faith and wait for him to come to our help.” His followers agreed and stood at a distance, watching the unruly antics of the Asuras fighting over the Amrit.

Shiva, Shakti, and Brahma also looked at the unpleasant and immature behaviour of the Asuras and knew their earlier decision was the right one. They witnessed for the umpteenth time how the evil aspect finds it harder to rein in desire as compared to the good aspect. 

The three of them suddenly noticed a stunningly beautiful woman emerge from behind a huge sea rock lying at the end of the shore. They also noticed Vishnu was missing from the group. Exchanging smiles, they returned home knowing their work was done, and Vishnu would take care of the distribution.

The Devas and Asuras also saw the gorgeous woman walk towards them! The Asuras were smitten! The Devas would have also been smitten if Indra hadn’t warned them that this was none other than Mohini, Vishnu’s female form. So, they waited for the events to unfold in their favour! 

Mohini walked enticingly towards the smitten Asuras. They stood motionless, awed by her beauty. King Bali suddenly did something strange. He snatched the pot of elixir from the asura who was holding it and handed it over to Mohini. “I think you have come here with a purpose. Your beauty bedazzles us compromising our physical and mental faculties. You distribute this nectar as you deem fit, and we will accept your decision.”

Mohini gave him and the other Asuras a bewitching smile. She beckoned the Devas who were standing at a distance and addressed everyone. “Sit in a single file; the Devas to my right and the Asuras to my left. I will distribute the nectar, as ordained by King Bali.”

The Devas and Asuras quickly and efficiently took their places. Mohini started distributing from the Devas’ side. By the time she reached the last deva, all the Amrit was finished! And Vishnu revealed his true form!

The Asuras were furious at themselves for falling prey to this trickery. But, nothing could be done now. Moreover, now that the Devas were immortal, they couldn’t be easily defeated in battle too. The Asuras accepted defeat and returned Indraloka and all the other territories they had plundered and looted from the Devas. The Devas regained their supremacy in the cosmos. 

The ascendancy of the Devas would last until their arrogance and vanity slowly but surely increased with each passing accomplishment and until it reached a peak, and then it would be time for the cycle to turn again. 

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Ratna Prabha

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