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In Hinduism, Samudra manthan or Ksheera Sagara Mathanam, Churning of the Ocean of Milk is one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas. The story appears in the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana.

Samudra Manthan is also known as —

  • Samudra manthanamManthanam is the Sanskrit equivalent of Manthan meaning 'to churn'.
  • Sagar manthanSagar is another word for Samudra, both meaning an ocean or large water body.
  • Kshirsagar manthanKshirsagar means the ocean of milk. Kshirsagar = Kshir (milk) + Sagar (ocean).

The story of Samudra Manthan

Indra, the King of Devatas, while riding on an elephant, came across a sage named Durvasa who offered him a special garland. Indra accepted the garland, placing it on the trunk of the elephant. The elephant, irritated by the smell of the garland, threw it to the ground. This enraged the sage as the garland was a dwelling of Sri (fortune) and was to be treated as prasada. Durvasa Muni cursed Indra and all devas to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune.

Kurma Avatar of Vishnu. ca 1870

Kurma, avatar of Vishnu, below Mount Mandara, with Vasuki wrapped around it, during Samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean of milk, ca 1870.

In battles that followed this incident, Devas were defeated and Asuras (demons) led by king Bali gained control of the universe. Devas sought help from god Vishnu who advised them to treat asuras in a diplomatic manner. Devas formed an alliance with asuras to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among them. However, Lord Vishnu told Devas that he would arrange that they alone obtain the nectar.

Churning the Milky Ocean

The churning of the Ocean of Milk or the Milky Way was an elaborate process. Mount Mandaranchal was used as the dasher (churning tool), and Vasuki, the king of serpents, became the churning rope. The gods held the tail of the snake, while the demons (Asuras) held its head, and they pulled on it alternately causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean. However, once the mountain was placed on the ocean, it began to sink. Vishnu in his second incarnation, in the form of a turtle Kurma, came to their rescue and supported the mountain on his back.

Halahala (Also called 'kalakuta')

During the Samudra Manthan by the gods and demons, one of the product emerged from the churning was a dangerous poison (Halahala). This terrified the gods and demons because the poison was so toxic that it might have destroyed all of creation. On the advice of Vishnu, the gods approached Shiva for help and protection. Out of compassion for living beings, Shiva swallowed the poison in an act of self-sacrifice. However, his consort Parvati who was looking on, terrified at the thought of his impending death, squeezed his throat to prevent the poison descending into his body. Thus the poison was stuck in Shiva's throat with nowhere to go, and it was so potent that it changed the color of Shiva's neck to blue. For this reason, he is also called Nilakanta (the blue-throated one; "neela" = "blue", "kantha" = "throat" in Sanskrit). When the heat from the poison had become unbearable Shiva is supposed to have used his trishul to dig for water forming the Gosaikunda lake.

Proverb

There is a proverb in Hindi language, derived from this incident: Amrit paane se pahle Vish pinna padta hai. Literally meaning: before you can get Amrit, you have to digest poison. Used generally to imply: Before you get successful, you have to face many odds in life.

Ratnas

Ratnas
Kamadhenu
Divine cow
Indra
 
Kamadhenu
Sea of milk
Kurma
Turtle
Panchajanya
Conch
Chandra(Soma)
Moon
Umbrella
of Varuna
Apsaras
Nymphs
Uchhaishravas
7-headed horse
Sura (Varuni)
Alcohol
Sharanga
Bow
Kaustubha
Jewel/Vishnu
Tulasi
Plant
Jyestha
Misfortune
Airavata
Elephant
Halahala
Poison
Nidra
Sleep
Earrings
of Aditi
Parijat/Kalpavriksha
Jasmine/Divine tree
Lakshmi
Fortune
Dhanvantari
Doctor
Amrita/Mohini
 
Sudarshana
Chakram
 
 

All kinds of herbs were cast into the ocean and fourteen Ratnas (gems or treasures) were produced from the ocean and were divided between asuras and gods. Though usually the Ratnas are enumerated as 14, the list in the scriptures ranges from 9 to 14 Ratnas. Most lists include:[1]

  1. Kamadhenu or Surabhi, the wish-granting divine cow
  2. Chandra, the moon which adorned Shiva's head
  3. Apsaras, various divine nymphs like Rambha, Menaka, Punjikasthala, etc.
  4. Varuni or Sura, goddess and creator of alcohol. As she was accepted by the gods, they are called as Suras, while the demons - Asuras.
  5. Airavata, the elephant of Indra
  6. Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world, worn by Vishnu
  7. Halahala, the poison swallowed by Shiva
  8. Uchhaishravas, the divine 7-headed horse
  9. Parijat, the divine flowering tree with blossoms that never fade or wilt, identified with Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree
  10. Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth -Vishnu's consort
  11. Dhanvantari, the doctor of the gods with Amrita the nectar of immortality. (At times, considered as two different Ratnas)

This list varies from Purana to Purana and is also slightly different in the epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Lists are completed by adding the following Ratnas:[1]

  1. Panchajanya, Vishnu's Shankha conch
  2. Sharanga, the bow of Vishnu
  3. Nidra or sloth
  4. the umbrella taken by Varuna
  5. Tulasi plant
  6. Jyestha, the goddess of misfortune
  7. the earrings given to Aditi, by her son Indra

The nectar of immortality

Sagar mathan

Various scenes from the samudra manthan episode

Finally, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged with a pot containing Amrita, the heavenly nectar of immortality. Fierce fighting ensued between Devas and Asuras for the nectar. To protect the nectar from Asuras, the divine Garuda took the pot, and flew away from the battle-scene. While Garuda was in his flight over planet Earth, it is believed that four drops of nectar fell at four places - Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. This legend is the basis for the belief that these places acquired a certain mystical power and spirituality. A Kumbh Mela is celebrated at the four places every twelve years for this reason.

However, the Asuras eventually got hold of the nectar and started celebrating. Frightened, devas (demigods) appealed to Vishnu, who then took the form of Mohini. As a beautiful and enchanting damsel, Mohini distracted the asuras, took the amrita, and distributed it among the Devas, who drank it. Two asura, Rahu and Ketu , disguised himself as a deva and drank some nectar. Due to their luminous nature, the sun god Surya and the moon god Chandra noticed the switching of sides. They informed Mohini. But before the nectar could pass his throat, Mohini cut off his head with her divine discus, the Sudarshana Chakra. The story ends with the rejuvenated Devas defeating the asuras.

References

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