Image of the nine devas, Khleangs artwork from Cambodia (~1000 CE). From left to right: Surya (Sun) on chariot, Chandra (Moon) on pedestal, Shiva on bull, Varuna on crocodile, Indra on elephant, Kubera on horse, Agni on ram, Rahu on clouds and Ketu on lion.

Table of Contents (The Complete Condensed Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: A Summary of the Birth of the Main Characters in the Mahabharata

After hearing about the births of his ancestors and other maharathas who participated in the war at Kurukshetra, Janamejaya wanted to know about their lives in more detail. Not just them, but he wanted to learn the details of all the great kings and he also wanted to know why the celestials were born on earth as humans.

“O king, the reason for the celestials’ birth as humans is a mystery even to many devas, however, I will narrate all the details after bowing to the Supreme.”

Parashuram, the son of Jamadagni, battled with the kshatriyas and destroyed them 21 times. A time soon came when there were no kshatriyas left on earth. At that time, the kshatriya ladies who wanted children used to approach vow-observing brahmans. The ladies had connections with these brahmins to conceive children. Thus the Kshatriya race once again flourished with these virtuous offspring.

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Dharma was properly established at that time and everyone lived a virtuous life. With virtue increasing multifold, the earth became free of sorrow and disease and filled with joy. Seeing all beings live virtuously, Indra poured proper quantities of rain at the proper time and blessed all creatures. This marked the beginning of the Krita Yuga (Satya Yuga).

It was during this blessed time that the asuras were repeatedly defeated by the devas and being deprived of their place in heaven, they began to take birth on earth in royal lineages. Many asuras took birth as animals and rakshashas on earth.

These asuras – arrogant, insolent, and powerful – defeated other bings and established their power in various regions of the earth. As their power increased, they began to oppress all other humans and animals and even insulted the great rishis in their ashrams. Virtue diminished and adharma grew more and more powerful until a point was reached when the earth could no longer support herself.

Thus burdened and filled with fear, the earth, accompanied by rishis, devas, apsaras, and gandharvas, approached Brahma Deva for help.

The creator of the worlds was already aware of her plight. He immediately assured her that he would ask the celestials to be born on earth to ease her burden.

Brahma Deva then summoned the devas and asked them to take birth on earth and enter into conflict with the asuras. He also asked the gandharvas and apsaras to take birth in whatever form they preferred and play a role in helping earth according to their capacity.

The devas immediately accepted Brahma Deva’s words because his words were true, they indicated correct under the present circumstances, and would benefit all creatures.

with the decision to take birth on earth finalised, all the devas went to Sri Vishnu in Vaikuntha, where Indra Deva requested the great Narayana to take an incarnation on earth.

Sri Vishnu replied, “So be it !”

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Indra Deva had a detailed discussion with Sri Vishnu about the latter’s incarnation and how the devas could take birth in various places to assist him.

Thus, Sri vishnu and various celestials incarnated on earth to destroy the rule of the asuras for the benefit of all creatures in the three worlds.

Next Post: Origin Of The Devas, Asuras, Gandharvas, Apsaras, and Various Other Beings


Image of Naga couple at the Hoysala temple

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Elapatra’s Suggestion to His Snake Brothers

Note: In the previous post, we read about Elapatra’s advice to his snake brothers. Elapatra had heard the conversation between Brahma Deva and other devas about how only the sinful snakes would perish in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice and how the virtuous snakes would be saved.

Even though these words gave some relief to Vasuki, they did not remove his anxiety completely because the future still felt uncertain. 

In this post, we will find out how the devas sought help from Brahma Deva for Vasuki.

A very important cosmic event took place soon after Elapatra’s advice to his snake brothers. It was the Samudra Manthan where the devas and asuras got together to churn the ocean.

Vasuki, the chief of serpents who was gifted with great strength, offered to become the churning cord. After the Churning was over, Vasuki presented himself to Brahma Deva. The devas also went with Vasuki and told Brahma Deva that Vasuki was constantly concerned about the fate of  the serpent race. He suffered from great anxiety because of his mother’s curse. The devas represented Vasuki as their friend and someone who had helped them. They requested Brahma Deva to be gracious to Vasuki and remove the root cause of his sorrow.

Note: I like this story because it shows the devas asking for help from one of the Tri-Devas for a friend. The devas tend to be grateful for the kindness and friendship they receive and repay it accordingly.

Brahma Deva replied to the devas, “O immortals, I have thought about the solution. Let the chief of snakes do what his brother Elapatra suggested. Rishi Jaratkaru has been born and is engaging in hard penances. Let Vasuki bestow his sister to the sage at the right time. What Elapatra said about the son born of the union of Vasuki’s sister and the sage is true. He will be a wise Brahmin full of energy and will stop the snake sacrifice as soon as the sinful serpents have perished. No virtuous serpent will be harmed in the sacrifice.”

Hearing Brahma Deva’s words, Vasuki immediately commanded all the serpents to watch rishi Jaratkaru and notify him as soon as he came looking for a wife.

Note: In the next post, we will find out how rishi Jaratkaru got his name.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: The Meaning of the Name Jaratkaru

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Strategies Proposed by Various Serpents for Their Welfare

Note: In the previous post, we read about the suggestions given by various snakes who had gathered to find a way to protect themselves from perishing in Janamajeya’s snake sacrifice.

In this post, we will read the solution Elapatra, a wise serpent who also knew something about the curse that his brothers didn’t, suggested to protect himself and his brothers.

Elapatra spoke the last, after hearing all the snakes including Vasuki. He said, “We cannot prevent Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Further, Janamejaya is not the real cause of the danger we face. The real cause of our fear is ‘fate’ and a person who is afflicted by fate cannot find a solution for his problems in anything other than fate. Therefore, let us seek refuge in fate itself.”

Elapatra explained to his brothers that when their mother, Kadru, had uttered the curse, he lay crouching on her lap filled with fear. At that time, he heard the devas tell Brahma Deva about how cruelly Kadru had behaved with her dear sons. The devas were surprised that instead of opposing Kadru’s curse, Brahma Deva approved of it by saying, “So be it.” The devas wanted to know why Brahma Deva did not prevent the curse from taking effect. Brahma Deva explained that there were many reasons why he had approved Kadru’s curse: the snakes’ population had increased a lot; they were cruel and highly poisonous; and they were terrible in form. Brahma Deva explained that his actions were for the good of other creatures. He also promised the devas that only the sinful and cruel serpents who bit other creatures without reason would perish due to the curse. The harmless and virtuous snakes would remain safe. 

Brahma Deva also explained how he would safeguard the virtuous snakes. He said that a great rishi called Jaratkaru would be born in the Yayavara race. He would marry a maiden from the race of the serpents whose name would also be Jaratkaru. Their son, Astika, would stop Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice after it had destroyed the sinful serpents, thus giving the virtuous serpents a chance to escape. Brahma Deva also explained that the maiden called Jaratkaru, would be none other than the snake chief, Vasuki’s, sister.

Elapatra then turned to his brother, Vasuki, and said that rishi Jaratkaru would wander begging for a bride. He urged Vasuki to give his sister in marriage to the rishi to ensure the welfare of the serpents. 

Hearing Elapatra’s words, all the serpents delightfully exclaimed, “Well said! Well said!”

After this meeting, Vasuki took great care in raising his sister.

Note: In the next post, we will read about when the devas approached Brahma Deva, once again, to request him to help the serpent, Vasuki.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: The Devas Request Brahma Deva to Help Vasuki

Vishnu with Sesha Naga — ancient statue in government museum Mathura (Image contributed by Biswarup Ganguly to the public domain)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Sesha Naga Performs Ascetic Penances to Get Away From His Siblings

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Sesha Naga performed ascetic penances to get away from his brothers. However, Brahma Deva intervened in Sesha’s penances and guided him to work for the welfare of all creatures by stabilising the earth.

In this post, we will read about how Sesha stabilised the earth.

When commanded by Brahma Dev to steady the earth, Sesha said, “O Divine Lord of all creatures, O bestower of boons, O Lord of the universe and of everything created in the universe, I will certainly do as you say. O great one, please place the earth on my head.”

Brahma Dev replied, “O best of snakes, that will not help. Go to the southern side of the earth. There, she will give you a crevice to pass through, and passing through that crevice, hold the earth steadily. By doing this you will have done the work that’s most important to me.”

Note: The Mahabharata translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli doesn’t use the phrase “southern side of the earth.” I’ll quote the exact passage below:

“Brahman said, ‘O best of snakes, go underneath the Earth. She will herself give thee a crevice to pass through. And, O Sesha, by holding the Earth, thou shalt certainly do what is prized by me very greatly.’

As shown in the passage above, Brahma Deva says “underneath the earth,” however, his point of reference is heaven, therefore, when he says ‘underneath’, it refers to the southern tip of the earth that was wobbling.

Following brahma Deva’s words, Sesha went to the southern side of the earth where we entered a crevice and passed through the entire earth to emerge on the other side. Thus, Sesha held Goddess Earth and her belt of seas that circled her, steadily on his head.

Note: Essentially, Sesha entered the earth at the south pole and came out at the North pole, exactly following her axis and used his strength to prevent earth from wobbling.

Brahma Deva was very pleased to see his work completed. He said to Sesha, “O best of snakes, you are like the God Dharma himself because you have single-handedly supported the earth with all her mountains, rivers , oceans and forests.”

After praising Sesha, Brahma Dev appointed Garuda to help Sesha with his work of keeping the earth steady.

Note: By pleasing Brahma Deva and supporting earth, Sesha was freed from his mother’s curse. His siblings, however, were not free. In the next post we will read about the meeting held by Kadru’s sons to find a way to neautralize her curse.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Vasuki Convenes a Meeting of Serpents to Find a Way to Neutralize Kadru’s Curse

Statue of Sesha Nag in Dakshinkali, Khatmandu, Nepal (Image contributed by Rajesh Dhunganga on a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International Licence)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Names of the Principal Snakes Involved in the Tryst With Garuda

Note: In the previous post, we learned the names of the principal snakes that were involved in the misadventure with Garuda.

In this post, we will find out what a noble snake, called Shesha, did after he and his siblings were cursed by their mother, Kadru.

After hearing the names of several snakes, Saunaka Kulapati asked Sauti, “O child, you have named many powerful serpents who were difficult to defeat but now I want to know what these serpents did after hearing the curse that their mother had pronounced on them.

Sauti replied, “One of Kadru’s sons called Shesha, left his mother and practised hard penances. He lived only on air. He also made ascetic vows which he followed rigidly. He did these penances at several sacred places like Gandhamadana, Badri, Gokarna, the woods of Pushkara, and at the foothills of the Himalayas. Some of these places were considered sacred because of their waters and others were considered sacred because of their soil. 

While doing these penances, Shesha kept his mind fixed single-pointedly on his practices and he also kept his passions completely under control.

Brahma Deva saw Shesha with knotted hair and dressed in rags. The hard penances had caused his skin, muscles, and sinews to dry up. Seeing the serpent in that state, Brahma Deva said, “O Shesha, what are you doing? Your hard penances are disturbing the balance and causing suffering in other creatures. O sinless one, tell me what you desire. Tell me the reason for your penances.”

Shesha replied, “My siblings are very wicked. I do not wish to live with them. They are always jealous of each other and fight as if they were enemies. They are harsh towards Garuda and his mother, Vinata. They don’t realise that the powerful ranger of the skies, Garuda, is also our brother. They are constantly jealous of him. I am engaged in ascetic penances because I do not wish their companionship. I am doing these penances so I may never have to stay with them again. 

Upon hearing Shesha’s words, Brahma Deva said, “O Shesha, I am aware of how your siblings behave and I’m also aware of the great danger they face because of Kadru’s curse. But I have already provided a remedy for all this. I am very pleased that your heart is set upon virtue. I would like you to always keep your heart directed towards virtue. Now ask for whatever you want. I wish to give you a boon.”

Sesha replied, “O divine Grandsire, bless me that my heart always delights in virtue and ascetic practices.”

Brahma said, “O Shesha I am very happy because you love peace and are practising self-denial, but O best of snakes, now I ask you to do an act for the benefit of all creatures. The earth has an unsteady and dangerous wobble. I want you to bear the earth in such a way that its rotation becomes steady.

Note: The Mahabharata does not specifically use the words ‘dangerous’, ‘wobble’, and  ‘rotation’. It simply says that the earth was unsteady and Shesha was given the task of bearing the planet to make it steady. However, I believe Brahma Deva was asking Shesha to become the axis around which the earth could rotate steadily. This story might be describing a time when the earth’s wobble was very unsteady and certain natural forces — like gravitational or geo-magnetic — caused the earth to rotate relatively steadier around her axis.

You may have a different,
and perfectly valid, interpretation for this story. Do read the next post, tomorrow, and share your thoughts.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sesha Naga Becomes the Earth’s Axis

Image of Surya Deva by Ravi Verma Press

Table of Contents (Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Why Surya Deva Wanted to Destroy the World

Note: In the previous post, we read why Surya Deva felt let down by the other gods, and, consequently, decided to destroy the world. In this post, we’ll read about how the world was saved from his wrath.

After the sun set in the western direction, he began to radiate immense heat for the destruction of the world. 

When the rishis perceived the heat, they approached the gods and said, “the heat radiated by Surya in the middle of the night is terrifying. It will destroy all three worlds.”

Concerned about the impact of Surya Deva’s wrath, the rishis and devas met Brahma Dev and said, “Surya has not yet risen, but still a great heat is emanating from him. It is creating much panic in the world. This being the situation when he has not yet risen, it is certain that the world will be destroyed when he rises.”

Brahma Dev replied, “Indeed, I am aware that Surya will burn and destroy everything in the world when he rises tomorrow, but I have thought of a remedy. Aruna, the intelligent son of Kasyapa, has a huge body and great splendor. He will stay in front of Surya and be his charioter. Aruna will also shield the earth from Surya’s excess heat. This will ensure the safety of the worlds, rishis, and the denizens of heaven.”

Aruna agreed to Brahma Deva’s command and Garuda appointed him as Surya Deva’s charioter. The next day, when Surya rose, the world was protected by Aruna who stayed in front of Surya.

Note: There is a possibility this story of Surya increasing his heat is symbolic of an astronomical event.

In the next post, we will return to the story of Vinata’s slavery to her sister, Kadru.

Table of Contents (Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Vinata and Garuda Serve Kadru and her Snake Sons

Seven-Headed Uchchaihsravas

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Battle Between Danavas and Devas After Samudra Manthan

Note: In the previous post, we read about the battle between the devas and the asuras after the Churning of the Ocean, and how Nara and Narayana defeated the asuras.

In today’s post, we will return to the story of Vinata and Kadru, and learn about the bet they wagered that eventually led to Vinata becoming Kadru’s slave.

After narrating the story of Samudra Manthan, Sauti said to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest, “I have told you the whole story of how the amrit was obtained and when the celestial horse, Uchchaihsravas, emerged from the ocean.”

After that, Sauti returned to the earlier story of Vinata and Kadru. After speaking about the celestial horse, Kadru said to Vinata, “Tell me, sister, what do you think is the color of Uchchaihsravas?”

Vinata answered, “The celestial horse is most certainly white in color. What do you think, sister? Let’s place a bet on its color.”

Kadru replied, “In that case, I think its tail is black in colot. O beautiful sister, let us place a bet that the person who loses will have to serve the winner as a slave.”

After agreeing on the terms of the bet, Vinata and Kadru returned home and decided to visit Uchchaihsravas, the next day, to verify its color.

Determined to win the bet by deceit, Kadru commanded her thousand snake sons to transform themselves into black hair and quickly cover Uchchaihsravas’ tail so it would appear black. Her sons, however, refused to follow her order. Angered by their refusal, Kadru cursed her thousand sons with the following words, “A wise king called Janamejaya, of Pandava race, will perform a snake sacrifice one day, and, in that sacrifice, the fire god, Agni, will consume all of you!”

Lord Brahma heard these cruel words that Kadru had uttered to her sons, but he knew that these words were influenced by destiny. The population of snakes had increased a lot and had created an imbalance in the ecosystem. The snakes were strong and poisonous and they were always bent upon biting and persecuting other creatures.

Lord Brahma, driven by compassion for the suffering creatures, did not intervene in this issue. The snakes had inflicted immense harm to other creatures and something had to be done to stop their suffering.

When the other gods discussed this matter, they also agreed that fate always punished creatures who harmed others. Therefore, they supported Kadru’s curse because they considered it in line with fate.

Even though the destiny of the snakes was sealed, Lord Brahma felt sorry for their father, Sage Kasyapa. Therefore, Brahma called the noble sage to his abode and explained that his snake children had been cursed by their mother and that he should not grieve about it because it was preordained by destiny. After comforting Sage Kasyapa, Lord Brahma taught him the science of neutralizing snake poison.

Note: In the next post, we will read about Vinata and Kadru going to check the color of Uchchaihsravas’ tail.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Vinata and Kadru cross the great ocean to see Uchchaihsravas

Mahadev drinking the Kalakuta poison (Image By Author Sister Nivedita and Ananda Kentish — credit details at the end of the post)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Tired Gods are Re-Energized by Narayana to Continue Churning

Note: In the previous post, we read about how the waters of the churned ocean took on the qualities of nectar as the extracts of trees and herbs mixed with it. Those who drank the water became immortal. However, even though the water took on nectar-like qualities, the nectar that everyone was hoping for did not arise from the ocean. After churning for a long time, the Gods were exhausted to a point where they could churn no longer. They resumed after receiving blessings from Narayana.

In this post, we will read about all the glorious things and beings that emerged from the ocean as the churning continued. We will also encounter the situation that occurred when the deadly Kalakuta poison emerged from the ocean.

After some time, as the churning continued, the mild moon of a thousand rays emerged from the ocean, then came Goddess Lakshmi who was dressed in white, then Soma, then came the white horse Uchchaihsravas, and then the celestial gem Kaustubha which Narayana wears on his chest.

Soon after emergin, Lakshmi, Soma, and Uchchaihsravas approached the high gods (the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva).

Then the event everyone had been waiting for happened: Dhanwantari arose carrying with him the white pot of nectar in his hands.

As soon as the asuras saw Dhanwantari, they cried out aloud, “The nectar is ours!”

After Dhanwantari, the huge elephant Airavata who had two pairs of tusks arose from the ocean. Indra, the wielder of the thunderbolt, took the elephant as his vehicle.

The churning continued and the last thing to come out of the ocean was also the deadliest – the Kalakuta poison. As soon as it appeared, it blew up into a huge fire with gaseous fumes and engulfed the entire earth in its venom. The mere smell of that deadly substance filled the three worlds with fear and confusion.

The Neelkantha Mahadev Temple in Rishikesh: Image by Rahuldewangan – Own work, Public Domain,

Lord Brahma sought help from Shiva, who swallowed that poison for the safety of all creation. The Divine Maheshwara (Shiva) held it in his throat, and from that time onwards, he is known as Nilakantha (blue-throated) Mahadev.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the Devas and Asuras fighting for the nectar and how Narayana intervened.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Vishnu’s Mohini Avtaar

Image Credit: Author Sister Nivedita and Ananda Kentish Nandalal Bose –, Public Domain,

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Churning of the Ocean Begins

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Brahma and Vishnu gave the gods and asuras permission to churn the ocean for nectar. We also read that they used Mount Mandara as a churning rod, the king of tortoises as the base for the rod, and Vasuki (the serpent chief) agreed to be used as the churning rope. Thus the churning began. 

I would like to point out that all this is deeply symbolic of certain spiritual practices and also, possibly, related to the preparation of certain medicines. I don’t have specific details, but those who would like to find out more are encouraged to seek it through spiritually advanced teachers. To start with, here’s an article that explains the yogic allegory of Samudra Manthan. This article explains it from the perspective of Kriya Yoga, and this thread on Quora has several other explanations.

In this post, we will read about what happened when the churning began. These events are also symbolic in nature.

While churning the ocean, the asuras held Vasuki on the side of his hood and the gods held him on the side of his tail. Ananta, the mighty snake, was on the side of the gods. Ever so often, he would go on the other side to raise and drop Vasuki’s hood. 

Because Vasuki’s body was being stretched during the churning, he issued black vapors and flames from his mouth. 

These vapors and flames, aimed towards the sky when Ananta raised the hood, turned into clouds with lightning. And the clouds burst forth into rain which refreshed the tired gods. Since Mount Mandara was also twisted during the churning, its flowers fell on all sides refreshing those who were engaged in churning the ocean.

Then a tremendous roar resounded from the depths of the ocean. It sounded like the great roar that is heard at the dissolution of the universe. Many aquatic animals and beings of the lower regions were crushed and killed by the great Mount Mandara. Also, large trees were torn out, from their roots, as the mountain whirled. These trees along with the birds that lived on them were flung into the churning ocean. Every time these trees rubbed against each other, the friction caused flames to blaze up and the fire spread to the slopes of the mountain burning lions, elephants, and other creatures that lived on it. After some time, Indra caused a heavy downpour of rain to extinguish the fire.

Thus the churning continued with the ocean full of trees and herbs that constantly rubbed against each other as they were tossed about in the waters. After some time, the gum of several trees and herbs that had the properties of amrit mingled with the ocean’s water. The celestials drank that water containing plant extracts mixed with a liquid extract of gold and attained immortality. 

As the churning continued, the herb and tree extracts caused the milky waters of the deep ocean to turn into clarified butter. 

However, even though the waters of the ocean were filled with the properties of amrit, the real amrit that everyone was hoping for did not arise. By now, the gods and asuras were so exhausted that they had no more strength left to churn further.

Unable to proceed, the gods approached the boon-granting Brahma and said, “O sire, nectar has still not arisen from the ocean and we are very tired to churn further. Now, our only hope is if Narayana helps us.”

Upon hearing their problem, Brahma requested Narayana to help the gods, and Narayana blessed them with further strength to churn the mountain.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the glorious beings that arose from the ocean as the churning continued and what happened when the deadly Kalakoot poison emanated from the waters.

Next Post: Neelkantha Mahadeva Saves the World From the Kalauta Poison

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Image Credit: By 245CMR – Own work based on: Sagar mathan.jpg, CC BY 3.0,

Image of the ‘churning of the ocean’ by ‘bazaar art print’. Image credits at the end of the article.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Birth of Garuda – the Serpent Eater

Note: In the previous post, we read about the birth of Garuda – the serpent eater. In this post, we will read about how the churning of the ocean, also known as Samudra Manthan, began.

Soon after Garuda’s birth, his mother (Vinata) and her sister (Kadru) saw a beautiful horse called Uchchaihsravas that had come into being when the churning of the ocean for nectar (Samudra Manthan) was performed. This divine and graceful horse was blessed with eternal youth. It was full of energy and had every auspicious mark on it. It was also worshipped by the gods.

When Sauti narrated this incident of the two women seeing Uchchaihsravas who had arisen from the Samudra Manthan, Saunaka Kulapati (the ascetic of Naimisha forest) immediately became curious to know why the Samudra Manthan had taken place and what caused such a fine horse to be born from it. He asked Sauti to go off a tangent and tell him about the Samudra Manthan first.

Sauti answered Saunaka Kulapati’s question with the following words: 

“There is a blazing and radiant mountain called Meru. The whole mountain appears golden as it reflects and disperses the sun rays that fall on its slopes. The gods and the gandharvas love spending time on this mountain.

Regular humans whose consciousness has been made heavy by the consequences of their sins cannot even approach this mountain.

Terrible wild animals roam around on this mountain, but it’s also filled with many divine, life-giving herbs. It has beautiful trees, and streams, and the entire mountain resounds with charming melodies of celestial music. 

Mount Meru is so high that it appears to be kissing the heavens.”

One day, the gods had a meeting on Mount Meru. They had performed several penances and had observed excellent vows for obtaining the amrit (celestial ambrosia). Having done what was necessary, they were now eager to receive the fruits of their penances (the amrit). 

When Narayana saw the anxious gods, he approached Brahma and said, “O Brahma, please churn the ocean with the gods and the asuras. By doing so, amrit, along with several other substances, medicines, and gems will be obtained.”

Sauti paused for a moment. After telling the ascetics in Naimisha forest about Mount Meru, the meeting of the gods, and Narayana’s words to Brahma, Sauti told the ascetics about another mountain called Mandara.

This mountain was covered with intertwining herbs and was adorned with cloud-like peaks. Dangerous animals lived on it along with countless birds who sang in beautiful melodies. Mandara mountain was often visited by gods, apsaras, kinnaras. The mountain arose for 11,000 yojanas over the earth and its base extended inside the earth for an equal distance.

Note: A yojana is a measure of distance used in ancient India, Thailand, and Myanmar. It is approximately 12-15 Kilometres.

The gods wanted to tear up Mandara and use it as a churning rod. However, being unable to tear that massive mountain from the earth, they approached Vishnu and Brahma and help.

Vishnu assigned this difficult task to the prince of the snakes – the powerful Ananta. The mighty snake succeeded in tearing up the mountain with its forests and the animals that lived on it. Having obtained the mountain, the gods decided to use it as a churning rod for churning the ocean. They, along with Ananta, approached the ocean and said, “O Ocean, we have come to churn your waters for obtaining nectar.”

The ocean replied, “Go ahead. I am capable of bearing the disturbance that the churning will cause in my waters, and I am glad, for, I too will get a share of the nectar.”

Note: Throughout the Mahabharata, you will come across these themes of ‘fair exchange’ and ‘manageable load’. The ocean agreed to the churning that would disturb its waters and cause it significant discomfort, for two reasons:
1. Because it had the capability to bear the churning. It was a manageable load.
2. Because it too would benefit by receiving a share of the amrit. It was a fair exchange.

This balance is worth keeping in mind when we are often told, under the guise of spirituality and religion, to bear unmanageable loads and give to people or circumstances who don’t appreciate us or don’t reciprocate appropriately. 

Having obtained Mount Mandara as a churning rod and permission from the ocean to perform the churning, the gods went to the king of tortoises and requested him to hold the mountain on his back. The tortoise king agreed and Indra devised a mechanism to place Mount Mandara on the tortoise’s back.

Finally, Vasuki (the mighty serpent chief) was requested to be the churning rope.

Note: You might remember Vasuki as the serpent chief who married his sister to Sage Jaratkaru.

Thus, with Mount Mandara as the rod, the tortoise king as the base, and Vasuki as the rope, the Gods and Asuras began churning the depths of the ocean for amrit.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the gods and asuras getting fatigued while churning the ocean and how they were re-energized by Vishnu.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: The Tired Gods are Re-Energized by Narayana to Continue Churning

Image Credit:

By bazaar art print –, Public Domain,

Brahma at a 6th/7th-century temple in Aihole, Karnataka
Note: In the previous post, we read that the entire world was plunged into a state of distress after Agni receded in response to Bhrigu’s curse. All the Gods and rishis went to Brahma Deva to seek a resolution in the dispute between Agni and Bhrigu. Consequently, Brahma Deva summoned Agni to pacify him.

In this post, we will read about how Brahma Deva pacified Agni.

When Agni approached Brahma, the latter spoke with Agni in these gentle words, “O Agni, you are the creator of the worlds and you are the destroyer! You are ever-present in the three worlds and you facilitate the sacrifices (yagnas) and ceremonies. Therefore, please act in a way that ceremonies are not interrupted.”

Brahma continued, “O Agni, you who first eats the sacrificial ghee (clarified butter), you who is the lord of everything, why are you acting so foolishly? You alone are pure in this universe and you will stay pure. You will not have to eat impure things with your entire body. Only those flames that represent your baser nature will eat impure things. You also exist in the stomach of all beings. That part of you will also have to eat flesh and other impure things because it exists in the stomach of carnivorous animals. However, just as everything that is touched by the sun’s rays becomes pure, everything that is burnt by your flames will also become pure.”

Brahma Deva continued his explanation to Agni, “O Agni, you are the supreme energy born from your own power. With that power of your’s allow rishi Bhrigu’s words to come true. Come back into the world and continue to receive the offerings (through your flames) made to you and to the Gods.”

Agni was satisfied with Lord Brahma’s explanation that even though he may have to consume impure things, only a small part of him will have to consume them, and that part too will be able to purify those items as soon as they are burnt in his flames.

He replied to Brahma Deva, “So be it,” and returned to the world to obey the command of the great Brahma.

This decision of Agni caused everyone (the Gods, rishis, and all creatures) in the world to rejoice and Agni also rejoiced because he was freed from the prospect of sin.

Note: This post ends the story of Puloma. In this story, we read about the virtuous lady Puloma, the rakshasa who abducted her, and the birth of Puloma’s child (Chyavana). We also read about how Puloma’s husband (Sage Bhrigu) cursed Agni and how Agni returned to the world after hearing Brahma Deva’s words. 

In the next post, we will begin the beautiful story of Ruru and Pramadvara, with Pramadvara’s birth.

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The fire at a Yagna
Note: In the previous post, we read about how an angered Bhrigu cursed Agni because the latter had identified Puloma (Bhrigu’s wife) to a rakshasa who went on to abduct her. In this post, we will find out how Agni responded to the curse.

Agni Deva was enraged by Bhrigu’s curse. 

He said to the rishi, “What is the meaning of this rash behavior towards me? I have not done anything wrong by speaking the truth impartially. It is said that if a witness gives an incorrect answer, he ruins his ancestors and descendants up to seven generations. If a person who knows all the details of a situation does not give the correct answer when asked, he becomes stained with guilt.”

Agni Deva continued, “O brahmana, I can also curse you, but I won’t because I hold brahmins in high esteem. Although you already know all the details of my work and history, I will remind you of them again, so please listen carefully.”

“I multiplied myself, through my ascetic power, to become present in various forms in the world. I am present in the places of the daily homa; I am present in places where long sacrifices (yagnas) that extend for several years are conducted; I am present in places where holy rites for marriages and other functions are conducted. The Devas and Pitris are appeased when a priest pours ghee on my flames during a ceremony, done according to Vedic specifications.”

Note: Agni Deva then went on to describe the qualities of the Devas and Pitris. Through this description, he also explained to Bhrigu why the sage’s curse was incorrect and why he could eat unclean things. This is a deeply meaningful dialogue. about the mystical aspect of how beings in the universe exist in two states simultaneously: unity and distinctness. Through this dialogue, Agni Deva also speaks about purity at a metaphysical level. It is worth reflecting upon the deeper meaning of Agni Deva’s words.

I believe, this dialogue also points to the simple worldly wisdom of self-respect and withdrawing from a place where you or the qualities you have to offer are not respected.

Agni Deva continued, “The Devas are considered to be the waters. The Pitris are also considered to be the waters. They both have equal rights to the sacrifices called the Darshas and Purnamasas. Therefore, the Devas are the Pitris and the Pitris are the devas. They are identical beings worshipped together and they are also distinct beings worshipped separately in different phases of the moon. The Pitris are worshipped during the new moon and the Devas during the full moon. Both the Devas and the Pitris eat the offerings that are poured upon my flames. Therefore, I am called the mouth of the Devas and the Pitris. Being the mouth of the Devas and Pitris, how can I eat unclean things?”

After saying these words to Sage Bhrigu, Agni thought about the situation for a while and decided to withdraw himself from the world. He withdrew himself from the places where daily homas and other ceremonies were performed and he also withdrew himself from the places where extended yagnas were performed.

Everything in the world thus became deprived of Oms and Vashats; Swadhas and Swahas (mantras during the offerings in a yagna), and consequently all the creatures, thus deprived, became very distressed.

The rishis also became greatly distressed and decided to approach the Gods. They said, “O perfect beings, this world has lost the element of fire. All yagnas and homas and ceremonies have stopped. Because of this, everyone in the three regions of the universe is confused and bewildered. Please decide a proper course of action to resolve this matter, without any delay.”

The rishis and the Gods decided to approach Lord Brahma to resolve the matter. They explained to him everything that had happened between Sage Bhrigu and Agni Deva and how their dispute had caused Agni Deva to withdraw from the world resulting in an interruption in all the ceremonies. 

They also explained Agni Deva’s dilemma to Brahma Deva, “Agni has been cursed by Bhrigu to eat all sorts of things. But he is the mouth of the Gods and is the first one to consume the offerings that are poured in a yagna or ceremony. How can he be reduced to eat all things (pure and dirty) without discernment?”

Brahma Deva heard everything the rishis and the Gods had to say, and, after hearing them, he summoned Agni Deva to resolve the dispute.

Note: In the next post, we will find out how Brahma Deva pacified Agni Deva.

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