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.
By bazaar art print – http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/0400_0499/pantheon/churning/churning.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45804883