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Samudra Manthan

Churning of the ocean


Brahma’s grandson Kashyap was married to 13 daughters of Daksha Prajapati including Diti, Danu and Aditi.  From Diti were born the Daityas and Marutas.  Danu gave birth to Danavas.  From Aditi were born Aditya, Devas and Vaman.  Through his other wives, Kashyap sired plants, snakes, naagas, birds, Yakshas and Gandharvas.

Different by nature, Devas and Danvas were forever fighting with each other.  Grandsire Brahma had given everyone ‘regions’ to live in that were appropriate to their nature.  However, Daityas and Danavas were forever desirous of possessing everything – even those things given to their other siblings.  Desperate to deprive the Devas of Svarga, Daityas and Danavas fought them incessantly.  Devas were also eager to defeat their step-brothers and hurt them in any way they could.

Their fights were a constant headache for Kashyap and Brahmaji.  Daityas and Danavas did intense taaps to gain siddhis and then used these divine energies to fight their step brothers.  Harassed, Devas would appeal to Brahmaji and he would have to find a resolution for the problem. 

Tired of their constant bickering, next time they came to Brahmaji for advice, the grandsire suggested the brothers should work on a project to improve their lives.  Direct advice would not have worked, so he suggested they should search for elixir of immortality.  It would grant them energy, vitality and immortality.  Intrigued by the prospect of immortality, both set of siblings asked how they might obtain this amazing liquid that will make them battle on without fearing loss of energy or death !!!

Brahmaji advised them to churn the ocean to derive nectar of immortality.  Despite their celestial status, Devas, Daityas and Danavas were unable to churn something as vast as the ocean !  After much consideration, they retuned and asked grandsire how they might achieve this mighty task.  Grandsire thought about it for a while before declaring that the task was too big for any one side to attempt by themselves.   He suggested it was possible for them to accomplish this IF they worked together. 

Incredulous, Indra and Bali were initially unwilling to entertain such an alliance, but needs of the hour necessitated they should form a coalition to obtain Amrit.  Their Gurus, Brihaspati and Sukracharya, also advised them to work together, each hoping that working together might improve their fraternal relationships. 

Considering the matter, Devas, Danavas and Daityas decided to approach Madarachal mountain and asked it to their churning rod.  Inspired by Brahma, Mandarachal agreed, but how were they to move it to the ocean ?  Despite all their collective efforts, they could not move such a mighty mountain from its roots.  Devas and Danavas approached Lord Vishnu for his help.  Narayana knew Brahma’s plan and helped the celestial brothers move the mountain to the sea.

Encouraged, the brothers approached the mighty serpent Vasuki to be the rope for their mountain churning rod.  Vasuki was promised celestial status and portion of the amrit for helping out.  However, quarrelsome by nature, both set of brothers argued as to which end of the serpent they should hold.  Neither wanted to hold the tail, as they that was considered to be the inauspicious end of the animal.  Advised by Vishnu, Devas relented and agreed to hold the tail so that altast the work of churning could start.  Daityas and Danavas were happy to have won the 1st concession and held on to the neck of the mighty snake.  However, after a short while, Danvas repented their decision as poisonous fumes from Vasuki’s many heads started to choke them.

Divine wind blew away the fumes and Devas and Danavas continued the churning.  However, the weight of the mountain started to make it sink in the sands at the bottom of the ocean.  Once again the brothers despaired.  How could they stop the mountain from sinking ?  Brothers appealed to Lord Vishnu to help them again.  Ever merciful, the Lord took the form of a tortoise (Kurma) and placed himself under the mountain.  Lord of the universe thus provided a base for the churning rod and remained unseen for the entire duration of the lila. 

Just as a mother does not mind her fetus kicking her in the womb, but is instead happy at the thought that it is alive, Lord Kurma was happy that the celestial brothers were working together for a higher aim rather than be upset about the weight or movement of the mountain grinding and scrapping his back.       

After much effort and lots of coordination, Devas and Danvas for a good rhythm going and the churning seemed to be going well.  However, they were both shocked when they saw virulent poison called Halahal coming out of the ocean.  Their efforts certainly seemed doomed as the poison began to consume everything around them.

When we start the work, first thing we encounter is resistance.  We encounter criticism.  We encounter negativity – why are you doing this? What for? Who told you to do this? Why waste time? You are creating more trouble than anything else! Why are you challenging status quo? Why can’t you let things be!  These poisonous attitudes must not be allowed to ruin your efforts.  Don’t be defeated by them.  Don’t give up.  Don’t fight back with negativity.  Bear with it.  Don’t spew negativity against negativity, instead, counter it with positivity and offer explanations, solutions, ideas of improvements.  Make sure you express and explain that you are doing this for the good of everyone.  For sake of others, keep calm and keep your peace.

Only if you don’t give up, can you hope to gain the other maha-ratnas that are hidden in the ocean of life.  If you give up at the outset, you have gained nothing other than the poison.

For sake of all creatures, Lord Shiva consumed the poison.  However, he held it in his throat.  He did not spew it out and he did not let it go past his heart or enter his stomach.  Like the Lord of auspiciousness himself, do not let other people’s negativity ruin your good intentions, your health and well being or disturb your sense of balance.  Bear with it, be brave.

If we work hard, sooner or later, we get the results.  Working hard is not the only thing, we have to work smart too.  There is no point in reinventing the wheel.  We should work in accordance with ‘best practices’ to get swiftest results.   Sometimes we can see a new way to do things and create a new, better method of doing things.  If we succeed, we create a new path that others will follow and create a new rut.

When we work hard, we get the rewards.  One of the first things to come out of the Samudra manthan are the celestial elephant and horse.  Airavat – white elephant – is hard to maintain and difficult to know whether it’s worth maintaining as well !  Like Airavat, the dangerously fast white steed Uchaishrava is also difficult to control.  Danavas claimed the horse for themselves as Indra claimed the elephant.  Both are gorgeous to look at and increase the prestige of the owners.  Yet, at what cost?  But, for sake of ‘show’ we maintain them anyway. 

Hard work also gets us the apsaras and madira – temptations, beautiful temptations to offer you rest and recuperation.  If we are diverted by these alluring temptations, we will soon get waylaid and miss our opportunity to achieve our goals.

Parijata , Kalpavruksha, wish granting tree and kamadhenu – are capable of granting all our wishes.  However, we have to make sure we know what to ask for.  If we have ‘doubt’, our ‘doubts’ will be magnified by the kalpavruksha, and we will be scared by the ideas it creates in our minds.  If we go forth with conviction and positivity, our efforts will be rewarded with support and positivity.  Our efforts will be sustained, as long as we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.  Like the Kamadhenu, our efforts will sustain us on a regular basis.  It yields results on a regular basis.  There is no BIG heap of treasure there, but rather, regular drip-feed of nourishment and nurture.  Cut the tree and we will have no more fruits for the future.  Kill the cow and we will have no more milk, yoghurt or ghee .  So be careful and don’t cut off the very thing that sustains and supports our efforts.

Often, having started, we stop when Lakshmi arrives.  Naturally we think this is the end result – wealth.  Why else have we worked ?  What was the point of all these efforts if not to gain wealth and fame (Shri and kirti – Lakshmi and Kaustubha) ?  But we must know that no matter how much we try to hold on to wealth, it does not belong to us.  It only ever belongs to Vishnu – the supporter, protector, sustainer of the world.  Wealth can only sustain you.  It can never be more than that.  It is not the be all and end all of life.  If having gained wealth we stop, we have not completed our journey.  And without completing our journey, we will not attain the ultimate prize.  In any case, wealth, like the sands of time, passes through our fingers no matter how hard we try to retain it.  Lakshmiji is self willed and will only ever wed the Lord of her choice.  In every incarnation, Lakshmiji only ever weds Vishnu.  No one can ever hope to own her.  At best, we can only hope to be her ‘cherished children’. 

Dhanvantari – health is our biggest wealth.  If we do not look after our body, we have very little hope of achieving any goal – no matter how hard we try.  Healthy body and healthy mind are essential for reaching our goal.  Dhanvantari IS the source of Amrit.  Yet, people only look at Amrit, elixir of immortality, without considering the role of healthy body and mind.

Having gained Amrit, nectar, our goal, do not be tempted to give it away because of what other say.  Do not be swayed by the words of fair-weather-friends or new acquaintances like Mohini.  Listen to our well wishers who have always looked after our interests.  If we don’t do that, we will lose what we have worked so hard to achieve.  Daityas and Danvas lost the fruits of their action by trusting Mohini to distribute Amrit amongst them.  Devas tricked their step brothers and carried Amrit to Swarga.  Embittered, Danavas vowed to resume their animosity with Devas. 

Devas used Amrit to revive their troops killed in battles with Daityas an Danavas.  Tired of losing their own troops, Danavas approached their Guru for an equally powerful source of immortal life.  Sage Sukracharya used his knowledge of Sanjevani mantra to revive dead Danavas.  Alas, despite the best efforts of Brahmaji, the step-brothers continued to fight.     

Here is a shloka to describe the fruits of Samudra Manthan.

लक्ष्मीः कौस्तुभपारिजातकसुराधन्वन्तरिश्चन्द्रमाः।
गावः कामदुहा सुरेश्वरगजो रम्भादिदेवाङ्गनाः।
अश्वः सप्तमुखो विषं हरिधनुः शङ्खोमृतं चाम्बुधेः।
रत्नानीह चतुर्दश प्रतिदिनं कुर्यात्सदा मङ्गलम्। ::

Here is a list of what came out and where it ended up / who has kept it.

Poison – Shiva
Parijata  – Svaraga
Kalpavriksha – Svarga
Kamadhenu - Rishis
Uchaishrava - Danava
Airavat - Indra
Apsaras - Svarga
Madira - Danavas
Chandra - Deva
Lakshmi - Vishnu
Kaustubha – Vishnu
Sharang – Bow – Vishnu
Shankha – conch – Vishnu
Dhanavantari - Deva
Amrita – Deva

Please note - Svarga is a place.  So whoever rules Svarga, Deva or Danava, gets to enjoy the items that went to Svarga.


Main inspiration from the tale of Samudra manthan is the idea of dogged determination.  If we work hard enough and are consistent in our efforts, we will get to our goal.  However, as the tale forewarns, we have to be careful and be aware of any complacency.  We must not let our guard down, even at the last minute, because others are always ready to take a ride on our hard work.   

This wonderful tale has been the bedrock our scriptures and highlights the karma theory and vagaries of yearning for the uncertain fruits of karmas.  The story has inspired numerous sculptures across South East Asia, all the way to Cambodia and beyond.  Even in countries that are no longer Hindu, the tale continues to inspire people and is repeated endlessly in puppet plays and art across much of SE Asia.  Thailand’s Bangkok airport has a massive sculpture of the Samudra Manthan in its departure lounge, highlighting the importance of this tale in the culture psyche of the nation. 



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