Samudra Manthan – The churning of the Ocean

The Samudra Manthan or churning of the ocean explains the origin of Amrita, the nectar of immortality. It is one of the best-known episodes in the Hindu mythology narrated in the Bhagavata Purana, Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana. In the term, Sāgara or Samudra Manthan, Sāgara and Samudra both mean an ocean or a large water body and ‘Manthan’ means the churning.

Samudra Manthan or churning of the Ocean

Let’s know the story behind Samudra Manthan or churning of the ocean.

  • Durvasa Muni had once offered a garland to Indra, who put it on the tusk of his elephant, Airawat, which trampled it. Seeing Indra’s disregard, the revered sage became furious.
  • After that he cursed Indra and all demi-gods to be bereft of all their strength, energy, and fortune. Gradually, Indra and the other gods began losing all battles against the demons, led by Bali who took control of the universe.

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  • The helpless Indra and all the demi-gods rushed to Vishnu for help. Vishnu said that to get back their powers, the gods will have to churn the oceans and bring out the magical nectar-amrita. Only after consuming it could they regain their powers.
  • The Devas then formed an alliance with the Asuras or demons to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among themselves. But Vishnu told the Devas that he would make sure it doesn’t go to the demons.
  • The gods and demons came together for the herculean task. Mountain Mandara became the churning rod. Vasuki naag became the churning rope.

Samudra Manthan or churning of the Ocean

  • As pole entered the water it kept sliding into depths of the ocean. Vishnu then quickly transformed himself into a tortoise and placed the mountain on his back.  The tortoise was Vishnu’s second avatar called ‘Kurma.’
  • As the churning began it released a number of things from the Ocean of Milk. An extremely poisonous drink called halahal came out.  It was so powerful that it could destroy all of God’s creation.
  • They all then came together and prayed to Shiva to help them. Shiva gulped the entire poison to protect the three worlds but he did not swallow it. He kept the poison in his throat. Since then, Shiva’s throat became blue, and he came to be known as Neelkantha or the blue-throat Shiva.
  • The churning continued and fourteen Ratnas were procured from it. These were divided between the demons and the gods. The list in the scriptures range from 9 to 11 Ratnas, but usually, the Ratnas are enumerated as 14.
  • Finally, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged with a pot containing the nectar of immortality. There raged a great war between the gods and the demons to possess the nectar. Vishnu took the form of Mohini, a beautiful and enchanting damsel to trick the demons.

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  • Mohini offered to distribute amrit between devas and asuras. She very cleverly kept offering amrit only to devas. One of the asuras Rahuketu caught Mohini’s trick and switched side disguised as deva. He had barely drank the amrit when Vishnu recognized him and cut his throat. Due to amrit, he did not die and turned into the planets Rahu and Ketu.
  • Asuras realized the trick and tried to snatch the vessel from Mohini.
  • Vishnu gave it to his winged charioteer; Garuda, who flew away with the pot from the battlefield. But the demons caught up and a struggle followed.
  • During this struggle, few drops of the nectar fell at Ujjain, Nasik, Allahabad, and Haridwar. The drops are said to have purified the land and devotees come to wash away their sins in the famous fair called Kumbh Mela.

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