The Churning of the Ocean of Milk

This story is central to my Ayurveda class because it describes the origins of the heavenly physician – Dhanvantari. Here the gods and demons churned the ocean in order to obtain Amrita (the nectar of immortal life). Out of the ocean many other things arose…read to find out!

The Asuras and the Devas churning the ocean of milk. Above them is what came out of the ocean.

Ksheera Sagara Mathanam or Samudra Manthan

(The Churning of the Ocean of Milk – Kshir/Ksheer [milk] + Sagar [ocean] + Manthan [to churn])

Chapter 1: Lakshmi (Fortune) is Lost
Indra (the King of Devas – demigods) while riding on an elephant, came across a sage named Durvasa who offered him a special garland of flowers – Santanaka. 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 – the garland represented Sri (fortune) and was to be treated as prasada (sacred). Durvasa cursed Indra: “The pride of wealth has entered your head. Let Lakshmi forsake you.” Without Lakshmi (fortune), Devas (demigods) lost their strength, energy, and fortune.

Indra riding on his elephant with the garland

Chapter 2: The Asuras (Demons) Gain Control
The demons that were waiting for such an opportunity and invaded heaven. In battles that followed this incident, devas were defeated and asuras (demons) led by King Bali, gained control of the universe. Indra lost his kingdom and hid out of sight of the demons. He sought help from god Vishnu who advised the devas to treat the asuras in a diplomatic manner. The 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.

The demons (with mustaches on the right) fight Indra (on the left) for the heavens

Chapter 3: Churning the Ocean
The churning of the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate process. Mount Mandarachala was used as the churning rod and Vasuki (King of the Serpents) became the churning rope. The asuras demanded to hold the head of the snake, while the devas, taking advice from Vishnu, agreed to hold its tail.

As a result the demons were poisoned by fumes emitted by the mouth of Vasuki while they churned his body. Despite this, the demigods and demons pulled back and forth on the snake’s body alternately, causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn would churn the ocean. However, once the asuras carried the mountain and placed it in 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.

If you look to the left, all of the demons have mustaches…while the gods do not. Lord Vishnu is depicted below the mountain

Chapter 4: Poison in the Ocean
The churning released many treasures, however one product was the lethal poison known as Halahala. (In some versions of the story, this poison escaped from the mouth of the serpent king as the demons and gods churned) This terrified the gods and demons because the poison was so powerful that it could contaminate the Milk Ocean and destroy all of creation. On the advice of Vishnu, the gods approached the compassionate Shiva for help and protection. Shiva inhaled the poison in an act of self-sacrifice but his consort/wife Parvati, terrified at the thought of losing him, prevented it from descending into his body. The poison remained trapped in Shiva’s throat. The color of Shiva’s neck turned blue. When the heat from the poison finally became unbearable for Shiva, he used his trishul (three wheeled vehicle) to dig for water, thus forming the Gosaikunda Lake.

Chapter 5: The Ratnas (Treasures)
These are the treasures emerged from the Ocean – and who they were given to. For the rest of the story and to learn about Dhanvantari and his eternal nectar of immortality, look to his page.

3 Goddesses emerged:

  • Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth – accepted by Vishnu as His eternal consort (wife).
  • Apsaras, various divine nymphs like Rambha, Menaka, Punjisthala, etc. – given to the devas.
  • Varuni / Sura, goddess and creator of alcohol – taken – somewhat reluctantly (she appeared disheveled and argumentative) – by the asuras.

3 supernatural animals emerged:

  • Kamadhenu / Surabhi, the wish-granting divine cow – taken by Vishnu, and given to sages so ghee from her milk could be used in sacrifices.
  • Airavata, and several other elephants, taken by Indra, leader of the devas
  • Uchhaishravas, the divine 7-headed horse – given to the asuras

3 valuable objects:

  • Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world, worn by Vishnu
  • Parijat, the divine flowering tree with blossoms that never fade or wilt – taken to Indraloka by the devas
  • A powerful bow – symbolic of the asuras’ belligerence.

Additionally produced were:

  • Chandra, the moon which adorned Shiva’s head
  • Dhanvantari, the doctor of the gods with Amrita the nectar of immortality.
  • Halahala, the poison swallowed by Shiva
One Response to “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk”
  1. Praveen says:

    thanks a lot for the information, please keep posting these kind of stuff. very informative.

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