Sunday, March 8, 2009
SamudraManthan scene on ANGORVAT and BANKNOTE,firstname.lastname@example.org
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Samudra manthan; or The churning of the ocean of milk is one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas and is celebrated in a major way every twelve years in the festival known as Kumbha Mela. The story appears in the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana.
The story of Samudra Manthan
Kurma Avatar of Vishnu, below Mount Mandara, with Vasuki wrapped around it, during Samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean of milk. ca 1870.
Once Indra, the King of Gods, while riding on an elephant came across a sage named Durvasa who offered him a special garland. Indra accepted the garland but put in on the trunk of the elephant. The elephant was irritated by the smell and it threw the garland on the floor. This enraged the sage as the garland was a dwelling of Sri (fortune) and was to be treated as prasada. Durvasa Muni cursed Indra and all devas to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune.
In battles that followed this incident, Devas were defeated and Asuras (demons) led by king Bali, gained control of the universe. Devas sought help from Lord Vishnu who advised them to treat asuras in a diplomatic manner. Devas formed an alliance with asuras to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality and to share it among them. However, Lord Vishu told Devas that he would arrange that they alone obtain the nectar.
Churning the Milky Ocean
The churning of the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate process. Mount Mandaranchal was used as the dasher (churning tool), and Vasuki, the king of serpents, became the churning rope. The gods held the tail of the snake, while the demons (Asuras) held its head, and they pulled on it alternately causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean. However, once the mountain was placed on 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.
Note that the Mahabharata version of the story differs in many respects from the one in the various Puranas such as Bhagawat, Brahma-vaivarta, and Agni. For example, in Mahabharata, it was not Vishnu who took the Kurma avatara, but the Akupara, the king of tortoises, who did it on request from Devas and Asuras.
During the Samudra Mathan by the gods and demons, a pot of poison, Halahala, also came out of the ocean. This terrified the gods and demons because the poison was so toxic that it might have destroyed all of creation. On the advice of Vishnu, gods approached Shiva for help and protection. Out of compassion for living beings, Shiva drank the poison. It was so potent that it changed the color of Shiva's neck to blue. For this reason, he is also called Neelakantha (the blue-necked one, nīla = "blue", kantha = "throat").
All kinds of herbs were cast into the ocean and fourteen Ratnas (gems or treasures) were produced from the ocean and were divided between asuras and gods. These were
Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth -Vishnu's consort
Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world
Parijata, the divine flowering tree with blossoms that never fade or wilt
Varuni, goddess and creator of alcohol
Dhanvantari, the doctor
Chandra, the moon
Kamadhenu, the wish-granting divine cow
Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree
Airavata, the elephant of Indra
Apsaras, various divine nymphs like Rambha, Menaka, Punjikasthala, etc.
Uchhaishravas, the divine 7-headed horse
Sharanga, the bow of Vishnu
Shankha Vishnu's conch
Amrita the nectar of immortality.
This list varies from Purana to Purana and is also slightly different in the epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata
The nectar of immortality
Finally, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged with a pot containing amrita, the heavenly nectar of immortality. Fierce fighting ensued between devas and asuras for the nectar. To protect the nectar from asuras, devas hid the pot of nectar at four places on the earth - Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. At each of these places, a drop of the nectar spilled from the pot and it is believed that these places acquired mystical power. A Kumbh Mela is celebrated at the four places every twelve years for this reason.
However, the Asuras eventually got hold of the nectar and started celebrating. Frightened, devas (demigods) appealed to Vishnu, who then took the form of Mohini. As a beautiful and enchanting damsel, Mohini distracted the asuras, took the amrita, and distributed it among the Adityas, who drank it. One asura, Rahu, disguised himself as a deva and drank some nectar. Due to their luminous nature, the sun god Surya and the moon god Chandra noticed the switching of sides. They informed Mohini. But before the nectar could pass his throat, Mohini cut off his head with her divine discus, the Sudarshana Chakra. The head, due to its contact with the amrita, remained immortal. To gain revenge on the sun and moon for exposing this, the immortal head occasionally swallows the sun or the moon, causing eclipses. Then, the sun or moon passes through the opening at the neck, ending the eclipse.
The story ends with the rejuvenated Adityas defeating the asuras.
Symbolism of Samudra manthan
The story represents the spiritual endeavor of a person to achieve self-realisation through concentration of mind, withdrawal of senses, control of desires and practice of austerities and asceticism.
The Devas and Asuras represent the positives and negatives respectively of one's personality. The participation of both the Devas and the Asuras signifies that when one is seeking bliss through spiritual practice, one has to integrate and harmonise both the positive and negative aspects and put both the energies to work for the common goal.
The ocean of milk is the mind or the human consciousness. The mind is like an ocean while the thoughts and emotions are the waves in the ocean.
Mandhara, the mountain symbolises concentration. The word Mandhara is made up of two words Mana (mind) and Dhara (a single line) which means holding the mind in one line. This is possible only by concentration.
Mount Mandhara was upheld by Lord Vishnu as a Kurma (tortoise). The tortoise here symbolises the withdrawal of the senses into oneself (just as a tortoise withdraws its head into its shell) as one practices mental concentration and meditation or contemplation.
Vasuki symbolises desire. Vasuki used in the churning of the ocean denotes that the Devas and the demons held desire (to seek immortality) as a rope and churned the mind with the help of concentration and withdrawal of the senses. Desire, if not controlled will overpower and destroy an individual.
The Halahala poison symbolises suffering and pain (counter-reaction of the mind and body) that one undergoes at the beginning of spiritual sadhana (practice). When the mind is subjected to intense concentration, the first thing that comes out of the process is intense suffering and great inner turmoil. These must be resolved otherwise further progress is not possible.
Lord Shiva symbolises the ascetic principle. His role in this story as the consumer of poison suggests that one can deal with the early problems of spiritual life by cultivating the qualities of Lord Shiva, namely, courage, initiative, willingness, discipline, simplicity, austerity, detachment, compassion, pure love and asceticism.
The various precious objects that come out of the ocean during the churning stand for the psychic or spiritual powers (Siddhis) which one gains as s/he progresses spiritually from stage to stage. The seeker should be careful about these powers as they can hamper her/his progress unless s/he uses them judiciously, not for selfish gains but for others' welfare. This is the reason why the Gods and demons distributed these objects as they did not want to lose sight of their original aim which was to gain immortality.
Dhanvantari symbolises health and signifies that immortality (longevity, to be correct) or spiritual success can be achieved only when the body and the mind are in a perfect state of health.
Mohini symbolises delusion of the mind in the form of (or originating from) pride. It is the pride of achievement to which the asuras or the demons succumbed and thus lost sight of their goal. Pride and egoism are the last hurdles one has to overcome in spiritual life before experiencing self-realisation.
The Amrit symbolises the ultimate achievement of the goal of self-realistion.
Lakshmi represents universal enrichment which comes as an automatic by-product of the internal self-realization or Amrita
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