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Samudra Manthan – The Churning of Ocean

by Anubhav Bakshi
Samudra Manthan

The story of Samudra Manthan holds a special significance in Hindu Mythology. It is the only story in our Puranas where Devas and Asuras come together and join hands for a common purpose. We can find the story of Samudra Manthan in Vishnu Purana and Bhagwat Purana. The phrase Samudra Manthan means the Churning of the Ocean/Sea.

Even the supreme trinity, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva play important parts to make this endeavour successful. This story also has several valuable lessons for all humanity. If we can understand these lessons, they can change our lives for the better. I will be discussing these lessons at the end of this story.

So, without much ado, let us immerse ourselves in the story that acts as a catalyst for all the events that happen after this time.

Maharishi Durvasa’s Curse

Durvasa's Curse

Lord Indra is the king of gods and heaven. He is the lord of the Rains and thunderstorms. Once he was riding on his elephant and his path crossed with Sage Durvasa. Sage Durvasa was revered all over the world for his supreme knowledge. But he was also feared by all for his volcanic anger. 

Sage Durvasa offered Indra an auspicious garland as a gift. Indra accepted the garland with humility. To show his respect to the Sage, placed it on the trunk of his elephant. 

As it happened, the fragrance of the flowers in that garland was so intoxicating, that it attracted a lot of bees towards it. The bees startled the elephant, and it threw the garland on the ground. 

Sage Durvasa saw this as an act of disrespect and in a fit of rage cursed Indra and all the Gods of heavens to lose all their powers, fortune, and strength. Soon Indra and the other gods of heaven lost their powers and sheen. 

The king of Asuras, Bali saw an opportunity and attacked Heaven. Because of Durvasa’s curse, the army of Gods were easily defeated, and Bali became the king of all three worlds.

Lord Vishnu’s Advice to Indra

After losing all their power and wealth Indra and other Gods were roaming through the world as beggars. When their situation became unbearable, they decided to approach Brahma, the Creator for advice.

When the Gods reached Brahmlok, the abode of Brahma, they found him sitting on a Lotus, engrossed in his meditation. All the Gods folded their hands and prostrated in front of him. Brahma opened his eyes and blessed the Gods. 

Indra told him about their misery and requested Brahma to help them. Brahma asked the Gods to approach Vishnu for the solution to their problem. All the Gods led by Indra went to Vishnu for help.

After hearing about the misery of the Gods, Vishnu promised to help them. He told the Gods that only the Elixir or Amrit churned from the Ksheersagar (Samudra Manthan), the ocean of milk can restore their sheen and power.

The Gods were excited and wanted to start immediately. However, Lord Vishnu told them that because of their current state the Gods couldn’t churn the ocean on their own. They will have to seek help from the Asuras. This condition stunned the Devas.

Devas and Asuras were permanent enemies, locked in continuous battles for ages. Just the thought of seeking help from the Asuras made them restless.

However, there was no other option as only Asuras had the strength to undertake such a mammoth task along with the Devas. But Indra was not sure how to approach the king of Asuras, Bali. Lord Vishnu told him a way that would force the Asuras to participate in Samudra Manthan.

A Tricky Alliance

With the guidance and blessings of Lord Vishnu, Indra reached the assembly hall of Asura king Bali with his proposal. Bali was not like other Asuras. He was the grandson of Prahalad, one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. He was patient and reasonable. Therefore, even after the protest from some of his Asura ministers, he decided to listen to what Indra had to say.

Indra explained the complete process of Samudra Manthan and proposed that Devas and Asuras will distribute everything equally, including the Amrit or the Elixir. The Asura Generals present there laughed at Indra’s proposal, stating that Asuras would perform the Samudra Manthan themselves and keep all its riches.

Indra was not perturbed by their rants and told them that either Devas or the Asuras couldn’t complete this task alone. Bali pondered over the situation and finally agreed to Indra’s proposal for an alliance.

And with this, a mega alliance of Devas and Asuras was formed for the first time since the inception of the universe. However, both the Devas and the Asuras planned to take Amrit for themselves after the task was completed.

The Churning Rod and the Churning Rope

Mount Mandara – The Churning Rod for Samudra Manthan

The first task for Devas and Asuras was to uproot Mount Mandara, located at the centre of the earth. It was to be used as the churning rod for Samudra Manthan. After worshipping the great mountain, using their immense strength, the combined armies of Devas and Asuras uprooted it and started a long journey towards the Ksheersagar.

However, the immensity of the task soon overwhelmed both Devas and Asuras. Unable to bear the massive weight of Mount Mandara, thousands were crushed under it. 

At that point, Lord Vishnu arrived there sitting on the back of his mount the mighty Garuda. Vishnu picked up the mountain like a feather and placed it on the back of Garuda. Then he brought back all the dead Devas and Asuras to life. Flying with the speed of thought, Garuda soon placed Mount Mandara in the middle of Ksheersagar.

And then just as he had arrived, Garuda flew up in the sky and vanished as quickly as a thought.

Vasuki – The King of Serpents – The Churning Rope for Samudra Manthan

Lord Vishnu then asked Devas and Asuras to go to the depths of Patala and request the king of Serpents, and ruler of Patala, Vasuki to become their churning rope for Samudra Manthan.

At first, Vasuki refused to help them. He was scared that the friction of churning would tear his skin to shreds. Devas told him that Lord Vishnu had promised that he would not let him feel any pain. Further, they also offered him a portion of Amrit.

When he heard that Vasuki readily accepted their request and travelled to Ksheersagar with them.

The Devas, Asuras and Vasuki reached where Mount Mandara was standing in the middle of Ksheersagar. Vasuki coiled around the great mountain, and everyone was ready for the churning.

Samudra Manthan Begins

At Vishnu’s direction, the Devas stood holding the head of Vasuki and asked the Asuras to hold the tail. But the mighty and proud Asuras refused to hold the tail. They proudly stated that their position is higher than the Devas, and hence they would not hold the tail of the serpent, which was considered inauspicious.

Vishnu signalled Devas, who promptly left the head of Vasuki and took hold of its tail.

And then they started the Samudra Manthan. With every pull of the great serpent from either side, the great mountain began to move first in one direction and then in other, causing the sea to froth.

Because of the pressure on his body from the churning Vasuki emitted dark hot fumes from his mouth, that caused Asuras’ immense pain and turned their skin dark. But they continued to churn undeterred.

The Kurma Avatar

The churning slowly gained speed. The Devas and Asuras were pulling Vasuki with full vigour. Soon their arms started hurting and their bodies were tired. But nothing came out from the ocean. They were getting impatient. But they never thought of stopping.

But soon to their horror, the mighty Mandara began to sink as it had no support at its base. Devas and Asuras were dismayed at this sight. As the great mountain disappeared from their sight, their hopes of finding the Amrit started fading. Without Mandara, the churning was impossible. They all cried to Lord Vishnu for help.

Just then Lord Vishnu appeared in the sea as Kurma Avatar, a giant Turtle. It is said that he was a thousand yojanas long and a thousand yojanas wide. It quickly swam under the Mandara and supported it on its back. Then it raised it to the surface. Everyone in the universe sang praises of Lord Vishnu, the saviour.

Kurma Avatar of Vishnu

As the mountain steadied, Devas and Asuras started the churning once again. As the mountain rotated on his shell, Turtle Avatar Vishnu felt tickled and started laughing. Lord Brahma sat on top of Mount Mandara to steady it. Because of the pressure on his body from the churning Vasuki emitted dark fumes from his mouth, that caused Asura’s body to turn dark. But they continued to churn undeterred.

As the churning gained speed, something stirred in the ocean. Everyone got excited and started looking towards the depths of Ksheersagar to see what gift it would send first. And when the first thing appeared on the surface, it posed danger to the existence of the entire world.



Neelkanth Mahadev

The first thing that the Ksheersagar spurted out was Halahal, the most potent poison in the entire universe. It was so poisonous that even its fumes sucked the breath of everyone present over there. 

Everyone rushed to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu told them that only Mahadev Lord Shiva has the strength to consume Halahal. On his advice, everyone went to Shiva and requested him to save them from certain death.

Lord Shiva did not think even twice. He got up and collected all Halahal in his palms. Then he took his palms towards his mouth and drank the deadly Poison.

As Shiva started drinking it, his consort Maa Parvati kept her right hand on his neck. It prevented the poison to escape from Shiva’s throat and entering his body. The poison was so potent that Shiva’s neck turned blue. Everyone sang praises of Shiva, and he was given the name of Neelkanth, one with blue throat.

It is said that a few drops of Halahal fell from Shiva’s hands and were consumed by Snakes, Scorpions, and other serpents. And that made them venomous.

Emergence of Divine Gifts

Samudra Manthan

After Shiva saved everyone from Halahal, Devas and Asuras started the churning again. And soon divine gifts started appearing from the ocean. The items and divine beings that emerged from Ksheersagar were:

1.       Kamadhenu: A wish granted Cow which was given to Saptarishis by Lord Brahma

2.       Airavat: A divine Elephant which was taken by Indra as his mount

3.       Uchhaishravas: A divine Horse with wings, that could fly at the speed of thought. It was claimed by Bali

4.       Parijat Tree: An evergreen tree with heavenly fragrant flowers. It was taken by the Gods to heaven

5.       Varuni: The Goddess of alcohol and other narcotic substances. She was taken by Asuras.

6.       Apsaras: The divine nymphs with exquisite beauty chose Swarga as their home.

7.       Maa Lakshmi: When Maa Lakshmi emerged from the ocean, her jewellery was shining so brightly that everyone closed their eyes. She looked around in every direction and chose to be the consort of Lord Vishnu.

8.       Chandrama: Next the moon emerged from the ocean, and it found its place on the forehead of Lord Shiva.

9.       Kasturba Jewel: The brilliant red gem was offered to Lord Vishnu, who wore it around his neck.

According to some texts Lord Vishnu’s Conch and his Saranga Bow also emerged from the Ocean.

Lord Dhanvantri & The Amrit

Lord Dhanwantri

And finally, after all the other gifts, Lord Dhanvantari, the Physician of Gods appeared from the depths of Ksheersagar carrying the pot containing Amrit, the elixir of immortality.

As soon as the Amrit appeared, everyone left the churning and ran towards it. However, the Asuras, being the stronger, snatched the pot of Amrit from Lord Dhanvantari and ran away. In the chaos that ensued a few drops of Amrit fell on earth. And it is at these places Kumbh Mela is celebrated every 12 years. These places are Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik.

The Devas looked towards Lord Vishnu with disappointed faces. Vishnu smiled and signalled them to wait.


Vishnu as Mohini

Meanwhile, a riot erupted amongst the Asuras for Amrit. Everyone wanted to be the first one to drink it. Their commotion was disturbed by the sweet sound of anklets. As they turned around, they were awestruck. Standing amidst them was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen. They became so engrossed in her beauty that they forgot about the Amrit.

They gathered around her and asked her who she was and where did she come from. The woman told them that her name was Mohini, and she was passing through the area and was distracted by loud noises coming from the place. She came down to check the reason for the commotion.

The Asuras smitten by her beauty told her about Amrit and requested her to distribute it equally to them. Lord Vishnu in Mohini’s disguise smiled at their proposal. Then she said that she would only agree if Devas too were given their share of the Amrit.

Lost in her beauty Asuras readily agreed to her terms. Mohini asked Devas and Asuras to sit facing each other. She told them that she would distribute Amrit alternately to Devas and Asuras.

Devas and Asuras quickly took their place and Mohini started distributing the Amrit.

Distribution of Amrit

Mohini started with Indra, and as she turned towards Asura king Bali, she discreetly changed the pot. One by one all the Devas started getting Amrit and Asuras kept getting a simple drink. But none of the Asuras noticed this deceit.

However, one Asura named Swarbhanu, caught Mohini while changing the pot. He quietly used his magic, disguised himself as a Deva, and sat between Surya and Soma. 

As Mohini, came to offer him the Amrit and poured it in his hands, Surya and Soma identified him and quickly informed Mohini. Lord Vishnu quickly left his guise and using his Sudarshan Chakra cut off his head before the Amrit could enter his body. 

However, because he had consumed Amrit, his head became immortal. From that day onwards his head was known as Rahu and his body was known as Ketu. And both became celestial bodies. And as an act of revenge for revealing his identity to Vishnu, Rahu swallows Sun and Moon during an eclipse. However, since he has nobody, both Sun and Moon come out from his throat and become whole again.

Devas Victory over Asuras

As the Asuras got to know about Lord Vishnu’s deception, they attacked Devas. However, the Gods, now stronger than ever because of the effects of Amrit, easily defeated the Asuras. Once again, the Gods established their rule over Heaven, and Dharma once again found its place in the world.

The Lessons from the Story

The churning of the ocean is symbolism for the turmoil that keeps happening between all of us. This turmoil happens because of the constant battle between Dharma and Adharma. During Kaliyuga, Adharma is stronger, and Dharma gets weaker as its path is laden with hardships. To ensure the victory of Dharma and to realize the true potential of good in us, we need a churning of our thoughts.

Our consciousness of our soul is Mount Mandara. Like the great mountain, our consciousness also finds its seat in our hearts. All our problems and obstacles that fill our minds with poison is personified by venom spitting Lord Vasuki.

Lord Vishnu’s Kuruma Avatar is the eternal Dharma that keeps it steady in the face of every difficulty and unfavourable condition. All our negative emotions and thoughts that try to turn us towards the path of Adharma is the Halahal.

Shiva signifies wisdom, steadiness and patience that can absorb all the negativity.

All the good qualities and positive attitudes that we gain through this grinding of the soul are divine jewels.

And finally, Lord Dhanvantari symbolize the peak condition of mind, body, and soul. Only a combination of all three allows a person to become eligible to receive the gift of Amrit, the supreme consciousness, or Moksha.

This churning is happening in all of us. But it depends on us whether we receive the Amrit or succumb to the Halahal.

So this was the story of Samudra Manthan, the Churning of Ocean. 

Tell me what you think of this story and its message. And do you think there is another message that we can incur from the story of Samudra Manthan?

Keep coming back to “Stories” for more of such stories from our Puranas. And don’t forget to checkout “Unfolding Beliefs,” a space where I decipher the real meaning of Hinduism. 

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Hope you liked the story. Is there any specific story you want to read from Hindu Mythology? Let me know in the comment box.

Till next time!

Jai Shri Ram

Anubhav Bakshi

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