Amrita, the many adventures of the nectar of immortality

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A delicious and precious food obtained from the ocean of Milk when the Devas and Asuras churned it. In Chapter 152 of Agni Purana, the word “Mrtam” is defined as wealth received by begging and “Amrtam” as wealth received without begging, and “Pramrtam” as another kind of wealth obtained without begging.


1) Cause of Ksiradbdhi-mathanam. (Churning of the Ocean of Milk)
Once when Maharsi Durvasas was travelling through a forest, he met the Apsara woman, Menaka, with a garland of Kalpaka flowers in her hand. The fragrance of the flowers filled the whole forest. Durvasas approached Menaka and requested her to give the garland to him. The Vidyadhari (Apsara woman) prostrated before the Maharsi with reverence and presented the garland to him. Wearing that garland on his hair, Durvasas went to Devaloka.

There he saw Indra riding on his elephant, Airavata, accompanied by his retinue of Devas. The Maharsi took the rare garland from his head and presented it to Indra, the King of Devas. Indra received the garland and placed it on Airavata’s head. The elephant was attracted by the fragrance of the garland and took it in its trunk, examined it by smelling it and then threw it on the ground.

Durvasas, who became angry at the way in which his garland was slighted by Indra said to him:
“Since you have treated my garland with disrespect, the glory and prosperity of devaloka will perish !”
On hearing the curse, Indra alighted from the elephant, frightened. He begged pardon of the Maharsi. The furious Muni continued:
“I am not soft-hearted; nor am I of a forgiving nature. Other Munis may forgive. Remember, I am Durvasas. You have become so haughty because other Munis like Vasistha and Gautama have been flattering you too much.”
Having said this Durvasas went his way. Indra returned to Amaravati.

From that day the glory of devaloka began to decline. The three worlds became dull. Even the plants and shrubs began to wither. The performance of yajnas came to an end. The Devas began to be affected by the infirmities of old age.
Taking advantage of this situation, the Asuras started preparations for opposing the Devas. Under the oppression of the Asuras, the Devas groaned in distress. Led by Agni Deva they sought refuge under Brahma. Brahma led them to Mahavisnu. They all joined in praising Visnu who appeared and told them like this:
“O Gods! I shall enhance your glory. Do as I tell you. Along with the Asuras bring all kinds of medicinal herbs and deposit them in the ocean of Milk. Obtain Amrtam from it by churning it with Mahameru as the churning staff and Vasuki as the rope. The Amrtam (Amrta) which will be produced by churning the Milk sea, will make you strong and deathless. I shall see that the Asuras will share in your troubles but not in enjoying Amrtam.”


2) Churning of the Milk Sea.
After Visnu had vanished, the Devas made a treaty with the Asuras and began to work for getting Amrtam. All of them joined together in bringing various kinds of medicinal herbs and after putting them in the Milk sea which was as clear as the cloudless sky, began to churn it, using Manthara Mountain as the churning staff and snake Vasuki as the rope. The party of Devas was posted at the tail-end of Vasuki while the Asuras took their stand at the head. The Asuras became enervated by the fiery breath coming out of Vasuki’s mouth. The clouds which were blown by that breath invigorated the Devas.

Mahavisnu transformed himself into a tortoise, and sitting in the middle of the Milk Sea served as the foundation for the Manthara Mountain, the churning staff. Assuming another form, invisible both to Devas and Asuras, Mahavisnu pressed down the Manthara Mountain from above.

While churning the Milk Sea like this, the first object that rose to the surface was Kamadhenu. Both Devas and Asuras were strongly attracted towards Kamadhenu While all were standing spellbound, Varunidevi with her enchanting dreamy eyes next appeared on the surface. Parijatam was the third to appear. Fourth, a group of Apsara women of marvellous beauty floated up. The Moon appeared as the fifth. giva received the Moon. The venom which came out of the Milk Sea as the sixth item, was absorbed by Nagas. After that arose Bhagavan Dhanvantari, dressed in pure white robes and carrying a Kamandalu in his hand filled with Amrtam. All were delighted at this sight. Next Mahzlaksmi made her appearance in all her glory with a lotus in her hand and seated in an open lotus flower. Gandharvas sang celestial songs in her presence ; ApsarA women danced. For her bath, the Ganges river arrived there with her tributaries. The Milk Sea itself took on physical form and offered her a garland of everfresh lotus flowers. Brahma bedecked her with ornaments. After that Lakst~iidevi, fully adorned in all her magnificent jewels, in the presence of all Devas, joined the bosom of Mahavisnu. The Asuras were displeased at it. They snatched the pot of Amrtam from Dhanvantari and fled away.


3) How Amrtam was recovered.
With the loss of Amrtam, the Devas were in a fix. They began to consider how the pot of Amrtam could be recovered. Accordingly Mahavisnu transformed himself into a celestial virgin, Mohini, of extraordinary beauty. She approached the Asuras as a shy girl. The Asuras were enchanted by her surpassing beauty. They asked her, “Who are you?” Looking down on the ground, Mohini replied: “I am the little sister of Dhanvantari. By the time I came out of the Milk Sea, the Devas and Asuras had already gone. Being lonely I am going about in search of a suitable mate.”

On hearing her words, the Asuras began to make friends with her one by one, determined not to waste this opportunity. They told her that she should distribute Amrtam to all of them and in the end she should marry one of them. Mohini agreed, but added : “All of you should close your eyes. I shall serve Amrtam to all. He who opens his eyes last, must serve Amrtam to me and he will marry me”.

All of them accepted this condition. They sat in front of Mohini with closed eyes. In a moment Mohini left the place with the pot of Amrtam and went to devaloka.


4) Rahu’s neck is cut. When the Asuras opened their eyes, Mohini was not to be seen. Finding that they were betrayed, they were in great perplexity. All of’ them pursued Mohini to devaloka. Devas had put the Sun and Moon gods on guard duty at the gates of devaloka. At the instance of the Asuras, Rahu in disguise entered the divine assembly chamber. The Sun and Moon gods detected him and Visnu with his weapon, Sudarsana Cakra cut open his neck. Swearing that he would wreak vengeance on the Sun and Moon Rahu returned. In the 8th Skandha of Bhagavata it is said that even now from time to time Rahu swallows the Sun and Moon, but they escape through the open gash in his neck and this is known as solar eclipse and lunar eclipse.


5) Defeat of the Asuras. Indra and all other gods took Amrtam. The enraged Asuras attacked the gods, who had gained strength and vigour by taking Amrtam. The Asuras were driven away in all directions. All the three worlds began to enjoy glory and prosperity again.


6) Kalakuta. The story of how the deadly poison, Kalakuta arose at the churning of the ocean of Milk, is given in Maha-bharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 18, Verses 42-45, as follows :
After many, precious things had come up Kalakuta poison with fumes and flames, appeared on the surface of the ocean. Its strong smell caused a stupor in all the three worlds. Fearing that the world will perish, Brahma requested Siva to swallow that poison. Siva gulped it down, but stopped it in his throat. From that day he became “Nilakantha”.


7) The story of Airavata. Indra’s tusker Airavata we responsible for the churning of the ocean of Milk. But in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 18, Verse 4 it is said that a white elephant with four tusks arose during the churning of the ocean of Milk and that Devendra caught and tamed it.
Besides, in Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya kanda, 14th Sarga, the wounded Jatayu describing the family history to Sri Rama, gives the following accour about the origin of Airavata.

Kasyapa, one of the Prajapatis, married the eight daughters of Daksa. One of them named Krodhavas had ten daughters by Kasyapa. They were: Mrgi, Mrgamada, Hari, Bhadramada, Matangi, Sarduli, Sveta, Surabhi, Surasa and Kadru. Of them Bhadramada gave birth to a daughter, Iravati. The tusker Airavat is Iravati’s son.

An explanation for this discrepancy may be seen i Visnu Purana, 3rd Section, Chapter 1. Now si Manvantaras have passed (See `MANVANTARA’) This is the seventh Manvantara. Each Manvantara has a new Indra. According to this, different Indra have their own Airavatas. This is the only explanation for this apparent contradiction.


8) Amrtam and Garuda. There is another story about Amrtam which says that Garuda once went to devaloka and brought Amrtam from there to be given to the Nagas, but Devendra came down and took it back.
This story is given in Mahabharata from Chapter 2 onwards. Vinata, a wife of Kasyapa gave birth to Garuda and Kadru and her sister gave birth to the Nagas. Once there was a dispute between Vinata and Kadru. Vinata said that the hairs on the tail of Ucchaisravas, Devendra’s horse, were white but Kadri asserted that they were black. To settle the dispute they made a bet. The condition was that the loser must become the servant maid of the winner. As instructed by Kadru, some of the Nagas went in advance and hung down from the tail of Ucchaisravas, thus giving the false appearance of a tail with black hairs. By this trick Vinata lost the bet and had to become Kadru’s servan maid. As a result of it, the task of looking after Kadru’ children became Garuda’s duty. Kadru told him tha if he fetched Amrtam from devaloka and gave it to the Nagas, she was prepared to release him from the bond age. So Garuda flew up to devaloka, fought with the gods and defeated them. He returned with the pot of Amrtam and gave it to the Nagas. The Nagas wen to take their bath after placing the pot on darbha Bras spread on the floor. Just then Devendra swooped down and carried away the pot of Amrtam to devaloka When the Nagas returned after their purifying bath the pot was not to be seen. In their greed they began to lick the darbha grass on which the pot vas placed. The sharp edge of the grass cut their tongues into two This is why the Nagas (snakes) came to have forked tongues.

Amrtam which has been thus recovered after many such adventures; is still preserved carefully in devaloka.

(1) M.B., Adi Parva, Chapter 17.
(2) M.B., Adi Parva, Chapter 27, verse 16.
(3) M.B. Adi Parva Chapter 30, Verse 2.
(4) Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, 35th Sarga.
(5) Visnu Purana, Section 1. Chapter 9.
(6) Agni Purana, Chapter 152.
(7) Bhagavata, 8th Skandha.
(8) Uttara Ramayana.




#amrita   #garuda     #durvasa   #airavata     #amrta


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