By Swami Harshananda
Samudramathana literally means ‘churning of the ocean of milk’.
Reasons for Samudramanthan
Indra, the king of gods, lost his all assets to the demons due to the disrespect shown out of pride to a great sage Durvāsas. Lord Viṣṇu advised him to make up with his enemies, the demons, and churn the ocean of milk with their help. Due to this act, amrta was obtained. By drinking it, the gods could become immortal and regain their lost sovereignty.
Process of Samudramanthan
Accordingly, the gods and the demons started churning the ocean making the Mandāra mountain as the churning rod and Vāsuki, the great serpent, as the rope. Viṣṇu took the form of a gigantic tortoise to support the mount Mandāra from sinking. The first product of this joint venture and adventure was hālāhala, the most deadly poison. Śiva, the auspicious one, swallowed this, thus saving the worlds from sure destruction. In the process these came out of ocean:
- Kāmadhenu - Kāmadhenu means the wish-yielding cow
- Uccaiśravas - Uccaiśravas means the white horse
- Airāvata - the elephant
- Kaustubhamaṇi - the matchless jewel
- Kalpavṛkṣa - the wish fulfilling tree
- Lakṣmī - the goddess of fortune
- Surā or Vāruṇī - the goddess of wine
- Dhanvantari - the physician of the gods with vessel of amṛta in his hands
Distribution of Articles from Samudramanthan
- The Rṣis took away the cow Kāmadhenu.
- The king of demons, Bali, took the the horse Uccaiśravas.
- Indra, the king of gods, accepted the elephant Airāvata.
- Indra also planted the tree Kalpavrksa in his garden in heaven.
- Viṣṇu chose to wear the jewel Kaustubha on his chest.
- Goddess Lakṣmī chose Viṣṇu’s chest as her dwelling.
- The gods chose Surā who was rejected by demons strangely.
- Contravening the original agreement that the amṛta should be shared by both the groups equally, the demons forcibly snatched away the pot from Dhanvantari’s hands to appropriate the entire quantity for themselves.
Conflicts after Samudramanthan
Selfishness and greed led to disagreement, discontent and conflict in it. Taking this opportunity, Viṣṇu took the form of Mohinī, the enchantress and lured the vessel of ambrosia into his hands and cleverly managed to distribute its contents among the gods only. Being intoxicated by the new strength gained thus the gods fell upon the demons, vanquished them and regained their lost sovereignty.
Teachings from Samudramanthan
The myth of Samudramanthan has great lessons for us. In order to get the greatest good, the saner elements of the society should influence the masses to bury their hatchet, sink all their petty differences and make a coordinated and co-operative effort to achieve it. Since the task is stupendous, the effort have to be equally stupendous.
The early results of all such joint ventures need not always be good or pleasant. Due to conflict of personalities and clash of interests which arise in the field of joint ventures, hālāhala appears first and not amṛta. This deadly poison starts destroying all involved in the conflicts irrespective of right or wrong. Hence out of sheer necessity, the entire society should unite and appeal the leaders to save it.
Any true leader of the society will voluntarily and willingly come forward risking his life to assimilate this poison and save the society from sure destruction like Śiva, the auspicious one. Once these conflicts are resolved and the efforts are redoubled, it is bound to arise from the firmament of their joint adventure like:
- Lakṣmī signifying abhyudaya or well-being, fortune
- Amṛta signifying niśsreyasa or moral
- Spiritual elevation ultimately leading to beatitude
But contrary to the covenant, if the selfish and belligerent groups of the society try to appropriate themselves all the fruits of the common labors, God, the law-giver and justice personified, will thwart their efforts. The good shall and will vanquish the evil.
Subjective Interpretation of Samudramanthan
This story can be interpreted at the subjective level also. Anyone who is tired of the vicissitudes of life and is hankering for peace and bliss should seek it only in the highest spiritual enlightenment. Amṛta signifies this enlightenment. To get this, an all-out effort should be made. The sense-organs which usually pull the mind down and create confusion, conflicts and heart-burns, should be tactfully mobilized in this effort just as the demons were used by the gods. Spiritual life is a long struggle.
Meditation is actually mind-churning. Hence, this process will inevitably throw up the deadly poison hidden in the recesses of the mind as passions and prejudices, which try to destroy every process of sādhana. An intense and earnest prayer to God Śiva will save the situation by getting it sublimated. The conquest of Māra by the Buddha or Satan by Christ can be understood in this reference. Once the worst is over, the spiritual aspirant will gradually start reaping the benefits of his efforts in the form of Siddhis, psychic or otherwise. Kāmadhenus and Kalpavṛkṣas denote these powers. This will be crowned with success when he gets a vision of the all-pervading cosmic energy resulting in immortal bliss.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore