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By Swami Harshananda


Samudramathana literally means ‘churning of the ocean of milk’.

Indra, the king of gods, lost his all 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 with their help, to churn the ocean of milk, out of which amrta (ambrosia) could be got. By drinking it, the gods could become immortal and regain their lost sovereignty.

Accordingly, the gods and the demons started churning the ocean, making the Mandara mountain as the churning rod and Vāsuki, the great serpent as the rope. Viṣṇu took the form of a gigantic tortoise (Kṅrma) to support the mount Mandara 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. Then were produced Kāmadhenu (the wish-yielding cow), Uccaiśravas (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) and Dhanvantari (the physician of the gods) bearing the vessel of amṛta (the ambrosia) in his hands. The Rṣis took away the cow Kāmadhenu, Bali (the king of demons) cast his eye on the horse Uccaiśravas, Indra (the king of gods) accepted the elephant Airāvata and got the tree Kalpavrksa planted in his garden in heaven. Viṣṇu chose to wear the jewel Kaustubha on his chest whereas Lakṣmī chose Viṣṇu’s chest as her dwelling. The gods chose Surā who had been strangely enough, rejected by the demons. 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. Selfishness and greed, however, led to disagreement, discontent and conflict. Taking this opportunity Viṣṇu took the form of Mohinī, the enchantress, lured the vessel of ambrosia into his hands and cleverly managed to distribute its contents among the gods only. Then the inevitable happened. Being intoxicated by the new strength gained thus, the gods fell upon the demons, vanquished them and regained their lost sovereignty.

This myth has great lessons for us. In order to get the greatest good of the greatest number, 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 will 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 naturally arise in the field of joint ven¬tures, it is hālāhala that appears first and not amṛta! This deadly poison starts destroying all the parties involved in the conflicts irrespective of who is right or who is wrong! Hence out of sheer necessity, the entire society should unite and appeal to the leaders to save it. Any true leader of the society, worth the name, will, like Siva the auspicious one, voluntarily and willingly come forward risking his life, to assimilate this poison and save the society from sure destruction. Once these conflicts are resolved and the efforts are redoubled, Lakṣmī signifying abhyudaya (well-being, fortune) and amṛta signifying niśsreyasa (moral and spiritual elevation ultimately leading to beatitude) are bound to arise from the firmament of their joint adven¬ture. But, again, contrary to the covenant, if the selfish and belligerent groups of the society try to appropriate to themselves all the fruits of the common labours, God, the law-giver and justice personified, will thwart their efforts. The good shall and will vanquish the evil.

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 just this enlightenment. To get this, an all-out effort will have to be made. The sense-organs which usually pull the mind down and create confusion, conflicts and heart-burns, should be tactfully mobilised in this effort even 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 (spiritual efforts). An intense and earnest prayer to God, Siva, will save the situation by getting it sublimated. The conquest of Māra by the Buddha or Satan by Christ, can be understood in this light. Once the worst is over, the spiritual aspirant will gradually start reaping the benefits of his efforts in the form of Siddhis (powers), psychic or other¬wise. Kāmadhenus and Kalpavṛkṣas can mean such powers. This will be crowned with success when he gets a vision of the all-pervading cosmic energy (Lakṣmī) resulting in immortal bliss (amṛta).


  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore