THE CHURNING OF THE OCEAN (Samudra Manthan) – From the Bhagavata Purana

Hari Om


(From the Bhagavata Purana)

In the fight with the Asuras, the Devas lost their lives. They fell down and did not rise up again. By the curse of Durvâsas, Indra and the three Lokas became shorn of Srî or Lakshmî (wife of Vishnu in Vaikuntha: Preservative energy). Consequently there were no performances such as Yajna. (Durvasas once saw Indra on the elephant Airavata. He gave him the garland of his own neck. Indra proud of his own Srî or wealth, placed the garland on the head of the elephant. The elephant threw it down and tore it to pieces with his feet. Durvâsas got angry and cursed Indra that he and his Trilokî were to lose Srî). Indra did not know what to do and the Devas all went over to the seat of Brahmâ on the top of Meru. Brahmâ, saw the Lokapâlas lifeless and lustreless, as it were, the Lokas beset with evils and the Asuras full of life and energy. He meditated on Parama Purasha with concentrated mind and then addressed the Devas thus.

“Purusha has resort to Rajas, Satva and Tamas respectively for Creation, Preservation and Dissolution. This is just the time for Preservation. For the good of all beings, He shall now be possessed of Satva. So let us take the shelter of the guide of the universe. He shall now befriend the Devas and do what is best for us.”

The Devas with Brahmâ then went to Ajita. Brahmâ prayed to Him as the Preservative aspect of Virât Purusha. Vishnu appeared before the Devas and addressed them thus: —

“The Asuras favored by Sukra are now victorious. Make peace with them so long as you are not strong yourselves. Lose no time in churning the Milk Ocean for Amrita in concert with the Asuras. By drinking Amrita even dead persons become immortal. Throw all creepers and herbs into that ocean. Make Mandâra mountain the churning rod and make Vasûki the rope. Then with my help, churn the ocean with all diligence. The Asuras shall have all the trouble to themselves, while you shall reap the fruits. If the Asuras ask for any concession, you had better approve of that. Do not be afraid of any poison that may arise. Have neither greed nor anger nor desire in respect of the things that will arise.”

So saying Vishnu disappeared. The Devas went to the Asura King Bali and Indra explained to him what Vishnu had said about the churning. The Asuras approved of the plan and made friends with the Devas. They then went together and uprooted the golden mountain Mandâra and carried it towards the ocean. After going a long way, they felt fatigued and dropped the mountain. Several Devas and Asuras were crushed by its fall. Vishnu appeared on Garuda and revived them all. He then easily placed the mountain on the back of Garuda and went towards the ocean, followed by the Devas and Asuras.

The Serpent King Vasûki was assured of a share in Amrita and he consented to become the rope. The Mountain was then surrounded by Vasûki. Vishnu followed by the Devas held the mouth of the serpent. But the Asuras said: — “We have learned the Vedas, we know the Sâstras, it is improper for us to hold the tail of a serpent. We will not do that. It is inauspicious.” Vishnu smiled. He and the Devas gave up the mouth end and held the tail.

The churning then commenced. The Mountain was however heavy and it sank down to the bottom of the ocean. The Devas and Asuras became mournful. Vishnu then assumed the form of a Tortoise, went into the water and raised the Mountain. He then remained like a Dvipa one lakhsa Yojanas in expanse with the mountain on his back. He infused his influence all round. Energised by Him, the Devas and Asuras vigorously carried on the churning. At last fire and smoke came out from the thousand mouths of Vasûki. This overpowered the Asuras and the Devas — but the Devas were refreshed by clouds, rains, and winds sent by Vishnu.

After a good deal of churning, poison came out first. It spread out on all sides and the Prajâpatis and their progeny in terror took the shelter of Śiva. Śiva felt compassion for them and with the approval of Durgâ, he drank up the whole of the poison. It made his throat blue.

The Churning recommenced. Out came Surabhi (the fabulous cow of plenty). The Vedic Rishis took that Cow for the necessaries of Yajna. Then came the horse Uchchaih-Sravas. Bali desired to have it. But Indra as directed by Vishnu made no desire. Then came the elephant Airavata, then the 8 space elephants and their 8 female partners.

Next arose Kaustubha, the celebrated lotus-colored gem. Vishnu wished to have it as an ornament for His breast. Next came Pârijâta, then the Apsaras.

Illumining all sides with her lustre arose Lakshmî. All paid homage to her. She looked on all sides, but found none, whom she could accept. If there was an ascetic he could not control his anger. If there was a Jnâni (sophist) he could not get over attachments. There might be a Mahâtmâ, but he had not conquered his passion of love. How could he be called Îsvara, who depended on others, (and no one but Îsvara could claim Lakshmî). If there was Dharma any where, there was not friendliness for all beings. If there was sacrifice, it was not for liberation. There was power but it could not resist the flow of time. If there was one void of likes and dislikes, he did not take a companion. If there was any one long lived, he had neither good nature (Sila) nor auspiciousness (Mangala.) If one had good nature and auspiciousness, he was not long lived. If one had all the Virtues he was out of his element with her. If he was all that she wanted he did not want her.

Considering everything, Lakshmî at last accepted Vishnu for her husband. He placed her on His breast. She favored the Devas, so they became possessed of all the virtues. She showed indifference to the Asuras, so they lost their might, energy and modesty and became greedy.

Then arose a lotus eyed girl called Vâruni (Spirituous liquor.) The Asuras accepted her.

Then arose Dhanvantari, part of a part of Vishnu, with a pot of Amrita in hand. Seeing the pot of Amrita, the greedy Asuras took that by force. They quarrelled with each other, some saying “First myself,” “First myself,” others saying “Not you” “Not you,” whilst the weaker amongst them finding that they were going to be deprived, cried out in jealousy “The Devas are also entitled to an equal share. They have also toiled with us.”

At this time Vishnu became a most beautiful young woman. She filled the hearts of the Asura Chiefs with passion. They asked the tempting girl to settle their differences and to make a proper distribution of Amrita amongst them. “But how can you trust a woman,” said the girl. But the Asuras had fallen in love with her, so they made over the Amrita pot to her without further thought. She consented to distribute Amrita on the condition that the Asuras should put up with whatever she did, right or wrong. The Asuras consented. She then made the Devas and Asuras sit in two separate rows. She distributed the whole of the Amrita amongst the Devas. Only one Asura, named Râhu, sat with the Devas. The Sun and the Moon pointed him out to the girl Vishnu. Vishnu then and there severed the head from the body of the Asura, but as the head had touched Amrita, it became immortal. Brahmâ made it a planet. Râhu still pursues the Sun and Moon at eclipses out of enmity.

When the Amrita was wholly spent, Vishnu assumed His own form and in the presence of all left the place on the back of Garuda.

The Asuras found they had been deceived and they became very angry. They could not bear the success of their enemies but they instantly engaged in fight with them. The fight was personal between the chiefs of both sides. (It is interesting to note the antagonistic names, as they give the correspondences between the Deva and Asura chiefs.) Indra fought with Bali, Kârtikeya with Târaka, Varuna with Heti, Mitra with Praheti, Yâma with Kalanâbha, Visvakarmâ with Mâyâ, Tvastri with Sâmbara, Savitri with Virochana, Aparajita with Namuchi. The Asvini Kumâras with Vrishaparvan, Sûrya (Sun) with the hundred sons of Bali, Vâna and others, Chandra (Moon) with Râhu, Vâyu with Puloman, Bhadra Kali with Sumbha and Nishumbha, Vrishâkapi with Jambha, Vibhavasu with Mahisha, the sons of Brahmâ with Ilvala and Vatapi, Brihaspati with Sukra, Sani with Naraka, the Maruts with the Nivâtakavachas, the Vasus with the Kaleyas, the Visvadevas with the Poulamas and the Rudras with the Krōdhavaśas. (Those who want to make a deep study will do well to note these correspondences as they will serve to explain points which I have not touched upon as beyond the scope of the present work).

The Asuras used all the weapons of tempting Mâyâ and conquered the Devas, Vishnu then came to their rescue and they became victorious (The details of the fight might be interesting from an occult point of view, for which the reader must refer to the original.)

Śiva heard that Vishnu had assumed an enchanting female form. To satisfy his curiosity he went to Him with Bhâvanî. Vishnu assumed that form again to satisfy Śiva. The Astral Lord became passionate and ran after that female form and embraced her. The female Vishnu got out of the embrace and re-assumed His own form. Śiva was then restored to himself.


We have already seen that the ascent of spirit commenced in the Vaivasvata Manvantara. If the fourteenth Manvantara or the second half of the Seventh Round he left out of consideration, as the Manvantara of Dissolution or Pralaya, the middle of the remaining 13 Manvantaras will be in the Vaivasvata Manvantara. But the ascent could not commence without preparation. That preparation was made in the Châkshusha Manvantara or during the latter half of the Third Round.

Srî or Lakshmî is the Sâtvic energy of preservation. This energy was so much overpowered by Materiality, that she was not to be found in Trilokî. The spiritual forces, the Devas, lost life and energy. The Asuras were at the height of their power. But as the ascending arc was near at hand, the Devas were promised Amrita i.e. immortality for the remaining part of the Kalpa. But that Amrita was to be obtained, the arc of spiritual evolution was to be raised by the churning of the ocean of Milk.

The ocean of Milk does not appertain to Jambu Dwipa, but it is the ocean of Saka Dwipa. The seven oceans are transformations of Prakriti, differing in the admixture of Satva, Rajas and Tamas and determining the character of the globe they surround. Vishnu, as the Third Purusha, is the divine source of evolution in every Jiva. The seat of that Vishnu is the ocean of Milk, the ocean where Satva prevails.

It is Vishnu who from His seat in the Ocean of Milk sends down Prânic Energy and the mineral becomes a vegetable. He sends down the power of perception and then the power of conception and the vegetable becomes an animal and at last a man. Throughout this course of evolution, there is a development of the self element in us. There is no idea of self in the mineral or in the vegetable. It faintly asserts itself or rather makes an effort to assert itself in the animal kingdom. The early history of humanity is the development of the selfish element in him. The Jiva has two sides in himself and non-self. The self side is caused by limitation due to his own senses They put him in contact with the outside world, and make him a centre of sense perceptions. He becomes lost entirely in the sense products, which form a world by themselves. The non-self side of a Jiva, is his spiritual nature. He begins with this spiritual nature. But the development of selfishness eclipses this nature, the true, the real nature of Jiva, and he identifies himself entirely with the acquired and false nature.

Then comes a crisis in the evolution of Jivas. Were men to be lost for ever to their spiritual, their real nature? Were they to be tempted away by the senses, which had done their work of training, past all chance of return?

Vishnu, the God of human evolution, willed otherwise. He caused a re-adjustment of the Daivic and Âsuric forces, and the Devas by His help got the better of the Asuras. This is the churning of the Ocean of Milk. It averted a crisis and is therefore a great event in the history of the Universe.

The Asura element could not be altogether wiped away. For the Deva or spiritual nature evolves out of Asura or selfish and material nature. Unselfishness grows out of selfishness, spirituality rises out of materiality.

In the act of churning, the Devas could not do without the Asuras. Churning itself, implies the action and reaction of two contending forces. “Make peace with them, as long as you are not strong yourselves.” The compromise of the Devas with the Asuras is the development of spiritual faculties out of the personal element in man. It is the grafting of higher Manas on lower Manas. The element of mind is in the Asuras as well as in the Devas. But the Asuric or lower mind thinks of self as separate from other selves. The Daivic or higher mind breaks through the trammels of personality and finds oneness all round.

To use a better expression, we shall say higher self and lower self, rather than self and non-self.

Jivas are carried on in their course of life evolution by the force of past tendencies, and nature unaided produces the personal man. But when the past tendencies are exhausted, there is nothing to keep on the Jivas in their course of evolution.

Kûrma comes to the help of humanity at this stage. He gives a new power to men, the power of discrimination. With this power men become free agents, and they become responsible for their actions. They then generate new Karma for themselves, which takes them through infinite births and becomes a most potent factor in their future evolution.

The three Purushas have three Oceans as their correspondences. The first ocean (Kârana) gives the materials of the Jiva body. The Second ocean (Garbhoda), gives the germs of all Jivas. The third (Kshira) is the ocean of Jiva evolution. This ocean is churned for the spiritual evolution of Jivas, and it yields all that is necessary for that evolution. Vishnu himself appears as Kûrma and becomes the sustaining force of that evolution.

It is a Kâlpic revolution. Vasûki sustains the earth and its inhabitants for one Kâlpic period. The thousand hoods represent the thousand Maha yugas of every Kalpa. The Asuras held the mouth end of the serpent king and the Devas held the tail end. And the Devas acted wisely. For as the Kalpa waned, they got the supremacy.

The tortoise thrusts out its limbs and draws them in. Man is drawn outside by his senses during material descent and he is drawn in by his spiritual ascent. It is by the power of discrimination when fully developed that a man returns to his higher nature.

Srî or Lakshmî is the divine energy of Vishnu. She is the Energy of preservation, of evolution and progress She works out all that is good, all that is beautiful, and all that is powerful in this Universe. The possibilities of purely material development or of Nature’s own evolution, are limited, and they are worked out in time. Then there is a void. There was this void in our universe and Trilokî become deprived of Sri. This was the curse of Durvasas, an Avatâra of Śiva.

The Churning took place as a remedy for this evil. Fresh forces had to be brought into requisition, fresh elements that could secure the spiritual evolution of the universe. Lakshmî herself reappeared in a most enchanting form, as the energy of a new evolution, the very best that man was capable of. The necessaries of this evolution also appeared and became powers in the hands of those that had to take part in the spiritual evolution of the universe.

All evolution is preceded by dissolution. Unless we give up the evil element in us, we can not acquire the good. The evil has to be destroyed and the Lord of destruction, in his infinite compassion, accepted this poison for himself, to do away with the evils of the Universe.

The Poison only opens the door for Amrita, the spiritual nectar. The famous Purusha Sukta says: — “He placed Amrita or eternal bliss in the higher three Lokas.” The Bhâgavata renders this famous saying into the eighteenth sloka of the 6th. chapter of the Second Skandha. Commenting on this sloka, Śridhara says, bliss in our Trilokî is only transitory and the dwellers of Mahar Loka have also to leave their abode for the higher Jana Loka, when they are oppressed by the fire of Kâlpic dissolution. Amrita was secured to the higher Lokas, as there is no selfishness in them. (III. 10-9.) Could the Asuras, the gods of selfishness, aspire to have life immortal and unlimited bliss. Vishnu decided otherwise.

The way was thus prepared for the Vaivasvata Manvantara, when men learned to discern between right and wrong. (Excerpts from “A Study of the Bhagavata Purana”)

GF’ Blessings.