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Churning of the Ocean

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An Epic and Purāṇic myth telling how the devas (gods) and daityas (demons) churned the primeval ocean at the beginning of time to obtain amṛta, the nectar of immortality, and, through the chaos caused, brought about the secondary creation and ordering of the world. In the earliest extant version, given in the Ādi Parvan of the Mahābhārata, the gods and demons initially co-operate, using Mount Mandara as a churning stick, with its tip placed on the back of the tortoise (Viṣṇu as Kūrma according to some accounts), and the serpent king Vāsuki as a cord. The ocean becomes milk, from which Soma, the sun, and other personified deities appear, as well as the elephant, Airāvata. The ocean then gives up the kālakūṭa (halāhala) poison, which Śiva nullifies by holding it in his throat before swallowing it, thus earning the epithet ‘Blue-throated’ (Nīlakaṇṭha). After further creation, Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, appears holding the amṛta in a pot. To prevent the demons acquiring it, Nārāyaṇa (Viṣṇu) takes the form of the enchantress Mohinī, and seduces the demons who hand over the amṛta. Mohinī then gives it to the gods to drink. This sets off a cataclysmic battle, which the gods eventually win. The nectar of immortality is given into the care of Viṣṇu. The myth has proved very popular with artists.

Subjects: Religion

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