Kurma Avatar – Part 3 – The churning ends


<< Part 2 of the story >>

001Thus, the gods and the asuras began churning the sea of milk with the hope of obtaining the nectar of immortality. However, since the sea-bed was muddy, mount Mandhara kept sinking into the soft mud making it almost impossible to churn effectively. Seeing this predicament, Lord Vishnu assumed the shape of a giant tortoise (Kurma) with a shell bigger than the base of the mountain. The tortoise then made its way on the sea-bed and went under the mountain and supported the same on its back. This enabled the churning of the sea of milk. However, unseen by the asuras, Vishnu used one portion of his energy in sustaining Vasuki, the serpent, and another portion to infuse vigor into the gods.

Thus churned, the following rose from sea of milk.

Surabhi, the fountain of milk and curds, which was worshipped by the gods. The gods beheld the fountain with wondrous eyes.

The Goddess Varuni, the diety of wine, her eyes rolling with intoxication.

The celestial Parijatha tree, perfuming the world with its blossoms.

The troop of Apsaras, the nymphs of heaven, endowed with celestial beauty and taste.

The cool rayed moon, which was seized by Lord Shiva.

Poison engendered by the sea, which the snake gods, the Nagas, took possession of.

Dhanwantari, wearing a white robe holding a pot of nectar in his hands. Both, the gods as well as the asuras were delighted when they saw the nectar.

Seated on a full blow lotus, the Goddess Lakshmi, rose from the waves.

The great sages prostrated before her and sang hymns in her praise, Ganga and the other rivers performed ablutions to her, the elephants of the skies taking up water in their golden vases poured pure water on her, the sea of milk in person presented her with a wreath of never fading flowers, Viswakarma, the artist of the gods, decorated her person with heavenly ornaments.

Thus, bathed, attired and adorned, in full view of the gods and asuras, Lakshmi reclined herself on Vishnu’s chest, and turned her gaze upon the gods. Since Vishnu was turned away from the asuras, they were abandoned by the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi.

MohiniIncensed by this treatment meted out to them, the asuras forcibly seized the pot of nectar from Dhanwantari’s hands, but before they could drink the same, Vishnu assuming the form of an extremely beautiful lady, Mohini, deluded them from drinking the same. Enchanted by her beauty and demeanor, the asuras didn’t realize that Mohini not only prevented them from drinking the nectar, but instead gave all of it to the gods who drank them to obtain the power of immortality.

Invigorated by the nectar, the gods then defeated the asuras in battle and drove them away to the subterraneous realms of Patala. Thus after regaining their previous glory thanked Vishnu for his assistance and resumed their reign in heaven. The sun shone with renovated splendor, the celestial bodies resumed their original orbits around him, fires blazed with power, and the minds of all living beings were filled with devotion. In a nutshell, the world was back to its happy days again.

LakshmiIndra, back in his place as king of the gods, thanked Lakshmi and sang hymns in her praise. Gratified by this praise and his devotion to her, Lakshmi granted him a boon. Indra then made two requests of the goddess, one that she would never leave the three worlds ever again and two that she would not forsake anybody who sang praises of her in the manner in which he had done just then. Lakshmi granted both boons to Indra.

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Thus ends the story of the samudra manthan from the Puranas of which the Kurma avatar is an integral part of. However, the more important part of this story deals with how the gods became immortal and how Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity becomes a permanent part of the three worlds.

Kurma Avatar – Part 2 – The churning begins


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Indra was despondent and by the time he returned to his capital city Amaravati, he was completely lost as to what he needed to do. As a result, all three worlds lost their vigor, where vegetables, plants and herbs withered and died; sacrifices no longer offered; devout exercises and practices no longer performed; men did not give charity; all the human faculties of sense were obstructed by cupidity and lust. The three worlds had a few golden rules – when there was energy there was prosperity and all energy depended on prosperity driving it more and more. And in this situation, since prosperity had deserted the three worlds, there was no energy, no excellence, no vigor or heroism among men, no courage and no strength.

deva_asura_warIn such a situation when the three worlds were divested of all prosperity and deprived of energy, the asuras (sons of Diti) and the enemies of the gods put in place their plans to end the dominance of the gods over the dominion. Given that they had been enemies of the gods since times immemorial they decided that the time was ripe for them to stamp their authority on the three worlds. And when their armies completely routed the armies of the gods and made them flee, Indra and his gods took refuge with Lord Brahma.

When Brahma heard of all that happened, he suggested that Indra approach Lord Vishnu, and accompanied Indra to the northern shore of the sea of milk where the protector of all creation resided. Pleased with the devotion and prayers of Indra, Vishnu spoke thus

“Do as I say. Join forces with the asuras and both groups should cast all sorts of medicinal herbs into the sea of milk. Then, using the mountain Mandhara as the churning stick, the serpent Vasuki as the rope, churn the sea for ambrosia. In order to convince the asuras to assist you in this endeavor, you must establish peace with them and promise to share with them an equal measure of the ambrosia.

Knowing that drinking the ambrosia, the Amrita, they will be blessed with immortality, they will surely agree to assist you in this endeavor. Rest assured Indra, I will ensure that the enemies of gods shall not drink any of the ambrosia and that their share in this endeavor will be limited to putting in only the required efforts.”

wallpaper_churning_ocean_1152x864Following Vishnu’s instructions, Indra then entered into an alliance with the asuras and they began the joint undertaking of the churning of the sea of milk. They collected various kinds of medicinal herbs and cast them into the sea. They then uprooted the mount Mandhara to use it as the staff and requested the serpent Vasuki to be the rope to churn the sea. Vishnu had asked the gods to be at the tail end of the serpent and the asuras to be near the neck and head of Vasuki. As a result the asuras were scorched by the flames emitted from the inflated hood of the serpent while rain bearing clouds were driven to the serpent’s tail due to its warm breath, which ensured that the gods were refreshed with reviving showers.

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Kurma Avatar – Part 1 – Durvasa’s anger


The Kurma (tortoise/turtle) avatar of Lord Vishnu is inextricably tied to the churning of the sea (samudra manthan) story from the Puranas. And the fact is that this story has so many things happening of which the Kurma avatar forms only a small part of. I have therefore started this story with events which lead up to the samudra manthan and go on beyond the avatar to present a logical conclusion to the story. This effectively means that this avatar will be covered in approximately three posts. I therefore request all readers to kindly bear with me and read through all three parts of this story with patience.

001

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Sage Durvasa was a son of Atri and Anusuya and was considered as an incarnation of Lord Shiva himself. He had taken a vow of insanity due to which his short temper was legendary. Even the gods and kings of the age were extremely fearful of his legendary temper and his terrible curses. In this state of insanity, even wise men were considered ‘devils’ by everybody.

Once when he was wandering the earth in his frenzied state, he suddenly saw a beautiful garland in the hands of a nymph. This garland was made with flowers from the trees of heaven and emanated an extremely fragrant smell which spread through the entire forest and enamored everybody in the surrounding vicinity with the sweetness of its fragrance.

durvasa_garlandDurvasa immediately demanded that the nymph hand over the garland to him which she reverentially did without any hesitation. He then garlanded himself and set upon continuing his journey, when he happened to come across Indra, the ruler of the three worlds (the heavens, the earth and the nether world), who was seated on an infuriated Airavata (the elephant which was his steed) and attended to by the other gods. In his angry state, the sage gave the garland to Indra, who promptly garlanded Airavata with the same. As it is, the elephant was already in an angry state of mind, and the garland served to irritate it further and it promptly took it and flung it upon the ground.

Highly incensed at this disrespectful treatment of his gift, Durvasa addressed Indra thus

“You are completely intoxicated with your power as the ruler of the three worlds and have therefore insulted this special garland which was the dwelling of Fortune (Sri). Instead of acknowledging the wonderful gift and placing it around your neck, you have misused it.

Since you have not treated this wondrous gift with the respect it deserved, your sovereignty over the three worlds shall end. You have treated me on par with other normal Brahmins and for this arrogance, you shall pay. Just like you threw the garland I gave you to the ground, your dominion over this universe also shall be destroyed.

You have offended me, Durvasa, whose temper and rage is dreaded by all created things and even me, you vile proud creature.”

Hearing these words Indra hastily descended from his elephant and immediately fell at the sage’s feet begging for his forgiveness. But despite all his excuses and prostrations Durvasa refused to withdraw his curse.

“I do not have a compassionate heart nor does forgiveness exist in my nature. Other sages and Brahmarishis may relent to your excuses and prostrations, but know this; I am Durvasa and am a stranger to remorse. I will not forget this insult nor will I forgive your transgression” he said and walked away.

<<Part 2 of the story>>

Matsya Avatar – Part 2


<<Read Part 1 of the story here>>

4444By the time he turned around and was getting ready to perform his morning puja, he once again heard the fish address him “Please help me, this vessel is not big enough for me.” Surprised, when Manu turned around, he saw that the fish had grown up to three hands in length. He then transferred the fish to another bigger vessel, and when he saw that the fish outgrew this vessel as well, he transferred it to a well. By now he was sure that this was no ordinary fish and so when the fish outgrew the well, and he had to transfer it to a pond and then to the river, he addressed it thus.

“Who are you? I have never seen or heard of such wonders in my life. Are you a demon or a rakshasa deluding me with these illusions and shape-changing? No, I don’t think you mean any harm to me. Perhaps you are Narayana himself. Please tell me the truth and put my mind at peace.”

The fish then smiled at Manu and told him that he was indeed Lord Vishnu. Overcome with joy and emotion, Manu prostrated himself before the fish and with teary eyes expressed his gratitude “O Lord, all my prayers have been answered. I am indeed blessed to have seen you with my own eyes. Please tell me what it is that I can do for you.”

Vishnu then told Manu that the whole world would soon be flooded with water and tasked him with building a ship big enough to carry one pair of every living being on earth. As soon as Manu started building the ship as per the instructions, Vishnu disappeared with the instructions that he would appear at an appropriate time when the earth was flooded and that the ship would then prove to be of use.

After Manu finished building the ship, Vishnu appeared in the shape of the same fish, except that this time he was gigantic and many more times larger than the last time that Manu had seen him. He also had a horn on his head, which was unusual for any fish. Soon, there were torrential rains all over the world which flooded the earth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpeaking loudly over the roar of the rain and the lashing floods, Vishnu instructed Manu to herd together one pair of all living beings on earth on the ship. He then instructed Manu to use his celestial snake Vasuki as a rope and tie it to the horn on his head. Vishnu then, in the form of the Matsya, guided the boat through the choppy flood waters and led the same through the pralaya (destruction) that was unfolding at that point in time. Thus, Manu’s boon which had been granted to him by Lord Brahma was fulfilled to fruition; he ended up being the one person who saved the world from pralaya.

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The above in a nutshell ends the popular depiction of the Matsya avatar of Lord Vishnu. However, sacred texts which deal with this incident go on to depict the conversation that Manu and the Matsya had when the fish was leading them through the choppy waters. This conversation forms the crux of what is termed the Matsya Purana, which forms an integral part of the Vishnu Purana.

The Matsya Purana among other things deals with various stories starting with the Creation and going on to talk about the various royal families, the duties of a householder, the story of Shiva, and various other miscellaneous stories as well.

I will try and publish posts on some of these stories from the Matsya Purana from time to time after having covered the rest of the avatars of Lord Vishnu first.

Matsya Avatar – Part 1


The various avatars that Lord Vishnu took to save the world from imminent dangers are well documented and are quite popular with all Indian mythology buffs. This next series of Purana related posts will focus on telling these stories to readers. It must be noted that I am eliminating the popular avatars such as Rama, Krishna and Buddha for obvious reasons that these are avatars whose stories are enough material for separate blogs by themselves 😀  That being said, the focus of this series of posts will be on the lesser known avatars and some interesting facets of these stories.

Without further ado, the story of the Matsya Avatar follows

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1111While the origins of the Matsya Avatar are quite hazy in terms of the fact that some sources state it to be a form of Brahma and others cite it to be that of Vishnu, I personally subscribe to the fish being an avatar of Vishnu and present a relatively hybrid version of the story from the Puranas here.

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King Manu, the seventh of his name (ie, the seventh king of his era who was called Manu), also called Vaivasvata Manu, the son of Vivasvana was just ruler. And when it was time for him to retire, he handed over the kingdom to his son and went to the foothills of Mount Malaya and started a penance in the name of Lord Brahma. Pleased with his meditation, Brahma appeared in front of him and offered him a boon. Manu replied “I am well versed with the laws of creation and am therefore aware that sooner or later there will be pralaya (widespread destruction) after which the world as we know it will no longer exist. Please grant me the boon that it will be I who will save the world when it begins afresh after the destruction.” Pleased with his devotion, Brahma granted the boon to Manu.

2222A few years passed and one day when Manu was performing his morning ablutions in a pond near his hermitage in the forest, he immersed his hands in the water so that he might offer some water as a prayer to his ancestors. When he raised his cupped hands, he noticed that a small fish was wriggling around in the water that he had collected in his palms. The fish looked at him in the eye and told him “Please do not put me back in the water. There are so many large fish in the pond that I am scared of being eaten up.” Manu was first surprised to have encountered a speaking fish and he immediately realized that this was no ordinary fish. Moved by the simple and sincere request of the fish, he put it inside his kamandalu (small jug with a spout carried by sages and holy men, to store water).

That night Manu went to sleep knowing fully well that the small fish to which he had offered protection would be safe from any dangers. However, when he woke up the next day, he heard the fish talking to him from inside the kamandalu “Please help me, your kamandalu is very small and stifling. I am unable to breathe inside this.” Hearing this, a surprised Manu went to his kamandalu and noticed that the fish has grown unusually large (upto sixteen finger lengths) in just one day. Overcoming his surprise, Manu took some water in a bigger vessel and put the fish inside that.

<<Part 2 of the story>>