Milk Ocean

Milk Ocean
   Between cosmic eras, Lord VISHNU is said to lie asleep on a couch made of the great snake Adishe-sha, who in turns floats upon a primordial ocean of milk. This ocean appears in another well-known Hindu myth: the churning of the MILK OCEAN by the gods and the ASURAS (the antigods).
   The story goes that the irascible sage Durvasas once obtained a beautiful garland from a woman. Seeing Indra, king of the gods, go by on his white elephant Airavata, the sage offered the garland to him. INDRA placed the garland on the head of his elephant, who immediately took it with his trunk and tossed it on the ground.
   Durvasas was outraged at this insult. He cursed Indra with the loss of his power to the asu-ras, who then triumphed over the gods. The gods went to Lord Vishnu to ask his help. Vishnu sug-gested that they go to the Milk Ocean along with the demons to churn out the powerful elixir of immortality (amrita). The demons agreed to this cooperative task, which could be accomplished if they all worked together.
   At Vishnu’s command, they gathered some herbs to throw into the ocean; took Mount Man-dara, which props up Mount Meru, as a churning stick; and used Vishnu himself, incarnated as a tortoise, as the base for churning. They used the divine serpent Vasuki as the churning rope and began to churn.
   In some versions of the story, the first thing to emerge from the churning ocean was a poison that could consume all the worlds. The gods begged SHIVA to control it, and he drank it up in one gulp. His wife, PARVATI, fearing for his life, grabbed his throat so the poison would not enter his stomach; the burn on his throat can be seen in his iconogra-phy as a dark blue marking. Fortunately, the next things to emerge from the Milk Ocean were more salubrious: Surabhi, the wish-fulfilling cow, came forth, followed by Sri, the goddess of prosperity and fortune (see LAKSHMI); Dhanavantari, the phy-sician of the gods; the Kaustubha gem that always adorns Vishnu’s chest; and other wondrous things and beings, until finally, the nectar of immortality was churned out.
   Knowing that the demons would want to seize the nectar, Vishnu took the form of the enchant-ress MOHINI, and, while the demons were mesmer-ized with her beauty, she served the nectar to the gods alone. As only the gods were now immortal, when the demons attacked them they were easily routed; the world was once again in the hands of the gods.
   Further reading: Guruseva Dasi, Churning the Milk Ocean: A Young Reader’s Edition of the Classic Story from the Puranas of Ancient India (LaCrosse, Fla.: Bhavani Books, 2002); Cornelia Dimitt, and J. A. van Buitenen, eds. and trans., Classical Hindu Mythology A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Puranic, 2d ed. (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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