Samudra Manthan

Samudra Manthan
Sagar Manthan

Samudra Manthan - Story and its Spiritual Meaning

Samudra Manthan also known as Sagar Manthan, Amrit Manthan, Ksheer Sagar Manthan, is one of the most significant episodes that led to the birth of divine goddesses, angels, and also many precious valuables. This remarkable event of the Churning of the Milky Ocean finds its mention in the Bhagavat Purana, Vishnu Purana, and the Mahabharata. The literal translation of the words ‘Samudra Manthan’ means churning of the sea. The word Samudra means ‘ocean’ and Manthan means ‘Churning’. 


Lord Indra is highly revered in the Vedas, as the king of heavens, thunder, storms, river flows, lightning, rains, and war. Once Lord Indra was riding on his elephant Airavata and came across Sage Durvasa. Sage Durvasa offered the king an auspicious garland which was given to him by a nymph. Lord Indra accepted the garland and placed it on the trunk of His elephant Airavata. The elephant threw the garland on the ground. On witnessing this, Sage Durvasa was angered as the garland was not an ordinary garland but it was the abode of Sri (fortune and riches). Outraged with this act of pride, Sage Durvasa cursed Lord Indra and all the other Gods that they would lose all their powers and would be bereft of all their energies, fortunes, and strength.

Post this incident, devas (gods) lost all their powers and started losing all the battles to the asuras (demons). Asura Bali won all the battles against devas and soon gained control over the entire universe. This created a tensed situation amongst the gods and thus, all devas went up to Lord Vishnu to resolve this issue. Lord Vishnu advised the devas that only the elixir that resided at the bottom of the Ksheer Sagar also known as the milky ocean can restore back their lost strength and power. It was impossible for the Gods to churn such a vast ocean alone hence, devas formed an alliance of sharing the nectar of immorality with the asuras in order to convince them to jointly churn the Milky Ocean.

Churning the Ocean of Milk was an elaborate and tedious task. In order to churn the ocean, mount Mandara was used as the churning rod and the snake god Vasuki was used as the churning rope. The demons (Asuras) demanded to hold the head of the snake, while the Devas, agreed to hold the snake’s tail. Mountain Mandara began to sink when it was placed in the ocean. After learning this, Lord Vishnu took the form of Kurma (turtle) and took Mountain Mandara on his back to offer support to the mountain so that the churning event could process with ease. The fumes that were emitted by the Snake, god Vasuki poisoned the Asuras but despite this, the asuras and the devas pulled the snake back and forth causing the mountain to rotate, which in turn churned the ocean.

During the churning, many things came out of the ocean. Fourteen ratnas (gems) emerged from the ocean that was divided amongst the devatas and the asuras. Some of these things comprised of the wish-granting cow named Kamadhenu, which was given to the sages by Lord Vishnu. A 7-headed horse named Uchhaishravas also emerged from the ocean which was taken by the demons/asuras. The Parijaat, a tree that always blossomed was taken to heaven by the gods. Another tree that produces alcohol and wine named Varuni was taken by the asuras, then emerged Goddess of wealth Lakshmi, who chose to marry Lord Vishnu. Later, the Apsaras various divine nymphs like Rambha, Menaka, Punjisthala, etc emerged and selected the mighty Gandharvas as their consorts. Then Varuni the goddess of water also emerged and accepted the Asuras. Also, Chandra, the Moon emerged from the churning of the ocean which was adorned by Lord Shiva, and finally, Dhanvantari, the divine physician emerged, holding a pot of nectar.

Looking at the pot of elixir, devas and asuras both began to fight. Vishnu’s eagle, Garuda took the pot and flew away. A few drops of nectar fell in Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik, where the ‘Kumbh Mela’ is celebrated every 12 years. One of the asuras somehow got hold of the pot. The gods now tensed turned towards Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu disguised Himself as a beautiful woman named Mohini distracted the asuras, and said that She would distribute the nectar equally between the gods and demons. Mohini started serving the gods with nectar first.

There was a witty asura named Rahu who disguised himself as deva and joined the line of the gods in order to receive the nectar. As soon as Rahu drank some nectar, the Sun god Surya and the moon god Chandra noticed that Rahu was disguised as a God and they immediately informed the same to Mohini who quickly beheaded the asura with Sudarshan Chakra before the nectar could pass the asura's throat. But the asura had already consumed a few drops of the elixir which made his body (cut in two parts) immortal.

From that day onwards the head of the asura was called Rahu and his body was called Ketu. By the time the rest of the asuras realized that the beautiful maiden Mohini was actually Lord Vishnu, the nectar had been distributed to the devtas. The rejuvenated devas were able to defeat the asuras in battle and regained their glory.

One of the many things that emerged from the churning of the Ocean of Milk was the lethal poison known as Halahala. The poison was so dreadful that it could destroy the entire creation. Fearing this, the Gods approached Lord Shiva to save the world from being destroyed. Lord Shiva decided to consume the poison, As soon as he drank the Halahala, His consort Goddess Parvati placed her hand on Lord Shiva’s throat in order to prevent the poison from spreading in Shiva’s body. Shiva’s throat turned blue and from then onwards He was known as Neelakantha (the blue-throated one). 
A panoramic picture of the Samudra Manthan scene taken at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok
A panoramic picture of the Samudra Manthan scene taken at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok


The Devas and the Asuras represent the positives and negatives of one’s own self. It represents how to achieve self-realization, one must control both sides of his self and balance them in order to reach the goal
  • The Mandara Mountain (Mana – mind; Dhara – in one line or flow) symbolizes concentration.
  • Vishnu’s Kurma Avatar – symbolizes the withdrawal of one’s senses – just like a tortoise retracts its head under its shell. It symbolizes contemplation through meditation and concentration.
  • Vasuki the serpent king – was used as the churning rope, and it signifies the desire to attain the nectar of immortality. It’s as if the Devas and Asuras, churned their mind with a rope of desire.
  • The Ocean of Milk – is the collective human consciousness or the mind.
  • Halahal the poison – Represents the suffering and pain that comes to the fore when one goes through severe penance. As the Devas and the Asuras (the positives and the negatives of one’s self), churned the ocean of milk (the mind) for the nectar of immortality (self-realisation), with Mount Mandara (concentration) resting on Vishnu’s Kurma Avatar (withdrawing their senses), using Vasuki (desire) as the churning rope, the first thing that came out, was the Halahal poison (pain and suffering) which had to be resolved for further progress.
Here’s where Lord Shiva comes in. His consuming the poison symbolizes that to resolve the pain and suffering that has resulted out of severe concentration and penance, one needs the qualities of Lord Shiva himself: courage, compassion, willingness, initiative, simplicity, austerity, detachment et al.

The precious objects that came out of the ocean of milk represent the psychic or spiritual powers that one is rewarded with, after he continues his penances, having resolved pain and suffering.  The Devas and the Asuras distributing these gifts of the oceans symbolize that one needs to use these gifts for the common welfare and not for one’s personal gains. Only then, could they progress in the epic churning project.

Dhanvantari symbolizes health – implying that immortality (or to be more practical, longevity) or in this case, self-realization can only be obtained through a state of health. The body and mind must be in a state of perfect health for the attainment of this goal.

Mohini – is symbolic of delusion or pride. Once they were very close to their goal, the Devas and the Asuras succumbed to their pride and were deluded. They were thus, led astray. Thus, pride must be overcome before the final truth is attained. The Amrit or the nectar of immortality that is finally obtained is symbolic of self-realization after one has given up his/her pride.


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