Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Amritam included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Amṛtam

A delicious and precious food obtained from the ocean of Milk when the Devas and Asuras churned it. In Chapter 152 of Agni Purāṇa, the word "Mṛtam" is defined as wealth received by begging and "Amṛtam" as wealth received without begging, and "Prāmṛtam" as another kind of wealth obtained without begging.

Cause of Kṣīrābdhi-mathanam.

(Churning of the Sea of Milk)—Once when Maharṣi Durvāsas was travelling through a forest, he met the Apsarā woman, Menakā, with a garland of Kalpaka flowers in her hand. The fragrance of the flowers filled the whole forest. Durvāsas approached Menakā and requested her to give the garland to him. The Vidyādharī (Apsarā woman) prostrated before the Maharṣi with reverence and presented the garland to him. Wearing that garland on his hair, Durvāsas went to devaloka.

There he saw Indra riding on his elephant, Airāvata, accompanied by his retinue of Devas. The Maharṣi took the rare garland from his head and presented it to Indra, the King of Devas. Indra received the garland and placed it on Airāvata’s head. The elephant was attracted by the fragrance of the garland and took it in its trunk, examined it by smelling it and then threw it on the ground.

Durvāsas, who became angry at the way in which his garland was slighted by Indra said to him: "Since you have treated my garland with disrespect, the glory and prosperity of devaloka will perish!" On hearing the curse, Indra alighted from the elephant, frightened. He begged pardon of the Maharṣi. The furious Muni continued: "I am not soft-hearted; nor am I of a forgiving nature. Other Munis may forgive. Remember, I am Durvāsas. You have become so haughty because other Munis like Vasiṣṭha and Gautama have been flattering you too much." Having said this Durvāsas went his way. Indra returned to Amarāvatī.

From that day the glory of devaloka began to decline. The three worlds became dull. Even the plants and shrubs began to wither. The performance of yāgas came to an end. The Devas began to be affected by the infirmities of old age. Taking advantage of this situation, the Asuras started preparations for opposing the Devas. Under the oppression of the Asuras, the Devas groaned in distress. Led by Agni Deva they sought refuge under Brahmā. Brahmā led them to Mahāviṣṇu. They all joined in praising Viṣṇu who appeared and told them like this: "O Gods! I shall enhance your glory. Do as I tell you. Along with the Asuras bring all kinds of medicinal herbs and deposit them in the ocean of Milk. Obtain Amṛtam from it by churning it with Mahāmeru as the churning staff and Vāsuki as the rope. The Amṛtam (Amṛta) which will be produced by churning the Milk sea, will make you strong and deathless. I shall see that the Asuras will share in your troubles but not in enjoying Amṛtam."

Churning of the Milk Sea.

After Viṣṇu had vanished, the Devas made a treaty with the Asuras and began to work for getting Amṛtam. All of them joined together in bringing various kinds of medicinal herbs and after putting them in the Milk sea which was as clear as the cloudless sky, began to churn it, using Manthara Mountain as the churning staff and snake Vāsuki as the rope. The party of Devas was posted at the tail-end of Vāsuki while the Asuras took their stand at the head. The Asuras became enervated by the fiery breath coming out of Vāsuki’s mouth. The clouds which were blown by that breath invigorated the Devas.

Mahāviṣṇu transformed himself into a tortoise, and sitting in the middle of the Milk Sea served as the foundation for the Manthara Mountain, the churning staff. Assuming another form, invisible both to Devas and Asuras, Mahāviṣṇu pressed down the Manthara Mountain from above.

While churning the Milk Sea like this, the first object that rose to the surface was Kāmadhenu. Both Devas and Asuras were strongly attracted towards Kāmadhenu While all were standing spellbound, Vāruṇīdevī with her enchanting dreamy eyes next appeared on the surface. Pārijātam was the third to appear. Fourth, a group of Apsarā women of marvellous beauty floated up. The Moon appeared as the fifth. Śiva received the Moon. The venom which came out of the Milk Sea as the sixth item, was absorbed by Nāgas. After that arose Bhagavān Dhanvantari, dressed in pure white robes and carrying a Kamaṇḍalu in his hand filled with Amṛtam. All were delighted at this sight. Next Mahālakṣmī made her appearance in all her glory with a lotus in her hand and seated in an open lotus flower. Gandharvas sang celestial songs in her presence; Apsarā women danced. For her bath, the Gaṅgā river arrived there with her tributaries. The Milk Sea itself took on physical form and offered her a garland of everfresh lotus flowers. Brahmā bedecked her with ornaments. After that Lakṣmīdevī, fully adorned in all her magnificent jewels, in the presence of all Devas, joined the bosom of Mahāviṣṇu. The Asuras were displeased at it. They snatched the pot of Amṛtam from Dhanvantari and fled away.

How Amṛtam was recovered.

With the loss of Amṛtam, the Devas were in a fix. They began to consider how the pot of Amṛtam could be recovered. Accordingly Mahāviṣṇu transformed himself into a celestial virgin, Mohinī, of extraordinary beauty. She approached the Asuras as a shy girl. The Asuras were enchanted by her surpassing beauty. They asked her, "Who are you?" Looking down on the ground, Mohinī replied: "I am the little sister of Dhanvantari. By the time I came out of the Milk Sea, the Devas and Asuras had already gone. Being lonely I am going about in search of a suitable mate."

On hearing her words, the Asuras began to make friends with her one by one, determined not to waste this opportunity. They told her that she should distribute Amṛtam to all of them and in the end she should marry one of them. Mohinī agreed, but added: "All of you should close your eyes. I shall serve Amṛtam to all. He who opens his eyes last, must serve Amṛtam to me and he will marry me".

All of them accepted this condition. They sat in front of Mohinī with closed eyes. In a moment Mohinī left the place with the pot of Amṛtam and went to devaloka.

Rāhu’s neck is cut.

When the Asuras opened their eyes, Mohinī was not to be seen. Finding that they were betrayed, they were in great perplexity. All of them pursued Mohinī to devaloka. Devas had put the Sun and Moon gods on guard duty at the gates of devaloka. At the instance of the Asuras, Rāhu in disguise entered the divine assembly chamber. The Sun and Moon gods detected him and Viṣṇu with his weapon, Sudarśana Cakra cut open his neck. Swearing that he would wreak vengeance on the Sun and Moon Rāhu returned. In the 8th Skandha of Bhāgavata it is said that even now from time to time Rāhu swallows the Sun and Moon, but they escape through the open gash in his neck and this is known as solar eclipse and lunar eclipse.

Defeat of the Asuras.

Indra and all other gods took Amṛtam. The enraged Asuras attacked the gods, who had gained strength and vigour by taking Amṛtam. The Asuras were driven away in all directions. All the three worlds began to enjoy glory and prosperity again.


The story of how the deadly poison, Kālakūṭa arose at the churning of the ocean of Milk, is given in Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 18, Verses 42-45, as follows: After many precious things had come up Kālakūṭa poison with fumes and flames, appeared on the surface of the ocean. Its strong smell caused a stupor in all the three worlds. Fearing that the world will perish, Brahmā requested Śiva to swallow that poison. Śiva gulped it down, but stopped it in his throat. From that day he became "Nīlakaṇṭha".

The story of Airāvata.

Indra’s tusker Airāvata was responsible for the churning of the ocean of Milk. But in the Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 18, Verse 42 it is said that a white elephant with four tusks arose during the churning of the ocean of Milk and that Devendra caught and tamed it. This is an obvious contradiction. Besides, in Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Araṇyakāṇḍa, 14th Sarga, the wounded Jaṭāyu describing his family history to Śrī Rāma, gives the following account about the origin of Airāvata:

Kaśyapa, one of the Prajāpatis, married the eight daughters of Dakṣa. One of them named Krodhavaśā had ten daughters by Kaśyapa. They were: Mṛgī, Mrgamadā, Hari, Bhadramadā, Mātaṅgī, Śārdūli, Śvetā, Surabhi, Surasā and Kadru. Of them Bhadramadā gave birth to a daughter, Irāvati. The tusker Airāvata is Irāvatī’s son.

An explanation for this discrepancy may be seen in Viṣṇu Purāṇa, 3rd Section, Chapter 1. Now six Manvantaras have passed (See 'MANVANTARA'). This is the seventh Manvantara. Each Manvantara has a new Indra. According to this, different Indras have their own Airāvatas. This is the only explanation for this apparent contradiction.

Amṛtam and Garuḍa.

There is another story about Amṛtam which says that Garuḍa once went to devaloka and brought Amṛtam from there to be given to the Nāgas, but Devendra came down and took it back. This story is given in Mahābhārata from Chapter 27 onwards. Vinatā, a wife of Kaśyapa gave birth to Garuḍa and Kadru and her sister gave birth to the Nāgas. Once there was a dispute between Vinatā and Kadru. Vinatā said that the hairs on the tail of Uccaiśravas, Devendra’s horse, were white but Kadru asserted that they were black. To settle the dispute they made a bet. The condition was that the loser must become the servant maid of the winner. As instructed by Kadru, some of the Nāgas went in advance and hung down from the tail of Uccaiśśravas, thus giving the false appearance of a tail with black hairs. By this trick Vinatā lost the bet and had to become Kadru’s servant maid. As a result of it, the task of looking after Kadru’s children became Garuḍa’s duty. Kadru told him that if he fetched Amṛtam from devaloka and gave it to the Nāgas, she was prepared to release him from the bondage. So Garuḍa flew up to devaloka, fought with the gods and defeated them. He returned with the pot of Amṛtam and gave it to the Nāgas. The Nāgas went to take their bath after placing the pot on darbha grass spread on the floor. Just then Devendra swooped down and carried away the pot of Amṛtam to devaloka. When the Nāgas returned after their purifying bath, the pot was not to be seen. In their greed they began to lick the darbha grass on which the pot was placed. The sharp edge of the grass cut their tongues into two. This is why the Nāgas (snakes) came to have forked tongues.

Amṛtam which has been thus recovered after many such adventures, is still preserved carefully in devaloka. [(1) Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 17. (2) Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 27, verse 16. (3) Mahābhārata, Ādī Parva, Chapter 30, Verse 2. (4) Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Araṇya Kāṇḍa, 35th Sarga. (5) Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Section 1, Chapter 9. (6) Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 152. (7) Bhāgavata, 8th Skandha. (8) Uttara Rāmāyaṇa.]

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