The Churning of the Sea of Milk—Legend has it. . .

Aarna Pal-Yadav, Columnist

Once upon a time, the great Hindu Sage Durvasa was strolling through the forest with a garland of flowers, blessed by Goddess Laxmi—Lady of Prosperity—herself. There, he found Lord Indra—King of the Heavens—riding his white elephant, Airavat. In a show of respect, Durvasa offered Indra the garland and Indra accepted it with a smile, placing the gift atop Airavat’s head. But silly Airavat started shaking his head, throwing the flowers to the ground, and stomped on the garland.

Although Airavat meant no harm—maybe he just didn’t like the smell of those flowers—Durvasa was enraged. He told Indra that by allowing his creature to trample Luxmi’s gift, he had offended the Lady of Prosperity herself, a terrible offense that would only bring him misery. Indra knew that without Luxmi’s blessing, his wealth would fade and his power over the Heavens would crumble. Ashamed and terrified, Indra begged for forgiveness, but only Vishnu—the Preserver of Worlds—could save him now. 

Without Luxmi’s support, the Heavens were reduced to ruins: powerless without the Lady of Prosperity’s aid, Indra watched helplessly as the Demons attacked the gods and took control of the Kingdom of Heaven. So, the gods, led by Indra, went to Vishnu to look for a solution, some way to take back control of Heavens and restore Indra to his Throne.

Vishnu clearly explained that Indra gravely offended Luxmi when Airavat forsake her gift, so she retreated deep into the Sea of Milk. The only way to take back the Heavens was through the Samudra Manthan, the Churning of the Sea, which could return the Lady of Prosperity to this world and bring up Amrit, the nectar of immortality, from the bottom of the sea; with Luxmi’s blessing and the power granted to the gods by Amrit, they could defeat the Demons and take back their Kingdom. 

The gods decided to use the Mandara mountain as a churning rod and Vasuki—King of Serpents—as a rope to perform the Churning of the Sea. But, even with the power of all the gods, it would’ve been enough to restore Luxmi and Amrita to this world. So, Indra went to the Demons and offered them a sip of Amrita if they helped perform the Churning; eager for a chance at immortality, the Demons readily agreed.

The gods and Demons worked together, placing Mandara in the middle of the Sea and wrapping Vasuki around the mountain: the gods held Vasuki’s tail and the Demons held Vasuki’s head. Slowly, the gods and Demons alternated in pulling Vasuki towards themselves, starting the Churning of the Sea. But Mandara—heavy as a mountain, it was—started to sink, so Vishnu took his second incarnation, the Sea Turtle, and placed himself under Mandara; Vishnu’s impenetrable shell provided a base upon which the gods and Demons could continue to rotate Mandara, without it sinking. 

Suddenly, Vasuki spit out Halahala, the most terrible of poisons that would unravel the threads of the universe. The gods and Demons turned to Shiva—the Destroyer of Worlds—to save them; Shiva drank the poison which, although it didn’t harm him, left a mark on his throat—from then on, he was known as Neelakantha, the one with the blue throat. 

So, the gods and Demons continued the Churning of the Sea for many years, until the Sea of Milk finally returned its precious gems to this world. First came Uchhaishravas, the divine seven-headed cow, then Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree, then Kamdhenu, the wish-granting cow, then the Apsaras, the divine damsels, and finally, Luxmi emerged, standing upon her Lotus. 

The gods celebrated the Lady of Luxury’s return, singing and dancing in her honor. Varuna—King of the Oceans—claimed Luxmi as his daughter and gave her a garland, not unlike the one that started this whole mess. Luxmi placed the garland around Vishnu’s neck and so they were wed, ensuring the continued prosperity of the Heavens. 

But what about the Demons? Suddenly, Lord Dhanwantri—the Divine Physician—appeared with Amrita, which he gave to each of the gods until none was left for the Demons. Powerless against the now immortal gods, the Demons fled the Heavens and all was restored to the proper order.