Kurma Avatar-4

Having accomplished his main objective of obtaining Goddess Lakshmi’s hands in marriage, Lord Vishnu did not deviate from his duty of helping devas.

Finally came out the young and beautiful Dhanvantari with the jar of amrita in his hands. On seeing this, the Asuras started shouting “ours, ours” and even started fighting within themselves. Seeing this, Indra sought the help of Vishnu. Vishnu immediately took the form of the beautiful and enchanting Mohini. Asuras fell for her beauty and handed over the Jar to her for equal distribution.

Mohini made the cousins stand in separate lines and started the distribution with the gentle devas. The asuras were so transfixed by her beauty that they did not mind this. But one asura was indeed mindful. How could the gentle devas taste the amrita first when all the hard work was actually done by the stronger asuras? He also knew that something was amiss with the sudden appearance of such a beautiful lady. So, he switched lines and sat in the middle of the deva lines in between the sun and moon gods. When his turn came, he was served the elixir. But before he could gulp it down, he was caught in the act by the sun and the moon gods and his head was cut off by Lord Hari. But since his head had tasted amrita, it alone became immortal and started floating in the cosmos as Rahu eclipsing the sun and moon in revenge during eclipses.

Mohini made sure that the jar of amrita was empty by the time it reached the last deva. The asuras who were transfixed with her, realized very late that they had been fooled, by which time, their gentle cousins had become stronger. The asuras rushed to their king, Bali. Soon a big war erupted. But the devas were stronger and had the support of Lord Vishnu. So Bali and his asuras had to retreat out of the war.  Bali knew his time would come soon. They all reached out to their guru sukacharya who soon started his potent spells and administered medicines to rejuvenate the asura clan.

Now, what is the importance of Kurma Avatar? Why did Lord Vishnu take that form?  He himself, talks about it in Bhagavath Gita. When a tortoise faces its enemy, it retracts its entire body into its shell. Similarly we-the jeevatmas-should retract our senses when we see our eternal enemy – all the worldly pleasures and bring them out of the shell only when we see our eternal friend – the paramatma.

Are we doing it and is it possible for mere mortals like us, is a million dollar question that faces us. Anyways, we will see about what Bali did when he came out of his biding in the next few posts.

Kurma Avatar – 3

When the Lord himself took the avatar of Kurma and started churning the ocean, first came a fierce poison called halahala. It was so uncontrollable and fiercely that it started spreading to all the 3 worlds, engulfing them completely. The Brahman, along with demi-gods and demons went to Lord Shiva for help. Lord Sadashiva, who was in Kailash at that time, consented to help them. He held the poison in his palms and drank it. Halahala, being a poison, manifested its characteristics by marking Lord Shiva’s throat with the color of blue. After that incident, Lord Shiva came to be known as Neelakantan/Neelkanth. The day when this happened came to be known as pradosham which falls on the 13th day – tryodashi day-of every fortnight.

After the poison, came the cow called surabhi. It produced Yogurt, ghee and milk, all items necessary for performing Yagnas and other rituals as prescribed in the Vedas. Great sages, who knew everything about the Vedic way of life, took the cow for its purest ghee and curd.

Then came Uccaishrava which as white as the moon. King Bali, the king of asuras, wanted to have it. Although Indra would have protested under normal circumstances, did not do so according to the advice from Lord Vishnu.

Next came Airavata, the king of elephants. It was white in color and had 4 great tusks. Along with it came 8 great elephants, headed by Airavana and 8 she-elephants headed by Abhramu.

Generated next from the ocean were 2 gems – Kaustubha-maṇi and Padmarāga-maṇi. Lord Vishnu decided that they would adorn him.

Parijata tree came next. It is the flowers of this tree which decorate the celestial planets. The tree is also called Kalpavriksha tree. It is said that the Parijata tree is a wish fulfilling tree.

After Parijata tree, Apsaras came into being as a result of the churning of the ocean.

Then came Goddess Rama or Lakshmi. Everyone present there was bewildered on seeing the exquisite beauty and opulence of the Goddess. Lord Indra got her a seat. All the great rivers like Ganges and Yamuna got her water. The great sages who were present performed her bathing ceremony, according to the Vedic rituals. All the elephants carried sacred water and sprayed on the Goddess. All the rain clouds present there, sounded like the various instruments like mridangas, panavas, murajas, anakas and the conch shells. The sound thus generated was tumultuous and uplifting at the same time.  After the sacred bathing ceremony, Varuna gave her the silk garment along with the flower garland. Viswakarma presented her with various ornaments. After all the ceremonies, she approached Lord Vishnu and placed the garland around his neck and took him to be her husband.  Thus concluded Lakshmi Kalyanam – the main objective for which Vishnu took Kurma Avatar.

If noticed, one would observe that everything that came out of the ocean till then and everyone who was present there contributed to the celestial marriage of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. But then, there was still no sign of amrita. Now that his original objective has been fulfilled, would Lord Vishnu continue to help the devas and asuras to achieve theirs?

Kurma Avatar – 2

Lord Vishnu who took the Kurma Avatar, was actually enjoying the Samudra Manthan so much. Why would he not, when the movement of such a big mountain with its base on his back was actually making him feel very sleepy. Add to this, the upward and the downward movement of the waters of the ocean that made him feel that he was actually reclining in his own waterbed – A very rare moment for him indeed when during one avatar of the Dashavatar, He gets to rest and enjoy the whole thing!

The Supreme Being entered the demons as the quality of passion for amrita and into the devas as the quality of goodness to sustain their lives. Due to this, they were recharged and the churning went on in full swing. Soon enough, the results of the Samudra manthan started showing on the demi-gods and the demons. Vasuki was billowing smoke and fire through his mouth and the demons were worst affected as they were holding Vasuki’s head. They appeared like Sarala trees caught in a heavy forest fire and were soon drained of all their energy. The impact of the smoke also reached the demi-gods holding the tail. Their bodily luster slowly faded and they became black with smoke and vapour and gradually they weakened.

Sensing their despair, Lord Vishnu himself appeared on top of the Mandara Mountain, took hold of Vasuki and started churning the ocean himself. He appeared like a blackish cloud which would bring rain. He wore yellow garments. His eyes were pinkish in colour and his hair rolled over his shoulders. He was called Ajita in this avatar, when he was personally churning the ocean. Just sometime back, he was reclining in his waterbed and enjoying the whole thing. Now he is into the thick of the action. That is the beauty of his Dashavatar. Ain’t it?

The entire ocean became very turbulent. The Supreme Being knew what would come next. Even the devas knew about it as they were forewarned by Him before the entire activity started. But the asuras headed by Kaleya, Pauloma, Ilvala and Bali did not know. They all thought that only amrita would come out of the ocean. So they were surprised when everything other than the nectar started coming out of the ocean! Poor demons. They never knew the real reason for the Kurma avatar.

Kurma Avatar

Kurma avatar is the second of the Dashavatar. In this incarnation, Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to help the gods. But He had a selfish motive too. When compared to being Varaha-during which time-Vishnu exalted playing in the water, in this personification, He is devoid of the same kind of physical action. Let us look at the story first, before going into the various aspects of this form in the next few postings.

Once, the Devas became powerless and weak due to a curse from Sage Durvasa. Their cousins-the Asuras, seized this opportunity and started dominating the Devas. Fearing that they will lose everything, Indra went to Brahma and sought help. Brahma, as usual, reached out to Lord Vishnu.  Vishnu, who was visiting mount Meru at that time, told king Indra to churn the ocean of milk or Paarkadal to get amrita or the nectar of immortality. When the king reminded Nara-yana that the Devas were very weak to churn, the Lord asked them to make a pact with the Asuras, promising to offer them amrita in exchange for their help.

The Asuras readily agreed. They wanted to use Mandara Mountain as the pole and snake Vasuki as the chord, to churn. Mandara is the best of mountains full of medicinal herbs, birds and animals. It is eleven thousand yojanas high and extends down for the same distance. Vasuki is the thousand headed serpent king. Everything was set to start the churning except that the Mandara Mountain was so huge that they could not uproot it. So they went back to Lord Vishnu who deputed Ananta, the prince of snakes, to complete the task. Ananta uprooted Mandara with little effort and placed it in the ocean. The Devas and the asuras started churning the ocean by taking the tail and head of Vasuki, respectively.

While both the gods and their cousins were up to the task, they could not manage the churning due to the sheer height and bulk of the mountain pole. Soon the pole started dipping into the ocean. So Lord Vishnu took the form of a tortoise or Kurma and held the pole on his back. The churning happened for a thousand years.

Vasuki could not bear the friction of his skin on the mountain for so long and started emitting vapours of smoke from his thousand mouths. The vapours reached the flora and fauna living in the mountain and started a big fire. Due to the fire, the activity could not be continued. Indra had to generate heavy rainfall to douse the fire. The gums and resins of the various trees and herbs from the mountain started mixing with paarkadal, making its waters highly viscous. The milky waters turned into clarified butter due to the mixing of the gummy exudations. Even after all this, there was no sign of the elixir. In fact nothing was coming out of the ocean. The brothers in arms were so disappointed that they went back to Vishnu and prayed that they be spared and amrita be obtained. Vishnu knew what was coming (after all He is the author of the Dashavatar, is He not?) but did not reveal anything to them. He asked them to continue with the churning.

This churning of the ocean was no small activity by any means. Imagine 99 crore of celestials (33 crore devas and 66 crore asuras), churning the ocean(Paarkadal where Vishnu resides) with the help of a thousand headed snake, a 22 thousand yojana long mountain and the supreme being himself in one of his avatars, for a thousand years. Add to this, a 100,000 yojana long shell of the Kurma. With such an activity taking place, imagine the atmosphere around that place and the priceless entities that would have come out of the ocean, along with the nectar. We will see about all this in the next post.

Varaha Avatar and Varaha Charama Slokam

Every Avatar of Lord Vishnu has an objective. If we look at the incarnations from a bird’s eye view, we will see one story in each incarnation- the story that has been handed over to us through the generations. But if we look a little deeper and study our scriptures, we will get the chance to see the inner meanings and the actual objectives of Dashavatar.

So, what could be the main objective of Varaha Avatar then?

Well, Bhoomi Devi was looking for a chance to have an intimate conversation with Lord Vishnu over Her children – us, the Jeevatmas. She was sad about our state because even after tons of rebirths we are still struggling to attain liberation from the cycle of life and death. When she was being lifted out of the ocean by Vishnu on his tusks, She asked Him for an easier way for Jeevatmas to attain Moksham. He complied and shared a slokam called Varaha Charama Slokam with Bhoomi Devi.

I’m not going to go deep into the meanings of the slokam. The essence of what Vishnu has said is that if we think of Him and accept that He is the very cause of this universe, when we are in our peak of health with a sound mind and body, then during the time of our death bed (when we cannot think of anything, but lie helplessly), Vishnu will take us to His abode, thereby liberating us from the cycle of births and deaths. This sloka gathers significance because in the concept of Bhakthi, one needs to be thinking of the Lord even at his last moments, to attain Moksha and reach Vishnu’s abode. Read the story of Jadabharathar to gain more insight on the importance of the essence of Varaha charama Slokam.