Churn it for Good: Symbolism of Samudra Manthan
Samudra Manthan (समुद्रमंथन) is one of the most celebrated events in the Hindu scriptures, which appears in Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, Ramayan and
Mahabharat with some variations.
An act of Lord Indra set the stage for Samudra Manthan. It so happened that once Sage Durvasa, known for his furious nature and great mystical powers, gifted a garland to Lord Indra. Lord Indra put that garland on his Elephant's tusk. Irritated by the strong aroma of flowers and the honey bees around the flower, the Elephant threw the garland and trampled over it, which angered Durvasa. He cursed Lord Indra and all the Devas to lose their power and glory.
Following this incident, there were few battles between Devas and Asuras where Devas lost each time, resulting in Bali, the Asura king taking control of the universe.
Baffled by this, the Devas took refuge in Lord Vishnu and requested help. Lord Vishnu gave them a tip on diplomacy: to engage their enemy in Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean) to obtain Amrita (अमृत) from the ocean, which will make them immortal. As Samudra Manthan required lots of physical strength, it was wise to use the physical strength of the Asuras.
Samundra Manthan was a humongous task, so the tools needed for the churning process had to be divine and significant. Mount Mandara (मंदर/मंदार); was used as the churning rod for the process, and Lord Shiva's serpent Nagaraj Vasuki (नागराज वासुकि) became the churning rope.
The process of churning had two unexpected occasions threatening the churning process. One was the release of the fatal poison (halahal- हलाहल) from Vasuki's mouth due to the excessive movement of its body. The poison was enough to doom the three worlds (Loka). Realising the severe threat, Lord Shiva drank the poison, saving the world. To protect lord shiva, Goddess Parvati locked the poison in shivas throat through her mystic powers, which gave blue colour to his neck, and this being the reason for one of His names -Nilakantha (निलकंठ).
Next was the sinking and destabilising of Mount Meru, threatening the whole process. Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a tortoise (kurma) and held the mountain on its shell, providing stability.
During the Churning process, which continued for 1000 years, few Ratna (रत्न)/ treasures were obtained from the ocean. The number of treasures varying from 9 to 14, depending on the scripture. The Ratnas obtained were Goddess Lakshmi, Rambha (रम्भा), Varuni (वरुणी), supernatural animals: Kamadhenu (कामधेनु)/Surabhi(सुरभि), Airavat( ऐरावत), Ucchaishravas (उच्चेश्रवस), Parijat( पारिजात) flower, kaustubh (कौस्तुभ)- a jewel, Sharang (सारंग) -a bow, lord Chandra, kalpvriksha (कल्पवृक्ष), sangha (शंख), Alakshmi (goddess of misfortune)and finally Lord Dhanvantari with the pot of Amrita.
The appearance of Lord Dhanvantri with the pot of Amrita led to a fierce fight between Asura and Devas for the divine Amrita. Garuda flew away with the pot to protect it from Asuras. Since Devas needed to consume the Amrit quickly, they once again appealed to Lord Vishnu, who took the form of Mohini (an enchanting woman) to distract the Asuras and started passing Amrita to the gods.
One of the demons, Svarbhanu, observing this, disguised himself as a Deva and drank some Amrit. Alert team members in the form of Lord Chandra and Lord Surya noticed this and immediately informed Mohini. Mohini acting with the speed of light, used her Sudarshana chakra and cut Svarbhanu's head, dividing him into two parts. Rahu and Ketu, the planets, are the head and body parts, respectively, of Svarbhanu. Finally, Devas could manage to drink Amrit and gained Immortality.
Samudra Manthan is a parable where Samudra represents the human mind, and Sagar Manthan symbolises the churning of the human mind. Thinkers, writers, poets and Psychologists have drawn the parallel between mind and ocean since the written history exists. Like the high and low tides in the ocean, the human mind has positive and negative thoughts. The negative thoughts/beliefs are the Asuras that need to be actively engaged by positive thoughts (Devas) until they can be captured or deceived. The process of introspection, brainstorming, internalisation is the churning of the mind to get the gems out of it.
There are immense possibilities, creativities, positive thoughts deep-seated in the human mind; We need to engage it in the churning process. The arrogance of Lord Indra represents the Ahankara that grows in the human mind, If not consciously guarded. In the process of churning of the mind or introspection, there would be moments when the negative thoughts (poison) threaten to siege the whole process, but they need to be locked and controlled the way Lord Shiva locked the poison in his neck and did not let it affect his body. When the target is complex and requires concentration, We need to retract like the tortoise in our shell, unaffected by the surrounding, giving stability and peace to the mind and body to restrategise and move further.
Samudra Manthan is also a symbolic story of effective leadership, diplomacy, conflict resolution and team skills. It gives an insight into how to strategise and engage the competitors/enemy. The art of flexibility comes to mind when Lord Vishnu changes his form to address the problem.
Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu metaphorically represent dependable leaders having the ability to lead and deliver. Lord shiva by drinking the poison and Lord Vishnu by holding the mountain as a tortoise symbolises the leader's skills in problem-solving. Leaders need to be courageous and decisive in taking problems head-on if it's threatening the team or the organisation's existence.
The story brings home the fact that the most competent of the team can fall into a problem and find a more robust and mightier competitor. It's the leader's competency, the values they add, faith in the leadership, a well-coordinated and alert team that can take even the most powerful competitors.
Whether we are pursuing an outward journey in the physical world for the purpose of Artha (अर्थ) or an internal journey in our inner layers of consciousness, (आत्मनिरीक्षण/आत्मपरीक्षण), Samudra Manthan offers to illuminate both paths.