There is a very famous line from the movie Troy based on the Greek epic ‘Iliad’ by homer in which Achilles says ‘Gods envy us because we are mortals and any moment could be our last’.
By this line, he tries to specify that gods and their worships will last for aeons as they all have the boon of immortality unlike humans who get one life and any moment could be their last. Every mythology or culture all over the world has the mention of the ‘nectar of immortality’ and every god has had a sip of it, various names are given to it in different mythologies the Greeks call it ‘Ambrosia’, Hindu mythology we call it ‘Amrit’ or ‘Soma’ and ‘Manna’ in Israeli Mythology.
Samudra Manthan has been one of the most important events of Hindu Mythology it has been mentioned in various texts, ‘Bhaghvata Purana, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Vishnu Purana’. It explains the origin of Amrit or Somras which in the Hindu philosophy is the drink of gods.
The legend goes as, Indra who is the king of gods and the ruler of heaven, ‘Swarga’ was once paid a visit by sage Durvassa who is known for his short-temper and giving curses due to it, he blessed him by giving him a garland that was offered to Durvassa by Lord Shiva. Indra who was an egoistic deva put the garland on the trunk of his mighty elephant ‘Airavata’ and the elephant who was frenzied by the smell threw it on the ground.
This enraged Durvassa who took it as a grave insult and cursed Indra and all the devas to bereft of all their strength, prosperity and fortune. On the finding of the curse Asura king, Bali who was the great-grandson of ‘Hiranyakaship’ and the ruler of netherworld challenges the devas. Indra loses all the battles and ‘Swarga’ is conquered by Bali and the Asura’s. The Devas visit Lord Brahma for help who advises them to consult Lord Vishnu to find a solution to this problem.
On reaching Vaikuntha, the abode of the lord, it is revealed to them that it is the curse of Sage Durvassa that has resulted in this situation and only Somaras which was the drink of immortality could redeem their lost strength and glory.
He asks them to align with the Asuras and churn the ocean of milk, ‘Kshir-Sagara’ in the depths of which lies the holy drink. He asks them to handle the situation diplomatically by luring the asuras in this plan on the pretext of promising them a share in the drink because he knew the churning would not be possible without both the sides.
Once both the parties comply the process for the churning of the ocean is conducted, it required a rope, a churning rod and a base to hold the rod steadily. “Mount Mandara” serves as the churning rod, “Sheshnaag” the Nagaraj who is a manifestation of Lord Vishnu as the rope and Lord Vishnu takes his second avatar in the form of “kurma” the turtle to hold the mount Mandara on its back since it was sinking in the ocean without support.
Various precious items were obtained from the Samudra Manthan but the first thing that came out was “Halahal” or poison, it is said that it was formed by the toxic fumes that were being emitted from the mouth of Nagaraj Sheshnaag during the churning, it mixed with water and formed one of the deadliest poisons, it is also known as “Kalakuta” in some texts. The poison was so lethal that it could lead to the destruction of all creation and lord Vishnu knew that nobody except the great Mahakaal (Shiva) had the strength to consume the poison thus all the gods requested Lord Shiva to help them in this adversity.
Lord Shiva drank the poison but his wife goddess Parvati knew it was lethal for him too, so she tightly caught his throat and the serpent king Vasuki who took the form of a snake and was tied to his throat to hold the poison in it and not let it go down the throat. This incident earned Shiva the name of “Neelkantha” (Neel- blue in Sanskrit and Kantha-Throat) thus he was called the Neelkantha or the one with a Blue-throat since the poison had turned his throat to blue.
The various treasures and Ratnas that were produced from the Manthan were equally divided between the Devas and Asuras equally. Various other treasures were divided equally too like,
The three categories of Goddesses that emerged; -
Lakshmi or Sree who is the goddess of wealth and fortune she chose Vishnu as her eternal consort.
Apsaras or the divine nymphs like ‘Meneka, Rambha and Punjisthala’ who chose the ‘Gandharvas’ or heavenly beings as their consort.
Finally, it was Varuni who is the Goddess of wine, she chose Varuna the god of seas as her consort but chose to side with the Asuras keeping in mind her nature and prowess.
Types of supernatural animals that appeared were; -
“Kamdhenu” or the wish-fulfilling cow that was given to sages so that her ghee could be used for Yajna and other holy rituals.
“Airavata”, the white majestic elephant along with several other elephants and were all given to Indra.
“Ucchaishravas” which was a divine seven-headed elephant that was offered to the asura king Bali.
Other valuable treasures like “Kastubha” a valuable jewel or ratna that was given to Lord Vishnu. ‘Parijat’ which is also known as a wish-fulfilling tree it is a divine flowering tree which never wilts and was taken to Swarga. ‘Sharanga’ which was a bow crafted by Vishwakarma that was given to Lord Vishnu.
Finally, once the churning is completed “Dhanavantri” who is the Hindu god of medicine appears with the pot of Amrit or Soma in his hands and a fierce fight commences between the devas and asuras for it in order to prevent the asuras from getting their hand on its Garuda who is the mount of Lord Vishnu takes the pot and flies away. The distressed Devas appeal to Vishnu for help and Vishnu decides to trick the Asuras, he takes the form of the nymph Mohini and tries to fool them by promising to distribute the Soma amongst the Devas and Asuras equally. Mesmerised by her beauty Asuras do not pay attention to the fact that she is only giving the Soma to the Devas but one of them named Rahuketu disguised himself and sat amongst the Devas In order to drink it but the sun and moon god recognised him and revealed the truth. Thus, Vishnu cuts his neck from his Sudarshan chakra but since the asura had already become immortal by drinking the soma he does not die, from that day his head is called Rahu and his body is called Ketu. On drinking the soma, the Gods become immortal and finally defeat the asura.
The legend of Samudra Manthan extends to this day with the occurrence of Mahakumbh or the Kumbha Mela that takes place after every 12 years. The Hindu scriptures mention that during the Samudra Manthan while Garuda was carrying the soma away from the asuras and devas some drops of the nectar fell at four places on Earth which are Haridwar, Prayaga which is present-day Allahabad, Trimbak which is present-day Nashik and Ujjain. It is said that whoever takes a dip in the holy water of these places during the Kumbha attains moksha since they have acquired certain mystical and spiritual value. The evidence of mount Mandar has also been found as some archaeologists identify Mandar parvat a hill in Banka district of Bhagalpur, Bihar as the mountain that was used for the churning of the ocean. The mountain has a line that goes around it as if a rope had been tied to it with scale marks on it which proves that it indeed was the churning rod for the process. Thus, shreds of evidence of the grail for soma have long been found which proves the existence of our culture which is not mere stories but our heritage thus it depends on us whether to believe the grail for soma actually happened or not.