De-myth-ify: Kurmavatara (Part One)

Let’s talk about Hindu mythology and the story of the second of Vishnu’s 10 incarnations or Dasavatara, the Kurma or the tortoise, today. This is part one of a three-part series on the Kurmavatara.

For the previous series of posts on the first of the Dasavatara, Matsya or the fish, click here.

The story of the Kurmavatara is usually considered a chapter of the bigger, way more important myth of the Samudra Manthan,i.e. the churning of the ocean. I, however, personally believe that there is no Samudra Manthan without the Kurma; that these stories are too tangled to be taken apart. The story of the Kurmavatara is the story of the Samudra Manthan. People may not agree, but how I choose to interpret this story remains my choice and one of the more lovely things about mythology and stories in general. So, without further ado, let us begin.

Last time we left Vishnu, the preserver and protector of the universe, he had just saved all of Earth and its inhabitants.(So you know,just a regular day of being Vishnu) This story is set thousands of years later and is a story that involves no mortals directly. It is one of the many Hindu myths that deal with the regular power struggle between the Devas, or the gods and the Asuras or the titans/demons.

Devas and Asuras, though cousins, were at war with each other all the time. (If you have siblings you get it, right?) One time, during one of these wars, the notoriously ruthless sage Durvasa(Also known as the grump of Hindu mythology) visited Indra, the god of the skies and king of the gods and offered him a flower garland. ( If you think that Indra sounds like Zeus, you are right. Indra is the Zeus of Hindu mythology) Indra, who had a bit of an ego problem, carelessly threw the garland to his elephant, angering the short-tempered sage. Durvasa cursed all the gods which ended up leading to them all losing their powers. ( Eesh, that’s extreme. If I was another god I’d be SO mad at Indra)

This meant that the Devas were now on the verge of defeat to the Asuras and were soon largely depleted. As a last resort, they approached Lord Vishnu and pleaded with him for help. He advised them to obtain Amrit, or the Elixir of Immortality by churning the Ocean of Milk to regain their powers. He told them to use Mount Mandara as the churning stick and the king of the serpents, Vasuki(Remember him from the previous myth?) as the rope.

The gods were unable to lift Mount Mandara without their powers and Vishnu suggested they ask the Asuras for help in exchange of a portion of the Amrit. He also warned them to not take anything except the Amrit that comes out of the ocean during the churning, or feel angry if the Asuras forcibly take those things. He also calmed their concerns about the Asuras stealing the Amrit at the end of the churning and promised them that that would not happen.

Thus, the Devas and Asuras set Mount Mandara in the middle of the ocean, wrapped the snake god Vasuki around it and each held onto one end of his body and began to pull. They soon realised, however, that the mountain was sinking into the soft ocean floor and again beseeched to Vishnu for help. This is where the main part of our story happens.

Vishnu took the form of a giant tortoise, or a Kurma and supported Mount Mandara on his broad back while the Devas and Asuras churned the ocean, until the Amrit was successfully obtained. ( Heroic,sure but also, mildly anticlimactic,don’t you think?) This, of course, is the second of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the titular character of our story. Thus, with the Kurma present, the churning of the ocean began in full swing and all problems were solved. Or were they?

To be continued.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: This story seems pretty grey on who the bad guy is. Who do you think is the “villain” here: the Asuras,Durvasa or even Indra? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

6 thoughts on “De-myth-ify: Kurmavatara (Part One)

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