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De-myth-ify: Kurmavatara (Part Three)

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 the last part of a three-part series on the Kurmavatara. If you haven’t read the previous parts, do go and read Part One and Part Two before you continue here.

Now that the story is done, let’s talk about it.

This was quite an elegant series, was it not? Even if I do say so myself. It is definitely a much more complex and richer story than that of the first avatar, Matsya. This myth is also a very classic tale and a solid jumping point into Hindu mythology. 

One of these typical tropes is that Hindu myths always tend to have ‘morals’ associated with them quite unlike the more entertainment-oriented Greek myths. This is simply because of the reasons the myths were written; Greek myths were performed for an audience while Hindu myths were typically used to impart a moral education across younger generations. This myth is no exception. There is the ever-so prevalent and oft-repeated, “Good always triumphs over evil”, the very Dumbledore-esque, “Help will always be given to those who ask for it”, the downfalls of greed contrasted with the virtues of patience and hard work and many many more lessons that I have probably missed.

This avatar in itself is also a level up from the first one. This tends to also be a theme with Vishnu’s avatars, with each Avatar becoming more powerful, with a more complicated story and more human. I think it is quite underrated though, as far as the Dasavatara go, overshadowed by the more pompous later avatars. It is quite undramatic, kind of anticlimactic and just simply, focused on the need of the hour. That is not to say that the Kurma is unimportant; there would be no Samudra Manthan without it, just simply appreciating the no-frills attitude it had.

The myth though is quite the opposite. You have way too many contenders for both the protagonist and antagonist positions, issues at every turn and all these new people turning up to resolve those issues constantly. It makes for good storytelling but is definitely not quite as unproblematic as the Avatar whose story we are telling.

The fact of the matter is that while the Kurma itself can be thought of as a tiny part of the ocean churning, the god behind it,a.k.a Vishnu was the orchestrator of the Samudra Manthan. It was him that gave the gods the idea in the first place, him who told them to involve the Asuras, him who took the form of the Kurma to make it possible and him who ensured that the Amrit was given to the Devas, finally. This is very classic Vishnu, the Preserver God, who is often the brains behind many such myths. I also have to mention that he did get his wife out of this, as the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, who came out of the ocean during the churning, chose him as her husband, so you know, good for him.

Another important point to make here is that there is no western counterpart for this myth, quite unlike the Matsya, which was quite biblical from the get-go. Things like the Ocean of Milk and using a mountain and a snake as churning equipment are very quintessentially a part of Indian mythology and can not be found anywhere else. It is these totally different and unique stories that set it apart from most western as well as quite a few eastern mythologies and it is this aspect that makes up, for me, the charm of it all.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: As this is the first ‘classic’ Hindu myth we have discussed, what do you think of it and the tropes we have talked about? Comment below with what you think about it, I’d love to hear from you!