NOW… before time was counted, the Devas, who we know as gods, and the Asuras, who we know as demons, let their eternal differences be forgotten for a timeless moment, and joined together to churn the Ocean of Milk (Ksirabdhi) for that Treasure of All Treasures, The Nectar of Immortality, Amrit.
To acquire such a treasure requires an effort equivalent to the fruit. The Deva-gods lacked the numbers and strength for the Great Task, themselves, and had no choice but to invite their nemeses, the Asura-demons, equal to them in numbers and strength, to become partners in the greatest enterprise the cosmos had yet witnessed. LIVE FOREVER! Defy and defeat Death. The massive cast of Extraordinary Characters assembled, the Deva-gods and Asura-demons agreed to share this AmritNectar, as well as the other treasures that would result from churning The Primordial Waters. On this Sea, the great god Vishnu dreamt the world into existence while asleep on his bed consisting of the coils of his Endless Serpent.
They would churn the Endless Bottomless Waters as a farmer might churn fresh milk for butter. The simple farmer, by rubbing his hands back and forth on a wooden rod, or pulling a small rope on the rod which is inserted in the fresh milk, causes fat in the milk to solidify making butter. The butter then rises to the surface. We are talking scale, however. Where would the Cosmic Personalities find the colossal tools and implements for such an unthinkable task? Technology, as we know it, was born with man, who was not yet even a distant dream for the gods and demons. The waves of The Ocean of Milk lapped the empty shores of the Void; such was its magnitude.
The Rod. The largest solid thing in the universe was Mount Mahameru, The Axis of the World, The Support of Heaven. Ingeniously they turned it upside down to use as their churning rod.
The Base. One of the great god Vishnu’s ten incarnations is that of a giant tortoise called Kurma Avatar. To the delight of the throngs of gods and demons, Vishnu, in a flash of blue light, manifested himself as the giant tortoise avatar which, floating in the depths of the Cosmic Sea, became the support for the upside down mountain churning rod.
The Rope. What was Long? What rope could measure the girth of Mount Meru, withstand its razor rocks, and still extend into the hands of countless gods and demons? The King of Serpents, Vasuki Cobra, was Long, and in fact, Almost Endless. He agreed to be the churning rope. The Army of Gods would pull from one side, the Army of Demons from another.
The Gods were not Fools. They knew that their alliance with the Asura-demons was tenuous at best, AND they understood Cosmic Snakes. They successfully negotiated to hold the tail of Vasuki Cobra, while the Asura-demons were left holding his hissing head. It was only after the churning began that the demons realized their strategic shortcoming. Vasuki Cobra was known for his ghastly poisonous breath, the Mother of Bad Odor. The Asura-demons found themselves fainting from the Foul Fumes. At once, they were at a great disadvantage in the quest for Nectar-amrit.
The constant friction of the Serpent Vasuki’s rope-like body rubbing against Mt. Meru at first created smoke, which then turned to flames. All of Meru started to burn in such a great fire that it’s blaze challenged even the Sun. It threatened to annihilate all life on the great mountain. God-king Indra, the chief of the Deva-gods, Bearer of the Thunder Bolt, sometimes also known as the Rain God, darkened the skies, rumbled the heavens, and released great torrents of rain, which cooled and soothed Vasuki’s burned body, and extinguished the great inferno.
But there was another problem. Poison. The World-Poison, Halahal. Poor Vasuki Cobra was pulled by his tail by the gods, and then pulled by his head by the demons, so, as you can imagine, after a thousand years he became dizzier and dizzier, and then very very nauseous. The Keeper of Poison spun and heaved and then, get out of the way, he vomited the venom of venoms. The Asura-demons lost consciousness, the Deva-gods reeled, and there was only Shiva, the Imbiber of Poison himself, who could deal with the situation. We will never know, however, whether or not he could have swallowed it and withstood its deadly effects, for as he drank it, Parvati, his consort, in a fit, grabbed him by his throat thus preventing the poison from being swallowed. He kept it in his throat, and became known thereafter as Nilakantha, Blue Throat.
The gods and the demons churned the ocean many thousands of years, before they saw the first fruit of their labors. Surabhi, the Divine Cow, the Mother of All Cattle, the Nourisher of All Beings, rose slowly to the surface of the Waters. She was quickly spirited away by gods and sages, who knew that she was also known as Kamadhenu, the Wish Granting Cow.
Then came the Ocean Goddess, Varuni, then Parijata, the fragrant Wish-Granting Tree. These deities and other wish-granting beings or objects are always a big hit. The treasures now came one after the other: the Apsaras (the celestial dancers); Soma the Moon (which Shiva quickly grabbed and put in his dread locks as an ornament); a ruby called Kaustubha (which Vishnu placed in his breast); the great medicinal herb named Vijaya, cannabis (which Shiva also claimed); and then the Great Goddess Mahalakshmi, the Earth Mother, the Goddess of Prosperity.
She rose from the depths of the waters seated on a magnificent lotus, holding a water lily in her hand. Deva-gods, Asura-demons, and sages clamored to get near her and all joined the celestial musicians, Gandharvas, singing her praises, while the Apsara-nymphs danced. Ganga and the other holy rivers appeared and offered the Earth Goddess their fragrant waters. The four immortal elephants that support the Earth filled golden pitchers from these Sacred Streams, which in turn bathed the Goddess. Then she sat on the lap of her beloved, the God Vishnu. The demons were not pleased that the gods seemed to grab all the booty.
It is all about NOW. And now is the moment. The Waters bubble and foam. Now the god Dhanvantari emerges, Lord of Healing, Herbs, and Longevity, holding in his right hand a pot, a kamandal pot, not dissimilar to the one given to me by Hari Puri. They All knew he had It. He came last. The Nectar of Immortality, amrit, was contained in this kamandal, also known as a kumbh.
Not taking any chances, the demons hastily snatched the kumbh away from Dhanvantari. The demons then surrounded the kumbh in concentric circles and prepared for a fight. Now that they had the Ultimate Treasure, there was no turning back, there was no way they were about to lose it. The Deva-gods couldn’t even get close.
All was not lost, there is always a potential. The god Vishnu, not normally known as a cross dresser, manifested himself as Mohini, The Enchantress, no, The Seductress; a voluptuous celestial damsel so beautiful, that Devas and Asuras alike forgot everything save their uncontrolled lust. When Mohini seductively winked her kohl-painted eyes deep as the ocean of milk itself, and let fall her upper garments revealing her golden jug-like breasts, the demons became overcome with desire. It was not difficult for her to coax these demons into handing over to her the kumbh of amrit, The Nectar of Immortality. After all what is immortality when compared to the possibility of a moment with the Goddess Mohini?
She DID promise to distribute the amrit equally among the gods and demons. BUT, only if they all agreed to comply with her method of distribution.
She insisted that the Deva-gods and the Asura-demons sit in two long lines, pangats, facing each other. Only gods in one line, and only demons in the other. She would distribute to the gods first. Someone has got to go first! The Demon Rahu, however, was impatient. He jumped the queue, as it were. With his magical powers of transformation, he assumed the form of a god and very quietly sat in the god’s line with his face down. Incognito. As if none of the gods would notice a ‘new’ god. And, in fact, he did manage, very surreptitiously, to quaff a drop of amrit.
Soma the Moon and Surya the Sun both realized immediately what had just happened, and shouted out to Vishnu. Angered by the cheap trick, Vishnu threw his Divine Weapon, his discus, the Sudarshan Chakra, at Rahu, severing the demon’s head. The amrit had not yet reached his lower body parts, so his immortal severed head flew off into the heavens. From that moment, Demon Rahu, the severed head, eternally prowls the heavens in pursuit of the two informer spies, Surya the Sun and Soma the Moon. When he finally catches up with them, and he does from time to time, he takes his revenge and happily swallows them whole, but, missing a body, the Sun or the Moon passes through his throat and back into the heavens. These are the eclipses, the grahans, that cause terror.
Rahu is the ascending node of the Moon’s orbit, while his body, which becomes known as Ketu, becomes the descending node. Their motion is retrograde with respect to the other grahas, planets, and they remain 180 degrees apart. The Moon’s orbit crosses that of the Sun at two very important points, the Northern and Southern nodes, known as Rahu and Ketu.
Shukra-Venus, the guru of the demons, was no fool. He knew a ruse when he saw one. Alerting the demons that they had been fooled, and would not be given any amrit nectar, they fiercely attacked the gods. Brihaspati-Jupiter, the guru of the gods, met the challenge. He knew that the gods could not withstand the onslaught of the demons, so he instructed Jayant, son of Indra the Chief of the gods, to steal away the kumbh of amrit.
Jayant transformed himself into a sparrow and took to the sky chased by all the demons. The pursuit lasted the equivalent of twelve human years, during which time Brihaspati-Jupiter guided and protected Jayant from the attacks of the demons, Soma the Moon helped prevent the amrit from spilling (as he also controls the tides), Surya the Sun prevented the kumbh from breaking, and Saturn prevented Jayant from drinking ALL the amrit, himself. However, during all this excitement, four drops DID fall to earth. They landed at what is now Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik.
Every twelve human years, which also happens to be Jupiter’s revolution around the Sun, in each of these four places, and at that time in each place corresponding to the astrological positions that Jupiter, the Sun, and the Moon occupy in the heavens when each drop is spilled, this amrit, this Nectar of Immortality appears. How much? A drop. It’s all you need. MILLIONS of people come at the specific time to the specific place for the Kumbh Mela. Mela means fair. It is the greatest fair in the world. It is the largest religious event in the world. It is the largest gathering of human beings on Earth. This colossal gathering of the faithful and the traditional, a time of sacrifice and initiation, is driven by a single drop of The Nectar of Immortality.