When the ‘Dev Asura Sangharsh’ took place, Vishnu intervened and helped both devas and asuras by assuming the form of Kurma which is the tortoise. Kurma Avatar was assumed by Maha Vishnuin the Satya Yuga. The Lord Vishnu incarnated as a giant tortoise and helped the Devas and Asuras to resolve the conflict.
Story behind the Kurma Avatar
The Kurma Avatar was born as a result of a curse by Durvasa. Durvasa once presented a garland to the king of the Gods, Indra. Indra put the garland gifted by Durvasa on Airavat, the elephant’s head. The elephant happened to throw the garland on the ground. Seeing this, Durvasa was infuriated and he cursed Indra that ‘his entire kingdom be destroyed’. This very curse led to the churning of the ocean.
As a result of the curse, the devas were on the verge of defeat. As a last resort, the Devas went to Brahma. Brahma advised the devas to take refuge in Lord Vishnu. As advised the Devas approached Lord Vishnu, Vishnu announced that, in order to defeat the Asuras, the ocean needed to be churned. On churning, Amrita or nectar would be produced, that nectar would help the Devas to be immortal. And in this way, the Devas would get triumph over the Asuras.
Churning of the Ocean
Now, the question was how would the ocean be churned. Vishnu replied that by using Mount Mandarachal, with the help of Vasuki, the snake, used as a rope, the ocean could be churned by both the Devas and the Asuras on each side. However, Vishnu warned the Devas not to be carried away by greed when things came out of the ocean and that to only distribute the nectar among themselves.
The Devtas were also assured that the nectar would not be taken away by the Asuras. Assured, the Devtas went to Bali, the king of Asuras. Indra and the Devtas were received with respect by the Asuras. The Asuras were told that the Devtas had come bearing peace and the prospect of reconciliation and that there was a task at hand that needed the attention of the Asuras too.
Without wasting much time, the Asuras and the Devtas decided to start immediately. The best warriors went and uprooted the mountain and brought to the ocean. Then Vasuki wrapped himself around the mountain and now it was time to decide whether the Devtas or the Asuras would be on the side of Vasuki’s head while churning. The Devtas deceived the Asuras and somehow the Asuras ended up holding Vasuki by his tail.
The Removal of Poison
As the churning began, the poison from the serpent made the Asuras weak. Also, as there was no support underneath the mountain, it started sinking. At this point, Indra asked Vishnu to help. This is when Vishnu takes the form of Kurma to come to their rescue. After assuming the form of Kurma, the tortoise, placed himself under the majestic mountain and the churning began once again.
Lord Vishnu incarnated as Kurma on Purnima of Vaisakha month. Hence this day is popularly observed as Kurma Jayanti.
The Ratnas (Treasures) from the Ocean After Kurma Avatar
As the poison from Vasuki kept making the Asuras weaker, the Asuras started to churn faster. These are the treasures that emerged from the Ocean – and who they were given to.
- The first came out of the churning was Kamadhenu, the sacred cow. This cow was given to Vasistha by Vishnu.
- Then came a tree, named Parijatha. Indra decided to take the tree to adorn his park, the Nandavana.
- The next that followed was the moon, which was donned by Shiva on his bun.
- And then came out the precious diamond, Kaustubha.
- After that lethal poison, ‘Halahal’ came out of by the churning. It was the concentrated form of all the impurities of the ocean. As a last resort, all of them went to Lord Shiva. Shiva swallowed the poison and thus became his neck dark blue in color. This event made Shiva to be known as Neelakantha. Neel meaning, Blue and Kantha meaning throat.
- This was followed by the emergence of Goddess Mahalakshmi and other precious things. Vishnu accepted Lakshmi as his consort.
- The churning continued and out came from the depths of the ocean, Dhanvantari. Dhanvantari was a physician and with him, had the Kalasha, the pot that contained the nectar of immortality.
Mohini – The Only Female Avatar of Lord Vishnu
The Asuras snatched the Kalasha away from Dhanvantari. On seeing this, the Devtas once again pleaded Vishnu to help them. This is when Vishnu took the form of ‘Mohini’, the ethereal beauty of a woman.
The Asuras were so smitten by her charm that they handed over the pot of nectar to Mohini as asked by her. Mohini had assured the Asuras that if they entrusted her with the pot, she would equally distribute the nectar among all.
All of the Devtas and the Asuras were asked to take a bath and wait for their turn. As asked, both Devtas and asuras waited for Mohini to distribute the nectar. Mohini started with the Devtas, not very happy with the Asuras wanted to object but they were so infatuated by Mohini, that they kept quiet and simply waited. The nectar was distributed and got over even before the Asuras turn could come.
This enraged the Asuras and they declared war on the Devtas. The battle took place on the seashore and it was won by the Devtas as they had the nectar of immortality. The curse of Durvasa was also lifted and thus came to an end the story of Kurma Avatar.
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Where is the story mentioned
Kurma Avatar finds its mention mainly in Bhagawad Purana, Agni, Ramayana. Kurma Avatar is explained in length in the Kurma Purana which is the one major Purana among the 18 Puranas. It is believed to have been directly stated by Lord Vishnu to Narada.