When the Devas lost their powers as Sage Durvasa cursed Indra, the Asuras took this as a great opportunity to attack Swarga. The Devtas were powerless and thus lost the war and fled away from heaven to save their lives. They went to Brahma to seek help, who in turn sent them to Vishnu.
Vishnu proposed to the Devas to make a peace proposal with the Asuras in exchange for something valuable. The Devas thought it over and went to make that proposal with the Asuras. After agreeing to their truce, the Devtas and Asuras could then churn the ocean of milk (Kshira Sagara) for Amrita. Vasuki, the biggest serpent, was the rope and the Mandara Mountain was the churning rod.
As directed by Vishnu, they cast all sorts of medicinal herbs into the ocean and used Mandara mountain and Vasuki for churning. The Devas joined hands with Maharaja Bali, the King of Asuras, as part of instructions by Vishnu. Both the Asuras and Devas started to carry the mountain. But the mass of the mountain was hefty, and most of the Devtas and Asuras became too exhausted. Some even lost their lives. Seeing this, Vishnu and Garuda lifted the mountain and placed it in the middle of the ocean.
Since Vasuki couldn’t come there in the presence of Garuda, Vishnu asked Garuda to leave. To provide balance, Brahma was requested to sit on the top of the mountain. Asuras and the Devas summoned Vasuki, and they coiled Vasuki around the mountain as a churning rope.
Asuras did not want to take the tail part of the snake because they considered it to be an inauspicious portion of the snake, but the Devtas agreed to hold the rear end. After adjusting every detail, the sons of Kashyapa, Devas, and Asuras initiated churning the ocean of milk.
Although Devtas and Asuras’ hands were strong to hold the mountain, it still lacked support to stay in the middle of the ocean, thus sinking to the water. Then, Vishnu took the shape of the tortoise (as his Kurma Avatar) and dove into the water. He lifted the Mandara Mountain and extended it to eight hundred thousand miles, like an island. Vishnu felt a pleasing sensation instead of feeling the weight as it was more of scratching on the tortoise’s back. When that happened, Devtas and Asuras were rejuvenated and resumed the churning process. Vasuki breathed smoke and blazing fire, and that affected the Asuras, gradually decreasing their power.
After churning for years, the first item to come out was halahala (poison). It was very venomous, and the whole world was in jeopardy because of its effects. It is considered to be the most venomous poison of the entire universe. Both Devas and Asuras started to collapse because of it. Vishnu told them that only Shiva could digest such a lethal poison.
Devas and Asuras went to Mount Kailash and sought help from Shiva. Shiva agreed to consume the poison and so drank it. While drinking halahala, Devi Parvati held the poison on Shiva’s throat with her hand. Thus, she was named Vishakantha, the one who held poison in his throat. And Lord Shiva was called Nilakantha, the one with a blue throat, as the poison turned his throat into the blue.
Shiva used his Trishul to cut out the mountain to drink water to soothe his thirst caused by the toxic poison. It is also believed that when Shiva had drunk the poison, some drops of the poison spilled on his hand, which was consumed by scorpions, cobras, and other animals whose bites are poisonous.
When the universe was back to its safety, and all the halahala was drunk, Devtas and Asuras again resumed the churning process. Then, after churning for a while, a cow known as Kamadhenu or Surabhi appeared. That is why Vedic rituals have placed great importance on the Surabhi cow that produced all yogurt, milk, and ghee necessary for offering oblations into the fire.
Then, Uccaihsrava appeared. It was a seven-headed flying horse. Bali Maharaja asked Indra that he wanted the horse, for which Indra agreed.
Then eight great male elephants and eight great female elephants appeared. Airavata headed the male, and Abhramu headed the female. Lord Indra used Airavata as his mount.
Kaustubha-Mani and Padmaraga-mani, which were considered to be the most valuable jewel in the entire universe. Both Devas and Asuras agreed to gift the Kaustubha as a gift to Lord Vishnu.
After that came the Parijat flower, the divine flower that never fades or wilt. It was taken to the Indraloka by the Devas.
The Apsaras came after that, which was led by Rambha, Menaka, Punyasthala, and others. They were embellished with ornaments and lockets with sensual and attractive clothing. The Apsaras chose the Devas as their companions.
Then, Lakshmi, the Goddess of fortune, appeared, who accepted Vishnu as her eternal consort.
The Asuras claimed Varuni or Sura, which came after Laxmi. Varuni or Sura is the Goddess and Creator of alcohol.
Different sources claim that these items also came out of the Ksheera Sagar:
- A powerful bow – symbolic of the demon’s belligerence.
- Chandra, the moon which adorned Shiva’s head
- Shankha Vishnu’s conch
- Jyestha – the Goddess of Misfortune
- Lord Varun took the umbrella
- Earrings are given to Goddess Aditi by her son Lord Indra
- Tulasi plant
- Nidra (sloth)
The process went on for years and years, but the Amrit did not appear. So, they got tired and impatient when that happened. But still, they continued, and then a strongly built man emerged with a jug filled with Amrita. He was Dhanvantari, an Avatar of Vishnu, who then went on to be the physician of the Devas and the God of Ayurvedic medicine.
When he arrived, the Asuras snatched the jug from Dhanvantari immediately. Then, there again was a struggle between Asuras and the Devas for the Amrit. When they were struggling, four drops of the Amrit fell at four different places: Allahabad or Prayag at Uttar Pradesh, Haridwar at Uttrakhand, Ujjain at Madhya Pradesh, and Nasik at Maharashtra. This is why Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years in these places.
The struggle continued. To end it, Vishnu took the form of the beautiful damsel Mohini who mesmerized the Asuras with her beauty and told the Asuras that she would distribute the Amrit among the gods and the demons in a fair manner. The Asuras were so lost in the beauty of Mohini; they did not realize that they had been fooled. She was only distributing the Amrit to the Devas.
When Rahu saw what was happening, he took the form of a Deva and sat among the Devas. But the luminescence that he presented was utterly different from what Devas possessed. Surya and Chandra noticed this immediately and informed Vishnu, who was in the form of Mohini. Mohini cut off his head with the Sudarshana Chakra. But Rahu had already taken the Amrit. So, he did not die. Since then, his head has been called Rahu, and the body has been called Ketu, which then formed planets later.
When it ended, there was again another battle between Devas and the Asuras. But this time, Devas were immortal and thus trounced Asuras.