When the Devas lost their powers as Sage Durvasa cursed Indra, the Asuras took this as the 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 the Devtas that they should make a peace proposal with the Asuras in exchange for something valuable. The Devas thought over it 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 (kheer sagar) for Amrit. Vasuki, the biggest serpent, was the rope and the Mandara Mountain was the churning rod.
As directed by Vishnu, they casted all sorts of medicinal herbs into the sea 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 very heavy, and most of the Devtas and Asuras became too fatigued. Some even lost their lives.
Seeing this, Vishnu also helped to lift the mountain with his carrier, Garuda. On his back, Garuda carried the mountain and placed it in the point of churning in the middle of the sea. But 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. After that, Vasuki was summoned by Asuras and the Devas, 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 little detail, the sons of Kashyapa, Devas, and Asuras, initiated the process of churning the ocean of milk.
Although both the hands of Devtas and Asuras were strong to hold the mountain, the mountain still lacked support to stay in the middle of the ocean, and thus sank 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 on the mountain that was extended to eight hundred thousand miles, like an island. Instead of feeling the weight, Vishnu felt a pleasing sensation as it was more of scratching on the back of the tortoise. 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 Devtas and Asuras started to collapse because of it. Vishnu told them that only Shiva can digest such a lethal poison. So, they went to Kailash and sought help from Shiva. Shiva agreed to consume the poison, and so drank it. While drinking it, Parvati was able to hold the poison on Shiva’s throat with her hand. Thus, she was named Vishakantha, the one who held poison in his throat. And Shiva was named 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 so that it could 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 drank 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 once 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 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. The male was headed by Airavata and the female was headed by Abhramu. Indra used Airavata as his mount.
Kaustubha-Mani and Padmaraga-mani, which was considered to be the most valuable jewel in the entire universe. Both Devtas and Asuras agreed to gift the Kaustubha as a gift to Lord Vishnu.
After that came 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 Devtas 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
- The umbrella taken by Varun
- Earrings are given to Aditi, by her son Indra
- Tulasi plant
- Nidra (sloth)
The process went on for years and years, but what they were looking for, 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 that 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 completely different to 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 defeated Asuras easily.