The story of Kurma avatAram is known from the Kurma PurANam. It is written by Vyasa bhagvAn, and is believed to be narrated by bhagvAn viShNu himself in the form of Kurma to a king by the name Indradyumnan.
Kurma PurANam has many sub stories in it including Shiva GItA, the story of Nandi, Shiva AvatAr, story of riShi Gautama and many more. Though the stories are interrelated to certain extent, we will see only the story of Kurma avatAram.
You will find some mixed and out of place events, out of time events etc., which will be confusing and will give rise to many more questions. For e.g you will find king MahAbali being given an invitation to come out of the nether world and help in churning the ocean. Whereas, we think that he was sent to paatal only by vAmana AvatAr which is much later. The Kurma PurAN also lists the types of pApam and the appropriate Praayaschit for each one.
At this ShrI viShNu also agreed and said, the ocean of milk (it is the one where viShNu resides along with Lakshmi on Adi Sesha ) is full of riches, and churning out is the only way to bring the wealth up. We may wonder here, was it so important to give riches to Kubera that He had to incarnate ?
This can be understood by reading other related scriptures. But as of now let’s just convince our questioning minds by saying, any economy needs a fairly strong treasury. Now, coming back to the story…
In a gist, bhagvAn viShNu took Kurma avatAram to help bring out all the riches of the earth, which would be divided among the good and the noble. This way, the world order is maintained.
Once after Pralayam, after BramhA commenced creation, Indra was comfortably seated in his throne. His court was adorned by the devas, gandhatvAs, TrimurtIs, apsarAs, riShis etc. The mood was of celebration. Songs and dance. The sounds of trumpets filled the air.
Just one person seemed to be a bit dismayed. Not participating in the pomp. It was Kubera. The keeper of all wealth. Why was he unhappy?
Sadly for him no one noticed. Losing patience he got up from his seat, and started speaking aloud. It was a complaint. He started saying as follows: “Lord, I was given possession of the entire wealth of this world. My treasury was overflowing with all the precious stones. Nava nidhis were mine. But almost all of them have been used up for the swearing in ceremony of Indra. (So it has been the case even then !!! ). All the devas, Surya and Chandra, spent countless amount of wealth for the ceremony. Now my treasury is practically empty. Please help by finding a way to replenish it. “
It was then decided that the ocean of milk will be churned. All of them gathered at the venue. It was obvious that they needed more number of hands for the task to be completed. So, word was sent to BAli Chakravarthi to send all the AsurAs available.
MandarA mountain was used as a spindle, VAsuki the serpent was wound around the mountain. The AsurAs caught hold of the head side of the serpent, while the devas held on to the tail side. The churning began. But due to the weight of the mountain, it started sinking. This way they would never be able to churn. That is when all of them heard an Asariri. Asariri is nothing but a cosmic sound, a voice which gives predictions or some timely warning.
It directed them to a strangely colored tortoise and asked them to lead it to the ocean. As they did it, the tortoise started growing in size. It became bigger than Mt. Mandara and supported it from below so that it didn’t sink. Now, the devas and AsurAs were able to complete the task of churning the ocean. Of course they had to go through a lot of hardships. The heat almost vaporized them. But immediately then BhagvAn made it rain so that the heat was reduced. The poison that came out crippled them. Lord Shiva protected them by consuming it and that’s why the name Neel kantha. Lot of good and bad things came out of the ocean and they were divided among the devas and the asurAs under the guidance of Shivji.
There came out AirAvat, the elephant, Chandra and after that Lakshmi devi appeared with four hands and shankha chakra. She was followed by the divine dancers Ramba, Thilottama etc. Then appeared the nadhis, followed by two huge divine beings who would shed precious stones on a daily basis. ( Don’t worry, they were both sent immediately to remain at Lakshmi devi’s abode.).
They made the nava nidhis available for Kubera. Many other things such as kalpataru, kamadenu, Surya Mani , Syamantak Mani, koustubh Mani, devadatta Shankh, pushpak viman, nandhi ghosh Rath etc etc etc….
But the important story is about Amritam which had to be made available for the good ones. The AsurAs kept watching all the treasures being divided among the devas and they were not getting anything. What they were waiting for was the Amrit, the nectar that was churned out of the ocean and which would give eternal life, immortality. Finally, when it was time to divide the nectar of immortality, the asurAs became aggressively assertive.
Knowing fully well that the devas, then, did not stand a chance against them, Brahma requested lord Vishnu to come to the Devas’ rescue. The Lord took the form of a beautiful woman. This form of the Lord is called the Mohini rUpam. In a sweet voice He looked at the devas and cooed, “You do great injustice to the AsurAs. I don’t like this. Whatever came out of the ocean has to be equally divided.” Saying this he made them both form two lines. Once the devas and the Asuras queued up, Brahma handed over two vessels to Mohini. One of Amrit and the other of an intoxicating drink called SURA. (there is a debate over SURA and soma drink. Soma is more like euphoric and energizing drink whereas SURA is purely intoxicating like Alcohol). Cleverly while sharing the Amrit among the devas she mesmerized the Asuras with her magical smile and looks and fed them with SURA. The AsurAs didn’t find a difference. But one out of them realized the trick and went and joined the devas disguised as one. But Lord ViShNu immediately cut off his head with his chakrayudam. Having tasted the nectar of immortality, the asurA could not be killed. The severed head and the body thus became the two grahas, Rahu and Ketu.
All DasAvatara stories appear in one or other PurAnam. This is the tamasic purAna version. As it is interesting, doesn’t mean the other version is not true or vice versa. The other versions will be posted later.
Temples Of Kurma Avatar
- Sri Kurmam temple – Located in Andhrapradesh is a very famous temple for Kurma Avatar.