Hindu mythological stories were originally composed in Sanskrit, in the form of verses or shlokas.
These verses often seem to have more than one meaning, which makes Sanskrit scholars think that these stories are more than just stories. They are like codes, cleverly disguised to pass on certain ideas and perhaps keep records of some important events.
The Churning of the Ocean,Samudra Manthan, is full of such secrets and hidden meanings. Given below are some of them.
1. Good vs Evil- The Battle Within
A common interpretation of the myth is that the Devas and the Asuras are the good and bad tendencies in all of us. And, the churning of the milky ocean waters is like the agitation we experience when we are troubled.It is the agitation in our consciousness.
The story tells us that in the fight between good and bad, we must steady our mind like the mountain by supported on the back of a Turtle. One of the names used for the mountain in the original story is ‘Mandhara’ which means a steady mind. While the Turtle is often used as a symbol for controlling the senses. Just as a turtle withdraws its head, legs and tail into its shell so also we can learn to control our six senses.
The serpent Vasuki, represents desire that is constantly tugging us between the good and bad.
As we fight this battle within our selves and try to overcome the bad, many emotions and thoughts come to the surface. At first they are negative like the Halahal poison. But, if we swallow it like Shiva and don’t give up, we will be rewarded by great riches. These are symbolized by Laxmi, the goddess of wealth; Kamdhenu-the wish-fulfilling Cow; the Kalpatru – the wish-fulfilling tree: the Kaustubh gem, etc.
Finally, we will get biggest treasure of all, realization of the Ultimate Reality or Truth which is the true nectar of immortality.
The second interpretation refers to a practice of yoga. Yogis say that when the all the senses are withdrawn and mind is stilled in meditation, the Kundalini energy which sits, coiled like a serpent, at the base of the spine called the Merudanda ( Mount Meru in the story), rises upwards and reaches the crown of the head to give a person a glimpse of the Truth.
3. The Milky Way
In the full version of the story, there are detailed descriptions of the specific positions of the moon, the sun and some planets at the time of the Churning. Rahu and Ketu swallow the Sun and Moon in eclipses. Could it be that the Ksheer Sagar( Milky Ocean) is the Milky Way, and the story is possibly an astronomical observation or an event? Perhaps it has been cleverly recorded as a story so that it is not forgotten
Vishnu’s incarnation as a turtle in the story draws another obvious parallel.
Vishnu has ten avatars .First came the Fish, then the Turtle, then a Boar, then Half Man-Half Beast, then a Dwarf followed by Parshuram the sage, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and the last one yet to come is Kalki.
The order of these incarnations seem like Darwin’s theory of evolution. Could these be Hinduism’s idea of evolution of man. Or does it imply a natural hierarchy? Is it a Creation Myth?
Which of these above interpretations of the story do you like most? Can you find another meaning hidden in there?
If you do , I’d like to hear about it.