Mohini Avatar and the Kurma Avatar

There was a bitter feud between the two sets of half-brothers, the Devas and Asuras. They were engaged in an eternal conflict, with neither side able to score a decisive victory. The ranks of the dead were swelling on both sides. At last, an uneasy truce was brokered. It was agreed that both sides would join their efforts to seek Amrit, the nectar that would make those who drank it immortal. It was fabled that there was plenty of Amrit at the bottom of the sea-of-milk in Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu.

They needed a suitable ladle to churn the sea. The searched around and at last hit upon the idea of using Meru (other accounts name the mountain as Mandara), the giant mountain that was the king of all mountains for this purpose. Next they needed a sturdy rope, strong enough to bind and move Meru. They found this in the form of Vasuki, the giant serpent that is the king of the snakes. Now they were all set to perform this monumental task. Apart from the Devas and Asuras, all the divine beings, the Trinity and many sages came there to witness this grand spectacle.

At last the mountain was bound with Vasuki and lowered into the sea. Vishnu took the form of a giant turtle (this is his Kurma Avatar) and supported the mountain underneath, preventing it from sinking. Millions of Devas and Asuras held each side of the rope, on either side of Meru. The Devas held the head of the serpent and the Asuras held the tail. They started the process of churning. They churned for a very long time. Vasuki could not bear the strain and coughed up the most potent of all venoms, the Alahala. (Alternate accounts say that Alahala actually emerged from the sea-of-milk, the distilled essence of all evil in the universe). The earth and the sky were stained by its deadly potency. All living beings began suffocating, with the poison threatening to end the universe. No one was brave enough to venture near it. The sages beseeched Shiva to save the universe. The Lord took the poison in his four hands and swallowed it whole! It would have put an end to him, if not had it been for the quick thinking of his wife Parvati. She choked his neck with all her might. The poison was arrested. It got stuck in his neck, staining it a dark hue of blue. From that day, Shiva was also referred to as Nilakanta (Blue-throated).

With Alahala safely out of the way, the half-brothers resumed their churning. First to rise from the ocean of milk was Chandra, the moon, with Laxmi on his lap. Vishnu claimed Laxmi as his wife, for he was the only bachelor among the Trinity. Next came the divine cow Kamadhenu, which was claimed by Indra, the king of the Devas. The divine horse Uchaishravas also emerged and was claimed again by Indra. The wish-granting tree Kalpatharu emerged, and again became the property of Indra. According to some accounts, a conch named Panchajanya, a bow named Sharanga and the Apsaras (divine nymphs) also emerged from this sea-of-milk. The divine twins, the Ashwinis were also said to emerge at this time from the sea-of-milk. They became the physicians of the Gods.

The churning continued and then Dhanvantri, the divine physician arose from the foam. He is said to be the father of Ayurvedha, the system of Indian medicine. He carried in his hand a huge pot of the nectar, Amrit, which was the elixir that both the Devas and Asuras were seeking. The toils over, it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Now, the Devas were very worried. They already felt that Asuras were more powerful than them. They feared that if the Asuras drank Amrit and became immortal, they would become invincible. They beseeched Vishnu to find a way to cheat the Asuras.

Vishnu heard their prayer. He took the form of an exceedingly beautiful woman, named Mohini (This is the Mohini incarnation of Vishnu. Mohini literally means bewitching). This woman surpassed all the divine nymphs in her comeliness. All were struck dumb by her divine radiance, none more so than the Asuras. She took charge of the process of dividing the Amrit. First, she made both the Asuras and Devas sit in two separate rows, facing each other. Next, she started to give Amrit, starting with the Devas. So smitten were the Asuras, that they did not even notice that she was serving only the Devas! Well, not all of them, there was a crafty Asura named Rahu who saw through this ruse. He knew that the Asuras will not be able to see this duplicity until it was too late. So he assumed the form of a Deva and sat amongst the Devas. He was served with Amrit and became immortal.

However, this ruse was not entirely unobserved. Surya (Sun) and Chandra (moon) had seen him shape-shrift and immediately told Vishnu. Vishnu used his Sudarsana-Chakra (discus) and promptly beheaded the fake Deva. However, since he had drunk Amrit, both portions of his body continued to live. The head was now named Rahu and the torso was named Ketu. Both were now made part of the Navagrahas, the nine planets. Since the sun and the moon had betrayed him, every now and then, Rahu and Ketu swallow them, resulting in the eclipses. Rahu eats Surya and Ketu consumes Chandra.

Meanwhile, Shiva had become smitten with the form of Mohini. Consumed by his lust, he started chasing her. The chase continued for a long time. At last Mohini yielded to Shiva‘s desire. A son named Iyappa was born out of this relationship. He is therefore referred to as Hari-Hara-Sutha. (Hari=Vishnu, Hara=Shiva, Sutha=Son).

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