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In Hindu cosmology, the Ocean of Milk (Sanskrit: Kṣīra Sāgara,Tamil: Tiruppāṟkaṭal, Malayalam: Pālāḻi) is the fifth from the centre of the seven oceans. It surrounds the continent known as Krauncha. According to Hindu scriptures, the devas and asuras worked together for a millennium to churn the ocean and release amrita, the nectar of immortal life. It is spoken of in the Samudra Manthana chapter of the Puranas, a body of ancient Hindu legends. It is called as the Tiruparkadal (Sacred sea of milk) in Tamil, and is the place where Vishnu reclines over Adishesha, along with his consort, Lakshmi.
"Ocean of Milk" is the English translation of the Sanskrit terms kṣīroda, kṣīrābdhi or kṣīrasāgara, from kṣīra "milk" and -uda, sāgara "water, ocean" or abdhi "ocean."
The Churning of the Ocean
One of the most fascinating episodes of Hindu mythology involves the churning of the cosmic ocean in order to obtain amrita – the nectar of immortal life. At the suggestion of Vishnu, the devas and asuras churn the primeval ocean in order to obtain amrita, which will grant them immortality. To churn the ocean, they used the serpent-king, Vasuki, for their churning-string. For a churning pole, they used Mount Mandara, placed on the back of the Kurma avatar of Vishnu. As the gods and demons churned the sea, the terrible poison halahala issued from its depths, and began to envelop the universe with its choking fumes. Gasping for breath, the devas and asuras sought the help of Shiva, who swallowed the poison into his throat. Shocked by his heroic act, the Goddess Parvati grasped him by the throat, trapping the poison there and preventing it from spreading; but, such was the strength of the poison, that it turned his neck blue, thereby earning him the epithet of Neelakantha (the blue-throated one).
When the amrita finally emerged along with several other treasures, the devas and asuras fought over it. However, Vishnu in the form of the enchantress Mohini, managed to manipulate the asuras into allowing her to be the one to distribute the nectar, upon which she offered it only to the devas. Svarbhanu, an asura, disguised himself as a deva and tried to drink some amrita himself. Surya (the sun-god) and Chandra (the moon-god) alerted Vishnu to this deception. Vishnu then decapitated Svarbhanu just as he is about to swallow the nectar, leaving his head and decapitated body immortal. Later, his head became known as Rahu and the beheaded part became known as Ketu.
According to the Bhagavata Purana, some of the many ratnas (treasures) of the churning of Kshira Sagara are the substances Halahala (the terrible poison neutralised by Shiva) and amrita (the divine nectar); the divinities Dhanvantari (the physician of the Gods), Lakshmi (Goddess of Prosperity), Jyestha (Goddess of Misfortune) and Chandra (the Moon); the animals Airavata, the white elephant and the horse Uchchaisrava, and the magical wish-granting tree Kalpavriksha.
The sea of milk in person presented her with in wreath of never-fading flowers; and the artist of thc gods (Visvakarma) decorated her person with heavenly ornaments. Thus bathed, attired, and adorned, the goddess, in the view of the celestials, cast herself upon the breast of Hari; and there reclining, turned her eyes upon the deities, who were inspired with rapture by her gaze. Not so the Daityas, who, with Vipracitti at their head, were filled with indignation, as Visnu turned away from them, and they were abandoned by the goddess of prosperity (Laksml).— Vishnu Purana, Book 1, Chapter 9
It also describes the nature of the inhabitants and the geography of this realm:
The Ksiroda ocean (or sea of milk) is encompassed by the seventh Dvipa, or Pushkara, which is twice the size of Saka-dvipa. Savana, who was made its sovereign, had but two sons, Mahavira and DhatokI, after whom the two Varsas of Puskara were so named. These are divided by one mighty range of mountains, called Manasottara, which runs in a circular direction (forming an outer and an inner circle). This mountain is fifty thousand Yojanas in height, and as many in its breadth; dividing the Dvipa in the middle, as if with a bracelet, into two divisions, which are also of a circular form, like the mountain that separates them. Of these two, the Mahavlra-varsa is exterior to the circumference of Manasottara, and Dhataki lies within the circle; and both are frequented by heavenly spirits and gods. There are no other mountains in Puskara, neither are there any rivers. Men in this Dvipa live a thousand years,' free from sickness and sorrow, and unruffled by anger or affection. There is neither virtue nor vice, killer nor slain; there is no jealousy, envy, fear, hatred, covetousness, nor any moral defect: neither is there truth or falsehood. Food is spontaneously produced there, and all the inhabitants feed upon viands of every flavour. Men there are indeed of the same nature with gods, and of the same form and habits. There is no distinction of caste or order; there are no fixed institutes; nor are rites performed for the sake of advantage. The three Vedas, the Puranas, ethics, and polity, and the laws of service, are unknown. Puskara is in fact, in both its divisions, a terrestrial paradise, where time yields happiness to all its inhabitants, who are exempt from sickness and decay. A Nyagrodha-tree (Ficus indica) grows on this Dvipa, which is the especial abode of Brahma, and he resides in its, adored by the gods and demons. Pushkara is surrounded by the sea of fresh water, which is of equal extent with the continent it invests.— Vishnu Purana, Book 2, Chapter 4
Praise the lotus-eyed Lord
Who is the form of the three gods
Who is the first among the first three
Who removes curses
Who lies on the deep ocean
Who is the Lord of the divine beings
Whose bow burnt the beautiful Lanka and
Who destroys our sins.
The Lord ... is thus in the form of the trimurti. He is the support of Brahma, Rudra, and Indra who bring forth all the worlds. He saves them from the danger of the demons who cause grief and who steal their Vedas. He has the Sea of Milk as his abode. Being all this, with the intention of being a refuge, he descended as the son of Dasaratha |i.e., Kama). Though a man, by virtue of his bodily form, personal qualities, manifestations [incarnations], and deeds, he is as different from the |lower| divine beings as they are from human beings. His only enjoyment is expelling the enemies of his devotees. . . . (3.6.2)
Becoming human and everything else,
The unique One, wondrously born,
Is the Lord who belongs to the deep sea.
Those who, without rancour, dance and praise,
The tender fruit, the sweet juice of sugarcane Sweet as candy, honey, and nectar.
Know well his goodness.
He who is distinct from all other entities, who is not born like men under the sway of karma, who has his abode in the sea of milk, for the sake of protecting his devotees, has by his own will descended into hu¬ man and other wombs in such a way that his incarnate bodies have not even a whiff of the faults of material nature.
Devi Bhagavata Purana
The Bhagavan Hari sometimes resides in Vaikuntha, sometimes resides in the sea of milk and enjoys pleasures, sometimes fights the powerful Danavas, sometimes performs extensive sacrificial ceremonies sometimes performs severe asceticism and sometimes takes to deep sleep under the guidance of Yoga Maya. Thus He never becomes free and independent.— Devi Bhagavata Purana, Chapter 20, Verses 12 - 14
- Vaikuntha, covered with water in the material world, which is an inestimable distance away in the direction of the Makara Rashi (Shravana Zodiac) or the Capricorn Constellation. Upon this realm is a place called Vedavati, where Vishnu resides.
- On the island known as Svetadvipa, there is an Ocean of Milk, and in the midst of that ocean, is a place called Airavatipura, where Aniruddha lies on Ananta.
Cosmologically, the dvipas (islands) and sagaras (seas) depict the entire cosmos, though in cosmography, all the dvipas and sagaras are shown to lie in the Southern Hemisphere. In some of the satvata-tantras there is a description of the nine varshas and the predominating Deity worshiped in each:
Paramatma, the Supersoul, in the heart of all avatars that exist in the material universe live in the Kshira Sagara. According to some Vaishnava traditions, the Paramatma is Ksirodakasayi Vishnu – who is in every atom and heart of all 8 400 000 kinds of material bodies, as the soul in each heart called atma, which in essence is the same as Paramatma.
- D. Dennis Hudson: The body of God: an emperor's palace for Krishna in eighth-century Kanchipuram, Oxford University Press US, 2008, ISBN 978-0-19-536922-9, pp.164-168
- "Churning the Ocean of Milk by Michael Buckley".
- Chenni Padmanabhan. Concept of Sri Andal's Tiruppavai. R.P. Publications, 1995 - Krishna (Hindu deity) in literature - 296 pages. p. 87.
- Flood, Gavin (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43878-0., pp. 78.
- "Online version of the Ramayana Canto 45 in English".
- "Online version of the Mahabharata in English".
- Makarand Joshi. VISHNU PURANA Sanskrit English OCR. p. 65.
- Makarand Joshi. VISHNU PURANA Sanskrit English OCR. p. 172.
- Makarand Joshi. The Tamil Veda Pillan Interpretation Of Tiruvaymoli J Carman And V Narayanan 1989 OCR. pp. 72–73.
- Makarand Joshi. The Tamil Veda Pillan Interpretation Of Tiruvaymoli J Carman And V Narayanan 1989 OCR. p. 88.
- Swami Vijnanananda (2018). The Srimad Devi Bhagavatam by Veda Vyasa and Translated by Swami Vijnanananda.
- The story of the churning as told in the epic Mahabharata, here in the online English translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli at sacred-texts.com.
- The story of the churning as told in the epic Ramayana, here in the online English verse translation by Ralph T. H. Griffith at sacred-texts.com.
- The story of the churning as told in the Vishnu Purana, here in the online English translation by Horace Hayman Wilson at sacred-texts.com.