The Story of Samudra Manthan
Samudra Manthan is a famous mythological story depicting the battle between ‘asuras‘ and ‘devas.’ This story is filled with Jyotish gems and is often taught when learning about the origin and nature of Rahu and Ketu.
In the episode known as Samudra Manthan, the Deva, losing their strength and fearing the Asuras, approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu advised them to retrieve the nectar of immortality, which resided at the bottom of the celestial ocean of milk. To recover the nectar, they would need to churn the ocean, and because this task was so huge, they also needed help from the Asuras.
Jyotish tip: In its essence, this story also depicts the battle between light and dark forces within ourselves. It also teaches us that, both good and bad, our strengths and weaknesses need to work together to gain Amrita, or the nectar of immortality. The very process of the churning of the ocean is said to be the process of meditation.
For the churning of the ocean, the Devas sought the help of the mountain Mandara to serve as the churning rod, and Vasuki, the king of snakes, was to serve as the rope. The Devas were to pull one end of the giant serpent, and the Asuras, the other. The demons/Asuras held the head of the snake while the Devas took its tail.
Jyotish tip: From here, we learn that the upper part of the snake, called Rahu, represents the asura nature (the Asuras were holding the head of the snake), while the tail part of the snake symbolizes the nature of the Devas. Therefore, we say that Rahu represents samsara or what is known as a material path, while Ketu became a karaka for sanyasa, and represents a spiritual path. From the perspective of meditation, it is said that one should sit with an erect spine, which in this story is symbolic of Mount Meru while the Vasuki snake, here represents Kundalini energy.
During churning, various articles were produced from the ocean, including the Hālāhala or poison swallowed by Shiva, Varuni, goddess of wine, Kaustubha jewel of Vishnu, the moon goddess Lakshmi (daughter of the ocean), Parijāta tree, Airavata, and many others. Finally, Dhanvantari, the divine physician, emerged, holding a pot of nectar.
Jyotish tip: Due to the churning of the ocean or meditation, many good and bad things will come to the surface, deeply hidden within us. Each of the "gifts" has its own symbolism. One that speaks to me as an astrologer was Halahal poison, which was swallowed and resolved by Lord Shiva as a symbol that inner self-knowledge can consume/disolve any negativity.
The Devas and Asuras both began to fight over it. The devas then appealed to Vishnu. He took the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini, and distracted the asuras. Volunteering to distribute the nectar to all of them, she gives some nectar each to each of the devas. As per the story, Asura Rahu/Ketu insinuated himself amongst the gods (he took the form of a Deva) and joined the line of the Devas receiving the nectar. He gets a sip. Vishnu immediately cut off the demon’s head with his chakra (disc), but it had become immortal in two parts – Rahu, the head, and Ketu, the body. By the time the rest of the Asuras realized what was happening, the nectar had been distributed to the Devas. The rejuvenated Devas could defeat the Asuras in battle and regain their strength.
Jyotish tip: Rahu is said to be the head of the snake and hence represents intelligence, thinking, and cheating (Rahu deceitfully got the nectar), while Ketu, as the tail represents headless behavior, instincts, impulses, and practices where one withdraws his/hers senses like meditation.
In its essence, this story also depicts the battle between light and dark forces within ourselves. To learn more about the spiritual significance of this story, please listen to this Vedanta lecture.
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