Years and years back as a wee kid of four or thereabouts, I remember watching father’s mother, we called her muthassiamma (grandmother), churning ‘ripened’ milk for butter. Carefully scooping the butter out, she would not forget to hand out a dollop each to my sister and me. A tiny spoonful of butter would also find its way atop the baby dosas she made us for breakfast.
Mixers with the churning attachment for extracting butter were still somewhere in the future. Muthassiamma made do with something called a mathu (masher). The mathu stood upright, fitted into a horizontal rod of some sort (I don’t exactly remember how the contraption looked) and was pulled this way and that, the churning action, using a rope or a piece of cloth.
This is but a replication of the great samudra/sagara manthana that is supposed to have happened long long ago. Pssst! I have to write ‘it happened’ though it is just a mythical tale. Times are such that I may have sword bearing goons at my doorstep yelling ‘Off with her head!’ So *wink wink* you know what to think. Anyway… we were talking of samudra/sagara manthana which means the ‘churning of the ocean of milk’.
Ages ago, and this is like really really ages and ages ago, the gods and demons decided to churn the ocean of milk. Yup, there was one, of bleddy milk too, in those long ago days. Probably no one drank milk (lactose intolerant!) and it all ended up being a huge sea. Whatever.
Now we come to the reason as to why they, the demons and gods, wanted to churn the ocean of milk. No, ’twas not for butter. The ocean (of milk) contained something that the gods wanted badly, and that was the amrit aka nectar of immortality. The gods couldn’t do the work involved all on their own. So they conned the demons, the whole gullible lot of them, into joining them. We’ll share the rewards equally with y’all, the gods said. The demons were pleased. After all these were gods, they’d not break their promise, would they? Of course not.
Knowing no better and having swallowed it all hook, line and sinker, the bechare demons spit on their hands and got down to the work of helping the gods. My muthassiamma did the churning with masher and rope. But to churn the ocean of milk a whole mountain and snake were needed. And this was none of your anaconda we are talking about, but a much, much bigger and longer snake. It had to be wound round the mountain to be pulled this way and that, with gods on one side and demons on the other.
The churning started in earnest soon. The nectar of immortality was nowhere to be seen. But there came quite a few other things before that. The wily gods took all of the better ones and passed on the duds to the demons. For example, the gods took the Goddess of Fortune, passing on the Goddess of Misfortune to the demons. If anyone tried that sort of thing in today’s world, you might just have a (justified) strike or hartal on your hands, some stone throwing and burning of buses, not to mention marches and anchors on television shouting themselves hoarse that ‘the nation wants to know the truth!’ while themselves dispersing lies. But those were the days when the conned abided by the contract they had only verbally agreed to albeit with much teeth-gnashing and grumbling.
Things came to a head when the nectar of mortality made its appearance. Ahh, finally! The heavenly physician Dhanvantari emerged from the ocean of milk with a pot of amrit. Don’t ask me what he was doing in the depths of the ocean of milk. He probably loved milk too much. Be that as it may, when the nectar of immortality made its appearance, some true colors were displayed. The gods wanted it all to themselves and as can be expected when contracts, verbal or otherwise, are broken, a fierce fight ensued between the gods and the demons.
What did the chief god do? He turned himself into a beautiful woman (Yeah, all religions are the same when it comes to casting woman as seductress!), the enticing Mohini, and made eyes at the demons making their hearts go dhak, dhak, dhak, dhak. She told them ever so sweetly to go freshen up before partaking of the nectar of immortality. The demons, the losers, believing the gods still, hurried off to do her bidding. Mohini meanwhile, quickly started distributing the nectar of immortality to the gods. Only one of the demons managed to reach back in time to see what was happening and quickly disguising himself as a god tried to get some for himself. All he got for his trouble was getting his head chopped off, the poor sod, thereby becoming two demons in the place of one.
It was thus that the gods became immortal while the demons were left twiddling their thumbs. You know what one carries away from this? That cheaters can easily disguise themselves as good people and fool others into worshiping them for centuries to come, and the losers will be branded bad/evil for as long a period too. At least that’s what I take away.
©Shail Mohan 2018