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Sonntag, 15. Mai 2011

Part 12 - Preah Vihear No Man's Land

As seen on a lintel at Preah Vihear

The Legend of “The Churning of the Milk Ocean”


Time was short. The demons gained strength by the minute, the Gods lost power by the second. Never mind that one second in the calendar of the Hindu heavenliest lasts 100,000 earth years.  
Lord Indra: “Any advice will do, Lord Vishnu. We need a miracle anyway…”
Lord Vishnu after taking a deep breath: “OK then, listen! We need to recover the long lost amrita, the nectar of strength, power and endless life.
Lord Indra: “What has to be done? Any idea?”
Lord Vishnu: “Of course. We need to churn the ocean until it releases this magical drink. 
Lord Indra: “Why don’t we start immediately? Let’s hurry up!”
Lord Vishnu: “But there’s a catch in it. We, deva, Gods, will not be able to do it alone. We are too weak meanwhile and have to find helping hands. Strong hands that is.”
Lord Indra: “Oh man, something bad is going down.“  
Lord Vishnu: “We need to convince the asura, demons, to support us.”
Lord Indra: “I was afraid of that. Why would they want to help us anyway? Unless we promise them something in return…oh no, Lord Vishnu…you really want to tell them, what we are after?”
Lord Vishnu: “Yes, we need to. The recovery of amrita is the only motivation that will make them co-operate with us.”
Lord Indra: “More than risky. If the asura get their hands on amrita we are lost for ever. I don’t see how we would be able to prevent them from doing so. Mission impossible.”
Lord Vishnu: “Trust me, Lord Indra, I know the answer.”

And so it came that the “good” and the “ugly bad” pulled the same string for a mutual task, the recovery of amrita. The dimensions of the churning device were huge. There was the “string”, a giant snake, named vasuki, her middle spiralled around the sacred mount meru, the center of all universes, that was used as a churning tool.
The asura pulled the head end of vasuki, the deva the tail end...back and forth, back and forth…for more than a thousand years, causing the mount to rotate. Sounds like a straightforward task, but it wasn’t.

Mount meru threatened to sink into the ocean.  Lord Vishnu was the first one to recognize this and transformed into a giant turtle. Thus supporting mount meru on his back and establishing a sound base. Not only that. The snake went hot and started to exhale a poisonous and deadly steam. Surprisingly it was Lord Shiva, the destroyer, who was willing to sacrifice himself by inhaling the lethal toxin, so it wouldn’t contaminate the entire universe . His lovely wife, Parvati,  and mother of Ganesh, the one with the elephant head, didn’t want her husband to die and jumped immediately to Shiva’s help, clinging her hands around his throat. Lord Shiva survived because the poison never reached his lungs, but he turned bluish like a strangled person for ever.

The churning went on. Both, the deva and the asura, never intending to let the other party get hold of amrita, the ultimate power drink.

Successively the ocean began to release its treasures.

·      A white elephant called Erawan
·      A holy cow and future companion of Lord Shiva
·      A white horse with a tail which could fulfil any wishes
·      A tree with the same characteristic
·      A Garuda and future companion of Lord Vishnu

Garuda, Thailand's government seal

·      The goddess of wine
·      A number of beautiful nymphs
·      Lakshmi, the long missed beautiful wife of Lord Vishnu

Finally, Dhanvantari, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, rose up out of the floods, a bowl filled with amrita in his hands. The fight for this mystical potion started immediately.  
The Garuda grabbed the bowl and flew away. On its way some drops of amrita rained down to earth. To be more precise at Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Since then these four locations radiate mystical powers. Every 12 years millions of Hindus assemble at these places for ritual bathing.        
Meanwhile Lord Vishnu transformed into a sexy nymph, named Mohini. His companions saw through his ploy and kept their eyes on the eventually returning Garuda. The asura, demons, however, went randy. Every single one of them trying to be the first one laying hands on this beautiful nymph.

When the Garuda returned he served amrita to the Gods who drank it eagerly. The world was saved. One of the demons, Rahu, played it smart though. He disguised as a God, stood in queue, caught a drought of amrita and was just about to swallow it when the observant Lord Vishnu recognized the fraud. He decapitated Rahu with one stroke of his sword. Too late for the head of Rahu. It remained immortal. Since then his mug decorates many Hindu and Buddhist chedis as a warning. It is told that Rahu can eclipse sun and moon.        

Grimaces of Rahu at Phra Buddha Bat Bua Bok, province Udon Thani, Thailand.

So far the legend of the churning of the ocean of milk. Its greatest depiction can be found at Ankor Wat. It’s 45 meters long. A modern one can be admired in the international airport Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok.

Suvarnabhumi airport Bangkok

The 2nd avenue and the 3rd Gopura will be subject of the next blog entry in this series about Preah Vihear.

Cautionary Remark: Whoever intends to visit Preah Vihear / Khao Pra Wihan should ask for advice beforehand. As of now, May 2011, the place is closed for visitors. Thai and Cambodian troops face each other in close proximity. Renewed battles could emerge at any time.   

stay tuned... 

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