The Legend of “The Churning of the Milk Ocean”
The lintel depicting this legend can be found above one of the entrances of the 2nd Gopura facing South.
For many it’s just a Khmer relief or lintel among others, kind of interesting though, because it shows some figures holding on to a strange thing and obviously doing something with it, a mystery to the ordinary person outside India or the Hindu community.
Some call it the Hindu creation myth. But it’s definitely not the one of mankind. Kshir sagar mantham or samudra mantham, as it is titled sometimes, rather describes the Parthenon of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses and the way they became immortal and invincible.
It’s a story of good and evil, sacrifice and selfishness, sincerity and furtiveness, love and hate, hope and desperation, joy and suffering. In other words, it retells the story of universal values common to all mankind. And that is why “The Churning of the Milk Ocean” holds a central place in the Hindu Mythology.
The legend is told in some variations around a common core. One goes like this…
Kshir (milk) sagar (ocean) manthan (churn)
Once upon a time Lord Indra, the King of Gods, rode his white elephant named Airavata through the country side. The Thais call this elephant Erawan.
The city seal of Bangkok
The famous ascetic Durvasa came across his way and immediately showed his respect to Lord Indra by handing over a wreath of flowers to him. Lord Indra placed it on the head of Airavata. The elephant got irritated by the captivating scent of these flowers and shook its head angrily. Not only that. The garland fell down on the ground and Airavata trampled furiously on it. The ascetic Durvasa, also well known for his violent temper, got upset to such an extent that he cursed Lord Indra:
“Hey Indra. Look, what became of you. A snotty ruler, blinded by richness, power and pride. You’re nothing else than a selfish shell hiding your arrogance. Your might, power, energy and happiness will dissipate, same as for your heavenly companions.”
So it happened. The demons (asura) took advantage of the weakness of the Gods (deva) and overran their heavens. The world was at the brink of darkness.
Interesting, how the Hindus characterize the demons. According to them they are half- brothers of the Gods but lack helpfulness, compassion, empathy, love, truthfulness, the willingness to sacrifice themselves for a companion, not to mention their aversion of worshipping any God.
At normal times the Gods keep the demons at bay to a fair extend, but now there were no normal times any more. Lord Indra desperately approached Lord Brahma, the creator, and asked him for advice. Lord Brahma sent him to Lord Vishnu, the preserver, the one who supports and sustains the universe.
Lord Vishnu’s idea to regain power was most challenging and quite unusual...
Cautionary Remark: Whoever intends to visit Preah Vihear / Khao Pra Wihan should ask for advice beforehand. As of now, April 2011, the place is closed for visitors. Thai and Cambodian troops face each other in close proximity. Renewed battles could emerge at any time.