The Churning of the Ocean of Milk.


Every culture around the world has its own version or legend of the origin of the species. Most of us are familiar with Charles Darwin ‘s theory On The Origin of Species (1859) or have at least heard of it. In Hindu, there is an origin or creation myth called The Churning of the Ocean of Milk. It is a captivating tale that is depicted in many forms in art and in particular, in the bas-relief panel at Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.

In Hindu mythology, it is said that 13 precious objects including the elixir of immortality called Amrita were lost in the churning of the cosmic sea. Finding these cherished objects again required cooperation between the gods (devas) and demons (asuras) in an almighty dredging exercise. The scheme required the assistance of the giant serpent Vasuki, who offered himself as a rope to enable the rotating of a “churning stick.” The churning stick is depicted as Mount Mandara. (Pictured above in the header image) At some point in the tug of war, Mount Mandara starts to sink and has to be support upright by a giant turtle, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. It is said that as the serpent was wrenched back and forth in this titanic tug-of-war, that lasted for a thousand years, the Sea of milk or the Ocean of immortality is found and released. Many other treasures are also said to be tossed up too.


Gradually moved from Hindu to Buddhist use, the Angkor Wat, is considered one of the largest religious temples in the world.


This is only one small section of the bas-relief panel at Angkor Wat which depicts Vishnu surrounded by devas and asuras churning the cosmic ocean of milk.

Categories: Mythology

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4 replies

  1. That’s cool. Angkor is going to be one of my first stops. I’ve always wanted to go there.

  2. I remember reading a National Geographic spread on Angkor in 1982. Cambodia was then coming out of its civil war and genocide, and there was a very big question about whether Angkor would even survive. It seems as if it has in the past 30 years. The loss of this amazing place would be a tragedy for every human being on Earth, and it’s a place that needs to be preserved and appreciated. I’d love to see it myself someday.


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