Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 11:19 PM
After pralaya, there was a lull.
Nothing stirred. Vishnu rested in perfect tranquility on the endless coils of Ananta-Sesha, the serpent of Time, awaiting the reawakening of the world.
Around him, stretching into infinity stood the still primeval waters. In them lay dissolved without form or identity all that once existed. This was yoga-nidra, the cosmic slumber.
Vishnu opened his eyes, setting the stage for creation. The seed of life present in his body emerged from his navel as a thousand-petalled lotus. On it sat Brahma, the creator.
The creator looked in the four cardinal directions: he found nothing he could create the new world with.
He closed his eyes and pondered over the problem.
"Mould the three worlds out of Vishnu's creative energy, his Maya," a voice whispered in Brahma's ear. The creator opened his eyes to a splendid vision the breathtaking cosmic form of Vishnu, his vishvarupa:
The lord's body encompassed the whole universe.
Within him was present the one cosmic soul; the two genders; the three strides of time; the four books of knowledge; the five elements; the six philosophies; the seven sheaths of the body; the eight directions; the nine emotions; the ten vital breaths; the twelve zodiacs; the fourteen planes of existence; the twenty-seven lunar asterisms; the thirty-three gods; the sixty-four arts; the seventy-two vocations; the hundred and eight divine spirits.
The celestial bodies made up his eyes; the oceans were contained in his stomach; the mountains were his bones the rivers flowed through his veins; the trees stood as his body-hair. His upper body was the sky; his lower body, the abyss.
From his right nostril he exhaled life; from the left he inhaled death.
He was the cosmic substance, prakriti that gives form to existence; he was also the cosmic spirit, purusha that gives life meaning.
He was infinite Space and eternal Time. He was everything that was, is and will be.
He was the Virat-purusha, the entity that is the cosmos.
Brahma said, "Without a sacrifice, yagna, nothing can be obtained. To create a new world, what shall I sacrifice?"
"Sacrifice me." said Vishnu.
"What shall I use as the sacrificial knife, the sacrificial altar and the sacrificial post?"
"Use me," said Vishnu.
"Where do I find the sacred fire and the sacred chants?"
"In me," said Vishnu.
"Who will be the presiding deity?"
"It will be me. I will also be the offering and the reward," said Vishnu.
Vishnu, the embodiment of every aspect of the cosmic sacrifice, became known as Yagna-purusha.
Brahma divided Vishnu into four parts. So vast was Vishnu that from just one quarter of his being Brahma could create the whole world and everything in it, including the gods and the demons.
Vishnu was Vastu-purusha, the lord of Space, from which Brahma moulded the eight directions of the cosmic dwelling, its roof and its floor. Vishnu was Yuga-purusha, the lord of Time, whom Brahma divided into the four ages Krita, Treta, Dvapara, Kali that make up one kalpa, the lifespan of a world.
Overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of Vishnu, Brahma saluted him, "You are Bhagavan, the totality of the cosmos. Everything in this world has come from you."
First came the gods and the demons. As soon as they were created, they surveyed the cosmos it was bereft of vitality.
"Where is everything?" they wondered.
Vishnu said, "All that you seek lies dissolved in the primeval waters. Churn it out."
"But what do we use as a churning spindle?" they asked.
“Use Mount Meru, the axis of Space."
"And for the churning rope?"
"Use Ananta-Sesha, the serpent of Time."
Mount Meru lay submerged beneath the primeval waters. Neither the gods nor the demons could pull it out.
So Vishnu took the form of Emusha, the celestial boar his flanks stretched across the horizon, his snout reached into the heavens. Emusha plunged into the waters, ploughed up Meru with his mighty tusks and brought it to the surface.
Vishnu then wound Ananta-Sesha round the celestial mount to create the cosmic churn.
Turning into Kurma, a gigantic turtle, Vishnu supported the cosmic churn on his back.
So vast was Kurma that his upper shell made up the vault of the heavens and held the sky; his lower shell formed the abyss and contained the sea. His feet rested upon the four cardinal directions.
The gods and demons saluted this cosmic turtle. "You are Akupara, the celestial foundation of the universe."
The gods held Sesha's tail, the demons grabbed his neck and they began churning the cosmic waters. But no matter how hard they strained, Mount Meru would not whirl. "Hel0 us, Kurma," they cried, "Give us some of your abundant strength." The divine turtle let his radiance invigorate the gods and the demons. Soon they were churning the ocean with ease.
The mountain twisted and turned, the ocean frothed and fumed. The new world would soon emerge.
After a thousand years of churning there rose from the ocean Kalakuta, the accumulated impurities of the old world. So terrible was this poison that it scorched Vishnu's skin, making him Hari, the tawny-one.
On Vishnu's request, Shiva collected the lethal fluid and drank it as if it was sweet wine.
The gods and demons began churning the waters free of all impurities with renewed vigour, convinced that success was close at hand.
As the churning became intense, the rocks on the mountain slopes crashed into each other, spitting fire that set ablaze the trees atop Meru. Smoke filled the air choking the gods and the demons. Eyes turned red, throats became dry.
"Help us, Kurma," they cried.
The divine turtle flapped its flippers and splashed water all around, putting out the fire, clearing the air, refreshing everyone.
As the churning continued, the formless, limitless mass within the cosmic waters began to take wonderful shape.
First came the sun, the moon and the pole star.
Vishnu placed the pole star above Mount Meru; the sun and moon danced round it. This gave rise to the cyclical rhythm of seasons, ritu. As spring turned to summer and summer to winter, plants began to flower and fruit while animals began to eat, mate, migrate and hibernate.
Vishnu, the pivot of this wheel of life, came to be known as Chakrapani.
Then came the elements earth, fire, wind and water. But no sooner were they churned up than they began slipping away in different directions.
Vishnu stretched out his four hands and reined in the four escaping elements. Fire became his discus, water his lotus, wind his conch and earth his mace. He became ether and permeated every corner of space weaving all things into the cosmic fabric like the string in a necklace of beads.
With that, Vishnu came to be known as the lord of cohesion, Vaikuntha, he-who-prevents-disintegration.
As the churning continued, there emerged from the cosmic waters its most precious gift: Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and splendour, bestower of power, prosperity and pleasure.
The goddess brought with her many gifts: Kamadhenu, the life-sustaining cow; Kalpavriksha, the wish-fulfilling tree; Kaustubha-Parasmani, the most radiant of jewels; Rambha, the celestial courtesan; Sura, the goddess of wine;
Airavata, the six-tusked, the white-skinned elephant; Ucchaishrava, the seven-headed flying horse; Sharanga, the perfect bow; and Panchajanya, the divine conch.
With Lakshmi came Dhanvantari, the divine physician.
Dhanvantari, the foe of disease, death and decay, contained the spirit of Vishnu. He brought with him the science of health and healing known as Ayurveda, a bag of herbs, a leech to suck out toxins, a knife to cut out tumours, a pestle and mortar to make medicinal pastes and potions. In his jewelled hands he carried a pot of amrita the elixir of immortality.
The demons grabbed the vessel from the hands of Dhanvantari and ran away.
Angered by the theft, Vishnu decided to teach the demons a lesson. He approached them taking the form of Mohini, the enchantress, a voluptuous damsel with an alluring smile and enticing eyes.
"May I serve the amrita?" asked Mohini.
"You may," said the demons, eager to please. Mohini took the pot and began serving the nectar. The demons, bewitched by her beauty, failed to notice that she was pouring the divine drink only down the throats of the gods.
Rahu and Ketu
Rahu, suspicious of Mohini, sat amidst the gods disguised as one of them. The sun and the moon recognised the demon and alerted Vishnu. By then, however, some amrita had been poured into Rahu's mouth.
Vishnu immediately hurled his discus, the Sudarshan-chakra, and severed Rahu's neck preventing the nectar from entering his body.
Deprived of his body, Rahu swore to destroy his betrayers. He became the demon of eclipse that gnaws the bright faces of the sun and the moon from time to time.
His headless body became the astral entity known as Ketu.
The demons realised Vishnu did not intend to give them even a drop of nectar. They were incensed, but it was too late. Amrita had transformed the gods into powerful, luminous devas.
The demons, deprived of the drink, remained dark and gloomy Asuras. Feeling betrayed, they attacked the gods.
Vishnu picked up Sharanga, the bow that had emerged from the cosmic sea, and shot deadly missiles at the Asuras, helping the devas push them into the deepest recesses of the cosmos, the Patala.
As the gods celebrated their victory, Vishnu blew the divine conch Panchajanya and placed the radiant jewel Kaustubha on his crown.
Indra, eldest of the gods, invited Lakshmi to be his queen. "No. Only Vishnu is worthy of me," said the goddess. "Did he not, as Matsya, save the seed of life? Did he not, as Kurma, help churn me out of the cosmic sea? He is canny enough to be Mohini, the enchantress, and trick the demons; capable enough, as the bowman Sharangin, to lead the gods. He will protect me, love and respect me."
Lakshmi placed the garland of victory, Vaijayanti, around Vishnu's neck and made him her beloved consort, Vallabha.
The gods cheered this union.
Brahma blessed it.
Enchanted by the splendour of the three worlds, Brahma sprouted four heads and began admiring his creation from every angle. "Contain your pride," said Vishnu. "The universe you have moulded out of my Maya is not permanent. It exists today, but will be gone tomorrow."
"What is the purpose of such transitory existence?" asked the creator.
"Samsara exists to help man explore and experience the divine," replied Vishnu.
Vishnu then took the form of Hamsa, the swan, and began swimming in a river. The river did not restrain him in any way. He could fly away whenever he wished to, with not one drop of water burdening his wings.
Said Hamsa, "I enjoy the river; it helps me live. But I can fly only when I detach myself from the water. In the same way, he who seeks divinity must live in samsara without being attached to its flow."
Thus did Vishnu explain to Brahma the essence of life's mystery. The swan, the symbol of enlightenment and absolute freedom, became Brahma's mount.
Writer – Devdutt Pattanaik