Samudra Manthan: Eclipse Origins

By Agent 108 Adam Sommer

Eclipse stories
art by Santanu Santan Kumar

Stories have myriad functions.  They can help us better understand a subject. They can entertain.  They also can have the strangest way of telling the Truth.  Now, there are many different types of stories and the strain I’m most interested in here are the ones which place us back into the mythical landscape. The ones which transport us into another time entirely, yet containing a signature we are deeply familiar with. It’s a kind of remembering.  A way of unleashing the power of Imagination.

One such story is the Samudra Manthan. It can be found in the Mahabharata and also in the Vishnu Purana.  In its contents, we find the origin of Amrita “The Elixir of Immortality,” The Kumbh Mela, and an unbelievable explanation of why Eclipses occur.

There are ten thousand versions of this story.  The one you are about to hear is a simple drop into its Great Ocean, but one enlivened by my own panache.  The essence of it will be recognized if you are familiar with the tale.  The characters may take on a new life for you. There might be some missing parts. There may be some added ones.  Regardless, the point is to hear it and then find yourself in it.  To extract some meaning that may change the course of your life or at least how you view eclipses for the rest of time. My prayer is it will also bring a richer context to the Eclipses that just happened to you as well.

.: Samudra Manthan :.

The story begins like all the good ones do, with a God riding on the back of an elephant.  The Sun was up, as was the Moon, and Indra was making his rounds when he came across a famous saint with a cocktail of a reputation.  The saints name was Durvasa.  He was said to straighten the spines of all he came in contact with. Both by inspiration and intimidation. All doors were open to him. All beds were prepared for his unexpected visits. If you were ever to offend Durvasa the consequences would be dire. Unfortunately, in the tale we are about to hear, this is precisely what transpired.

As Indra and his elephant approached, Durvasa offered him a garland of neroli flowers as a blessing of good fortune. Indra then placed it on the elephant’s tusk as a symbol of selfless gratitude.  Annoyed with the scent of orange blossoms and also Indra’s false pretense, she tossed them to the earth and trampled them.  The act infuriated Durvasa and he placed a curse on Indra and all the devas (angels).  The weight of the curse was so heavy that it would change the tides of the entire Universe. It was as if there was another Moon pulling from the sky. A dark moon rising. The time for the asuras (demons) had come again.

In all the battles which followed, the asuras were victorious.  Darkness had fallen across the lands. Winter had arrived. It was Kali’s Yuga.  Desperate to bring some semblance of order back to the world, the devas journeyed to Brahma to ask for help.  Busy creating worlds he pointed them to Vishnu. When they arrived at the One who preserves all things and asked him for his assistance he agreed to help and suggested diplomacy with the asuras.  The plan? To get their help to do the impossible: To churn the ocean and create the “Elixir of Immortality”-the forever coveted Amrita! Being that all demons like to live forever they agreed. Now, all they needed were a few materials.

They were going to need a mountain, a snake, lots of time, and of course, the ocean…

And so, the devas and asuras procured Mount Mandara. They asked to borrow Shiva’s snake, Vasuki to wrap around the mountain which they were to use as a churning stick. Placing the mountain and snake on the ocean they began to churn.  With the asuras holding the head of the serpent and the devas the tail, they churned and chanted:


But the ocean is no place to balance a mountain. It kept falling into the water. And so they prayed to Vishnu for assistance and he obliged by turning himself into a turtle to hold up the mountain. Once stabilized, they got back to churning and chanting:

namaho! namaho! namaho!

Still, the balance was questionable. The mountain was top heavy. So they prayed to Brahma for assistance and he obliged by sitting in full lotus atop Mount Mandara, continuing to create worlds.  With the asuras pulling from the head of the great serpent and the devas the tail, they got back to their eternal push and pull and chanting:

namaho! namaho! namaho!

When finally the first byproduct of their efforts appeared from the mouth of Vasuki: halahala! A poison so lethal it has the power to destroy all the worlds. On both sides of the mountain, participants began to pass out.  Great swathes of rainforest began to die. The reefs were bleaching swiftly. Deadly deserts began to sweep through the grasslands. A dark portal began to open.  And so, they all began to pray to Shiva for assistance and he obliged by then drinking the halahalaAs a result, his throat turned blue and was hence called Neelakantha (the blue-throated one; “neela” = “blue”, “kantha” = “throat.” The Holy Trinity of Gods were now present on the scene and it was good. So they got back to churning and chanting:

namaho! namaho! namaho!

At this point, after eons of pushing and pulling the serpent Vasuki around the mountain, the ocean began to spit up prizes.  Some notable mentions were the sacred cow, whose poop created a gateway to the Gods; The celestial elephant and horse who dealt with obstacles along the wyrd road; The Tree of Knowledge; Lakshmi appeared and brought good luck; the Divine nymphs whose hands were eager for service; and finally Dhanvantari rose out of the ocean holding a glowing cup which contained the sacred Amrita “The Elixir of Immortality.”

Mayhem stormed the scene.  The asuras lounged at the cup.  The devas too.  And something like a brawl in an Irish pub followed.  Amidst all the ruckus, Garuda swooped in and grabbed the cup of Amrita and flew away. Distressed, they all prayed and prayed and prayed to Vishnu for assistance and he obliged once more and turned himself into Mohini, the most beautiful woman the world had ever seen.  If Johnny Depp and Amber Heard would have had a baby girl, she would have been ugly by comparison.  Venus is even jealous of her. Freya dreams she could be so beautiful.  And so, Garuda and all the rest of them were hypnotized. For the devas it was reverence they felt; for the asuras it was lust.  Because of this, Mohini began to serve the Amrita to the devas first.

One by one the devas (angels) got their sip of Immortality.  In line, between Surya (Sun) and Chandra (Moon) was someone they did not recognize.  Maybe it was the eyes.  It could have been the fidgeting and paranoid glances over each shoulder.  But what ultimately gave it away was the tail exposed from the back of his white robes.  It was none other than Svarbhanu, the dragon-like asura.  He had gone incognito to guarantee his sip but nothing goes unnoticed under the Sun (Surya) or the changing light of the Moon (Chandra).  His cover was blown, but it was too late…

Mohini had already given him a sip of the Amrita.  Eternity had already graced Svarbhanu’s tongue.  So when Mohini’s discus sliced through his neck and split his body in two, the halves were already immortal.  Svarbhanu was now Rahu “the Head” and Ketu “the Tail.”  The devious asura had now also become planets, though invisible.  And for the rest of time, as long as the Sun shines and the Moon reflects, Rahu and Ketu are chasing them down with a vengeance.  When they catch up (which happens every 6 months) they devour them. This is how Eclipses happen. But because they are divided, Rahu and Ketu cannot contain the Sun and Moon for long.  They pass right through like terrible Indian buffet.  Rahu rarely learns. His obsessive hunger eternal. Ketu rarely learns either, for he has no way of seeing results in this world.

And so it was and so it goes.  The devas brought order back to the world through their perpetual victories.  The asuras still exist though. Their chaos is still found in the dark alleys of time, meddling with the dark arts.  Every time we experience separation, an asura has taken form in us.  Every time we feel venom present, an asura is close.  This is why it is essential to transmute such poisons in our throats like Shiva. To tell the Truth, to cooperate, and to know how to both praise and pray.  The world is a mirror. Polish it with your breathe.


Some say there were four other drops that fell to Earth: In HaridwarPrayaga (Allahabad), Trimbak (Nashik) and Ujjain. According to the legend, these places acquired a certain mystical power and spiritual value. The Kumbh Mela is celebrated at these four places every twelve years for this reason. People believe that after bathing there during the Kumbh Mela, one can attain moksha. This is contended by many scholars, but still, it is the greatest spiritual gathering on planet Earth and it all began from a mindless rejection of an offering.

So, next time someone offers you a blessing, don’t trample it.  Pay respect.  Allow it to steep just long enough in your heart to reinvigorate you.  And remember: Somewhere between order and chaos lives a dragon.  It’s best to give it a name and invite it over for tea.  All the devas and asuras should be allowed at your table as well.  If we are all One, then we feast together!

Important questions to ask yourself?

Where do you find yourself in this story?

How does this change your understanding of the Nodes of the Moon (Rahu/Ketu)?

What about Eclipses?

  • To learn more about Eclipses, click HERE and HERE!

Namaho me dear reader,