Mythology has always fascinated me. As a child, I used to read all the thin and thick Hindu mythological books kept in the rectangular wall-hooked showcase temple in our mandirwala or the temple room. I grilled my mother about Shiva and Lakshmi and Parvati and Vishnu and Hanuman and the snakes and the elephants and the monkeys and the Ramayana. Then I visited college and opted for literature courses and read all the different versions of Mahabharata that I could put my hands on.
So while walking around Angkor Wat or the City of Temples, when I saw that the fellow international travelers were mesmerized by the temple but also confused, I donned my narrator cloak and recited tales of the Hindu mythology and exposed the personal lives of the millions of gods and goddesses that Hinduism has.
One of the stories that I narrated was the famous tale of the churning of the sea or the samudra manthan that has been depicted at the entrance of the temple and has been engraved beautifully on many of its walls and columns.
Now I am not that cruel that I would devoid you off this bewitching story. So here it goes.
Samudra Manthan —
Image Source – Wikimedia.org
Sage Durvasa cursed Indra and the entire godly kingdom to be bereft of their fortune, energy and powers. The bloodthirsty demons ruled the universe now. Terrorized and panic-struck gods or the devas galloped to Lord Vishnu, the creator of the universe.
Vishnu whispered in devas’ ears to diplomatically manipulate the demons. He asked the demons and the devas to jointly churn the elixir of immortality out of the ocean. The immortality potion was the devas’ last best to revive their super-human powers.
But if we share it with the asuras they would also become immortal and live forever, said the gods with long melancholy faces.
How could I let the universe that I so lovingly created be destroyed by the evil? Vishnu assured them that he would not let the demons drink the elixir.
The baffled gods left with the demons and started churning the ocean using mount Mandara as the churning rod and Vasuki, the king of serpents, who is wrapped around Shiva’s neck, as the churning rope. Cunning Vishnu suggested the gods take the tail and the demons take the head so that the evil had to consume all the poisonous fumes escaping Vasuki’s mouth.
This churning went on for thousand years and many precious things came out of the ocean, such as goddess Lakshmi, many apsaras or divine nymphs such as Menaka and Rambha, supernatural elephants and cows, valuable jewels, Parijat the divine flowering tree, and the moon. The churning also released a deadly poison called Halahal which lord Shiva happily gulped down and colored his throat blue. Shiva’s wife, Parvati clutched his throat tightly so that the poison couldn’t seep further down than the throat else it would have destroyed the universe thriving inside Shiva. She must have been some wife.
Mount Mandara was then about to drown but the mighty Vishnu turned into a cute turtle and sat under the mount to save it from drowning.
After what would seem like an eternity to humans but only a few days to the heavenly, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged out of the ocean with a pot containing amrit or the nectar of immortality. Garuda, the mighty eagle and the carrier of Vishnu, flew from the crime scene with the pot. In the process, a few drops of the nectar were dropped at four places namely Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik where the Hindus celebrate the Kumbh Mela every fourteen years. But the demons also followed. Now Vishnu sprang into action and transformed into Mohini, the most beautiful damsel anyone must have ever seen and danced around the demons to distract them.
While he she lured the demons, the powerless gods drank the sought-after liquid and regained their godliness while the seduced demons watched bewildered.
The world was restored back to its equilibrium.
Now if you have read my travel memoir about the Cambodian genocide you would know how ironic this is. Millions of people died in Cambodia before they should have. And there stands the world’s grandest temple whose entrance depicts the scene of the churning of the sea to retract the immortality elixir.
Such is life.
The temple is magnificent. With the rising sun and the orange sky in the back and the blue water reflecting the golden light in the front, it could have made anyone’s heart beat faster.
The detailed artistic carvings of the gods and royal cows and griffins and horses and elephants pulling chariots and celestial dancing girls with exquisite jewellery on the walls, lintels, roof, and the domes pleasure both the heart and the eyes.
From Siem Reap, the temple is accessible by rickshaw, cycle, bike, and car. We hired a Cambodian rickshaw puller. I went for a sunrise at the temple but I would suggest you go for both sunrise and sunset. So you might have to go twice. Spend some time. Sit there. Read there. Just look at the architecture. Imagine that you are from the times of the Khmer King Suryavarman II and imagine how the giant temple would have come into existence in the 12th century with such limited resources but with the most skilled artists.
Have a marvelous trip.
Till then enjoy these pictures of Angkor Wat.
What do you think about mythology? Do you have an interesting story to share?
Would love to hear from you in comments.