Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Amrita at Wikipedia.

AMRITA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'Immortal.' A. god. The water of life. The term was known to the Vedas, and seems to have been applied to various things offered in sacrifice, but more especially to the Soma juice. It is also called Nirjara and Piyusha.

In later times it was the water of life produced at the churning of the ocean by the gods and demons, the legend of which is told with some variations in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas. The gods, feeling their weakness, having been worsted by the demons, and being, according to one authority, under the ban of a holy sage, repaired to Vishnu, beseeching him for renewed vigour and the gift of immortality. He directed them to churn the ocean for the Amrita and other precious things, which had been lost.

The story as told in the Vishnu Purana has been rendered into verse by Professor Williams thus: 

The gods addressed the mighty Vishnu thus:
'Conquered in battle by the evil demons,
We fly to thee for succour, soul of all;
Pity, and by thy might deliver us!'
Hari, the lord, creator of the world,
Thus by the gods implored, all graciously
Replied ' Your strength shall be restored, ye gods;
Only accomplish what I now command.
Unite yourselves in peaceful combination
With these your foes collect all plants and herbs
Of diverse kinds from every quarter; cast them
Into the sea of milk; take Mandara,
The mountain, for a churning stick, and Vasuki,
The serpent for a rope; together churn
The ocean to produce the beverage -
Source of all strength and immortality -
Then reckon on my aid; I will take care
Your foes shall share your toil, but not partake
In its reward, or drink the `immortal draught.'

Thus by the god of gods advised, the host
United in alliance with the demons.
Straightway they gathered various herbs and cast them
Into the waters, then they took the mountain
To serve as churning-staff, and next the snake
To serve as cord, and in the ocean's midst
Hari himself, present in tortoise-form,
Became a pivot for the churning-staff.

Then did they churn the sea of milk; and first
Out of the waters rose the sacred Cow,
God-worshipped Surabhi, eternal fountain
Of milk and offerings of butter; next
While holy Siddhas wondered at the sight,
With eyes all rolling, Varuni uprose,
Goddess of wine. Then from the whirlpool sprang
Fair Parijata, tree of Paradise, delight
Of heavenly maidens, with its fragrant blossoms
Perfuming the whole world. The Apsarases,
Troop of celestial nymphs, matchless in grace,
Perfect in loveliness, were next produced.

Then from the sea uprose the cool-rayed moon,
Which Mahadeva seized; terrific poison
Next issued from the waters; this the snake-gods
Claimed as their own. Then, seated on a lotus,
Beauty's bright goddess, peerless Sri, arose
Out of the waves; and with her, robed in white,
Came forth Dhanwantari, the gods' physician.  

High in his hand he bore the cup of nectar -
Life-giving draught - longed for by gods and demons.
Then had the demons forcibly borne off
The cup, and drained the precious beverage,
Had not the mighty Vishnu interposed.
Bewildering them, he gave it to the gods;
Whereat, incensed, the demon troops assailed
The host of heaven, but they with strength renewed,
Quaffing the draught, struck down their foes, who fell
Headlong through space to lowest depths of hell!"

There is an elaborate article on the subject in Goldstucker's Dictionary.

In aftertimes, Vishnu's bird Garuda is said to have stolen the Amrita, but it was recovered by Indra.


Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM