Mahabharata Ch 16-20, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 11,12,13,14,15 « Ch 16,17,18,19,20 » Ch 21,22,23,24,25]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:16; Shlokas:40
Continuing, Souti described the dimensions of Mount Mandara as 11,000 yojanas above and below. The gods failed to uproot the mountain, and approached Brahma for help. Directed by Narayana at Brahma's behest, Ananta (Sesha naag) uprooted the mountain, and the gods took Mount Mandara to the ocean. The lord of the rivers agreed to let the gods churn the ocean but demanded his share in return for bearing the churning. After which the gods and demons went to Akupara, the king of the tortoises to bear the mountain on his back. Akupara agreed and using instruments, Indra fixed the mountain to the tortoise's back, and using Vasuki as the rope the churning began. As the head of the naga Vasuki was raised up and down repeatedly, "black smoke and flaming winds issued from his mouth." However, this smoke gave rise to rain filled clouds, bringing relief to the gods.


The churning of the ocean however caused a great destruction of the marine creatures on the one hand, who "were crushed by the great mountain" in "hundreds", and the churning caused the trees to be uprooted on Mandara, and the friction of the fallen trees rubbing against each other caused great fires to blaze in which elephants, lions, and other creatures were burnt. Indra showered rain to douse the fires. The juices of the herbs thus crushed flowed down into the ocean, turning the ocean into milk, and the milk into clarified butter, but still no nectar. The exhausted gods went to Brahma, who turned to Vishnu who granted them more strength. The rejuvenated gods returned to the task of churning. Among the many things that emerged from the ocean of clarified butter (ghee) were Lakshmi, koustubha - the celestial jewel, and finally Dhanvantari - the physician of the gods, carrying nectar in a white pot. Seeing him, the danavas rushed towards him. It is then that Narayana assumed the form of a beautiful damsel to whom the danavas gave the pot of nectar.

Note that this story of the churning is distinct from the one where the gods are able to uproot Mandara but it is Garuda that carries the mountain to the ocean, and where Vishnu takes the form of a tortoise (kurma) to support the mountain on his back. The entire churning is done by the gods and demons, with Vishnu only giving them encouragement. The poison from Vasuki is not dangerous here - rather, it turns into relief-granting rain-bearing clouds.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:17; Shlokas:30


With the appearance of the ambrosia, the danavas charged at the gods with weapons, but Vishnu, accompanied by Nara, "seized the ambrosia from the chief danavas", and managed to get all the gods to drink it. Rahu, a danava, assumed the form of Budha (Mercury), and managed to lay his hands on some of the ambrosia. Upon being informed by the sun and the moon, Narayana sliced off Rahu's head even as the nectar had reached only halfway down his throat. The nectar finished, Narayana assumed his true form, and a terrible battle began between the gods and the demons, with the demons falling down everywhere. Nara and Narayana then appeared the battlefield, and Vishnu invoked the sudarshana-chakra, which destroyed Diti and Danu's progeny (sons of Diti were Daityas, and of Danu Danavas) "in the thousands." The disheveled demons rose into the sky to shower mountains on the gods. Nara used his gold-tipped arrows to destroy these mountain peaks.
Finally, the defeated demons retreated, some of them entering the earth, while others taking refuge in the ocean.
The joyous gods entrusted the vessel with the ambrosia to Nara.

While in several places in the Mahabharata Nara and Narayana are referred to, the battle between the gods and the demons is one of the few instances that we actually get to read about Nara and Narayana's exploits in a real sense.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:18; Shlokas:11

Souti, having finished the story of the churning of the ocean - from which the horse Ucchaihshrava emerged, now returned to the story when Kadru and Vinata had spotted the horse. Kadru suggested to Vinata that they have a bet over what the color of the horse's tail was, and the loser would become the slave of the other. Vinata thought the horse's tail was white, while Kadru thought it to be black. Kadru, not wanting to lose the bet, asked her 1000 naga sons to cover the horse's tail. They refused, and a livid Kadru cursed her sons to be consumed by the fire at King Janamejaya's sacrifice. Even though Brahma heard this "extremely cruel curse" (अतिक्रूरं) of Kadru, he and the other gods approved of it - because the snakes had "greatly multiplied" and had "virulent poison" and "had a tendency to bite." Kashyapa was empowered with the knowledge of neutralizing their poison.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:19; Shlokas:17

The next morning, Kadru and Vinata, "impatient and driven by jealousy", ventured to see Ucchaihshrava. Along the way they passed by the the vast ocean (the ocean's description is vivid here). This was the ocean that had been the source of the ambrosia, that had been searched by Vishnu (in his Varaha avataar), and had been the source of the panchajanya (Krishna's conch). Kadru and Vinata crossed the ocean.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:20; Shlokas:15

Having crossed the ocean, they saw that the horse had black hairs on its tail. Vinata became Kadru's slave.
When Garuda was born, he rose into the sky, and seeing his gigantic wings flapping, all the gods thought these were flames emanating from Agni (Vibhavasu) and rushed to him for refuge. Agni informed them that this was Garuda, "equal to me in energy." The gods and sages approached Garuda and praised him with several words. Suparna (Garuda) then "decreased his energy and splendour."


These chapter summaries are based on the unabridged translation of the Mahabharata done by Dr Bibek Debroy, and published by Penguin Books India, and which I have been reviewing on my blog. The Sanskrit shlokas are from the electronic text of the Mahabharata - based on John Smith's revision of Prof. Muneo Tokunaga's version of the Mahabharata Critical Edition of the text from and copyright of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.