Monday, June 18, 2007

Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) - Churning of the Milk Ocean

If you've ever departed from the new Bangkok airport - Suvarnabhumi Airport, you will be greeted by an impressive statue the moment you clear immigration.

The statue depicts one of the famous scenes from Puranas (Hindu literature) - Samudra manthan (Devanagari: समुद्र मंथन) aka the churning of the ocean of milk. This story is celebrated in a major way every twelve years in the festival known as Kumbha Mela.

The Churning of the ocean of milk tells of the story where demons and gods cooperated to churn the sea for thousands of years in order to extract the elixir of immortality, coveted by both groups.
As you can see from the pictures, the Devas (demigods) are engaged in a tug of war with the Asuras (demons). Each team is holding onto one end of the king of serpent - Vasuki (aka Naga). The centre of the serpent is coiled around Mt. Mandara (which is a pivot) and at the base of this pivot would be Vishnu, incarnated as a huge turtle.

Asuras (demon) holding onto the head end of the Naga (3 headed king of serpent)

Asuras (demon) with colourful painted body and demonic faces

Naga wrapped around Mt Mandara as a pivot and supported by turtle (Vishnu)

Devas (demigods) holding the tail end of the serpent

You can see that the demigods are depicted in human form.

As the ocean churned, a deadly poison known as halahala emerged. Shiva drank this poison and his wife stopped it in his throat with her hands, causing the throat to turn blue. (explaining why Shiva is sometimes called Nīlakantha meaning Blue Throat)

From the churning, numerous opulent things were also produced including Dhanvantari (Heavenly Physician) carrying the pot of Amrita - the heavenly nectar of immortality.

In the end, the cooperation between Devas and Asuras was shattered with Vishnu taking the form of Mohini - a beautiful and enchanting damsel who served to distract the Asuras while distributing the nectar to the Devas. (a little cheating and disception seems to be happening here). The Devas having fulfilled their plan of acquring all the Amrita banished the Asuras out of Heaven and into the underworld. (tsk tsk)

Of course, as all Hindu literature, there is many versions of the story. One such version can be found as follows:

Another version

One interesting twist to the story that I like was that:
A particular Asura, Rahu, had disguised himself as a Devas, and managed to drink some of the nectar. But before the Nectar could pass his throat, Mohini cut off his head. The head, due to its contact with the amrita, remained immortal. It is believed that this immortal head occasionally swallows the sun or the moon, causing eclipses. Then, the sun or moon passes through the opening at the neck, ending the eclipse.


Tarun Vijay said...

Very interesting and thought provoking. I was at this airport last yer in december and clicked a couple of photos too. That Thailand should have this statue is very inspiring for all of us. The way you have described the story with help of Devanagari words(samudra manthan )shows your keen ness on exact information . Congratulations.

Xavier said...

I linked to your description for the photos I took of this statue.