The Churning of the Milk Ocean

Churning of the Milk Ocean 2

A large statue at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok shows the story of The Churning of the Milk Ocean.

In this Hindu legend, several treasures have been lost beneath the sea. These prizes include the nectar of immortality and are so valuable that one day the gods and devils agree to put aside their differences and work together to recover what had been lost.

To do this, they wrap Vasuki, king of the serpents, around a mountain, Mount Mandara. Then they alternately pull the snake’s head and tail back and forth in a giant tug of war, spinning the mountain as they do so, and churning the Milk Ocean. This is what the statue in the picture shows.

For a thousand years they spin the mountain round and round, churning the milk ocean, until one day the sea gives up its contents.

The first item to be released is a lethal poison known as Halahal. This poison is so powerful that it could destroy the whole of creation. But the god Shiva steps forward and swallows the poison. The universe is saved.

Next come all the other treasures that have lain hidden, including:

  • Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world
  • Sharanga, a powerful bow
  • Parijat, the celestial wishing tree with blossoms that never wilt or fade
  • Three types of supernatural animal, including Surabhi, the cow of plenty
  • Three goddesses, including Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and wealth, and finally
  • Amrita, the nectar of immortality, carried by Dhanvantari, the doctor of the gods.

This story can be seen as a metaphor for our times.

With so much change happening all around us, it is easy to feel as if we are being pulled back and forth by gods and demons — and it is not always easy to tell which is which.

The first ‘treasures’ to have appeared certainly seem to have the potential to destroy the whole of creation. For some this might be the near-collapse of the financial system in 2008. For others Halahal is the extreme climate change and destruction of the oceans and other habitat that is already happening and accelerating.

The gods and demons in this story represent aspects of our own psyches. They pull us back and forth, and their churning of our inner ocean has the potential to bring forth poison or health, wealth, and other wonders.

The best way I know to obtain whatever treasure matters most to you is to follow the path of Inner Leadership: to centre and ground, make clear sense of your situation, find more opportunities to move forward, choose the one that is best for you (most aligned with your purpose and values), and turn it into an inspiring vision. Then move to action using the tools of Chapter 7 and Outer Leadership.


With thanks to Sally Birch for sending the photo and Ramkumar Nagabushanam for alerting me to the story.

Leave a Reply