Marcus Wood

Painting

SAMUDRA MANTHAN

Samudra Manthan, or The Churning incorporates many different mythic and narrative elements depending on which part of India or which village you hear the story.  None of the versions appear to coincide and none of them is wrong.  This wonderful myth is, like all Hindu myth, promiscuous, open ended, endlessly fertile, and leads in any number of directions. It is not dogmatic or teleological it is simply what happens when one thing leads not to another but endless others.  Hindu narrative practice is an embodiment formally of reincarnation.  One thing is for sure in my mind, the Ocean of Milk is the stuff of life, and the churning of it is the making of life, whatever way you want to come at it or go into it.

The myth I am concerned with has the following bare bones:

Following a Cosmic falling out between the Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (Demons) the Devas sought Vishnu's advice.  He told them to form an alliance and to churn the Ocean of Milk in order to produce the Nectar of Immortality and to share it between each other (although he secretly promised the nectar to the Devas).

The churning of the Ocean of Milk was a violent, serious and mysterious process.  The mountain of Mandura was the churning rod and and Vasuki, a nāgarāja (a snake king who abides on Shiva's neck) became the churning rope.  The Asuras demanded to hold the head and the Devas Vishnu advised to hold the tail of the monstrous serpent.  As it writhed and churned the sea Vasuki let out poison from the mouth into the Asuras.  At the same time the Nectar of Immortality was generated.

The Samudra Manthana generated many substances and life forms from the churning process. My miniatures meditate on the generative implications of the myth and on the forms which emerge.  Blake would have loved this story had he known it, an ultimate Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  Blake was of the Hindu party whether he knew it or not, and a devotee of nāgarāja at every turn.

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