Kurma Avatara

by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaja

kurma.jpg - 28935 Bytes The second avatara of the Lord among the Dasavatara is Kurma-avatara, the tortoise avatara.
tatrapi devasambhutyam vairäjasyabhavat sutah
ajito nama bhagavan amsena jagatah patih
payodhim yena nirmathya suranam sadhita sudha
bhramamano ’mbhasi dhrtah Kurma-rupena mandarah

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.5.9 -10)
In the sixth manvantara, a manifested form of Lord Visnu named Ajita appeared as the son of Vairäja from the womb of Devasambhüti. Lord Ajita caused the churning of the Ocean of Milk and produced nectar for the demigods. In the form of a tortoise, He held the great mountain known as Mandara on His back in the ocean.

The following is a brief account of Sukadeva Goswami's description, which was spoken to satisfy Parékñit Maharaja’s desire to hear these pastimes in detail.

Once, the great sage Durvasa came across Indra, the king of the devas, riding on his elephant. Durvasa Muni presented Indra with his flower garland, but Indra, who was proud of his opulence, did not pay attention to the garland and threw it on the head of his elephant named Airavata. The garland fell from the elephant and was crushed under its foot. Seeing this insult of the garland he had given, Durvasa Muni became enraged and cursed Indra by swearing, “Be bereft of all prosperity!” Thus, Indra and the other demigods lost all their strength and prosperity. After some time, the demigods were defeated in a war with the demons and many of them lost their lives. Most of the demigods were unable to regain their lives even though the Vedic sages were invested with mystic powers and the knowledge of mantras and techniques to bring the dead back to life under certain conditions. Therefore, the demigods held a meeting, but as they were unable to find any means of retaliation, they approached Brahma at Sumeru Mountain and informed him about their miserable state. Upon seeing the weak state of the demigods and the powerful state of the demons, Brahma meditated on the Supreme Lord with full concentration. Thereafter, he joyfully spoke to the demigods: “Only by exclusive devotion to the lotus feet of Supreme Lord Sri Hari can you be saved from this dangerous situation.” Along with other demigods Brahma then went to Svetadvipa, which is situated in the Ocean of Milk, and offered many Vedic prayers to the Supreme Lord Visnu. Satisfied by the prayers of the demigods, Ksirodakshaya Visnu appeared, but due to His dazzling effulgence, none of the demigods other than Brahma were able to see Him. Then, Lord Brahma with Lord Mahesvara again offered prayers. Satisfied by the prayers of Brahma and the other demigods, Lord Ajita suggested that the demigods should skillfully make a truce with the demons-the disciples of Sukracarya. The Lord told them to use Mandara Mountain as a churning rod and the serpent Vasuki as a rope for the production of the nectar of immortality by churning the Ocean of Milk together with the demons. Lord Ajita also told the demigods that upon churning the ocean they should not be afraid of generating the poison known as kalakuta. He also told them that they should not be greedy for whatever different attractive products would be obtained from the churning, and if someone else were to take them, they should neither object nor show anger.

The Lord then disappeared after giving these instructions. The demigods went to make a truce with the demon-king, Bali Maharaja. Thereafter, the demons and the demigods set out to get Mandara Mountain. With great endeavour they lifted the mountain, but since it was extremely heavy, it toppled over while they were carrying it. Many of the demigods and demons were crushed under the mountain and died. Seeing their distressed condition and feeling compassion for them, Lord Ajita, riding on His carrier Garuda, made His most auspicious appearance and revived them by bestowing his nectarean glance. Thereafter, the Lord picked up Mandara Mountain effortlessly in His hand and mounted Garuda. Instructed by the Lord, Garuda arrived at the Ocean of Milk along with the demigods and demons, and left after placing Mandara Mountain near the ocean.

The decision to churn the ocean was made on the condition that whatever nectar would be produced in the churning would be shared by both the demigods and the demons. First of all, the serpent Vasuki was wrapped around Mandara Mountain as a rope. Due to the expertise of Lord Hari, the intoxicated demons took hold of the hooded end of Vasuki and the demigods grasped the tail end. With great endeavour, the task of churning began, but after some time the supportless mountain sank into the ocean. All the efforts of the demigods and demons had gone in vain. The Lord saw the sad and frustrated condition of all. On seeing such an obstruction to the churning process, the supremely powerful Lord Ajita assumed the wonderful form of a tortoise (Kurma) and lifted up Mandara Mountain after entering the ocean. Upon seeing Mandara Mountain being raised up, the demigods and demons began the churning again.

Supreme Lord Sri Hari held the great mountain on His back, which was like a subcontinent one hundred thousand yojanas wide. While holding up the great mountain that was being rotated by the demigods and demons, the supremely powerful Lord Kurma felt a pleasurable itching sensation on His back. Thereafter, to increase the enthusiasm of the devas and asuras, the Lord Himself entered into them as their power, and into the great serpent Vasuki as sleep. The Lord also manifested Himself on the peak of the mountain, spreading thousands of hands like a king of the mountain, holding the mountain with only one hand. As this was taking place, Brahma, Rudra, Indra and the other demigods praised Him and flowers showered down from the heavens.

In the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Matsya-avatara is mentioned as the tenth avatara and Kurma as the eleventh:

surasuranam udadhim mathnatam mandaracalam
dadhre kamatha-rupena prstha ekadase vibhuh

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.16)

“As the eleventh avatara, Lord Visnu in the form of a tortoise held Mandara Mountain on His back for the demigods and demons who were engaged in churning the ocean.”

prstha bhramyad amanda-mandara-giri-gavagra-kanduyanan
nidraloh kamathanater bhagavatah svasanilah pantu vah
yat-samskara-kalamuvartana-vasad vela-nibhenambhasam
yatayatam atandritam jala-nidher nadyapi visramyati

(Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.13.2)

“May you all be protected by the winds caused by Lord Kurma’s breathing in His sleepy condition, which was due to the pleasure derived from the scratching of His back by the sharp-edged stones lying on massive whirling Mandara Mountain. Those inhalations and exhalations are still present in the form of ocean tides that never cease.”

Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada has written in his explanation of this verse:
“Very high waves are continuously striking against the shores of the ocean of birth, death and the threefold afflictions with great force. There is no cessation of the strokes and counter strokes of the tides. May that Supreme Lord, whose air of inhalation and exhalation creates these powerful strokes and counter strokes of tides, protect the readers. The Vedic scriptures provide the realisation of Truth in the hearts of the living beings through the breath of the Supreme Lord Kurma, and thereby remove their ignorance.

“The breathing of the Supreme Lord’s descent as Kurmadeva in the sleepy condition represents the sense gratification (bhoga) and sense detachment (tyaga) of the living beings. But if the breath of that Adhoksaja Supreme Lord Kurma bestows mercy, then that breath protects the conditioned souls from sense gratification or sense detachment. May that Supreme Lord Kurma protect fortunate souls from the grip of non-spiritual cognition with the continuous effect of His eternal spiritual breath. The transcendental itching sensation caused by the scratching of the pieces of stones of Mandara Mountain on the back of Lord Kurmadeva made Him sleepy. This bliss of His sleepiness frees the conditioned souls from fear and anxiety. Conditioned souls who consider God to be of stony character are far away from the realisation of God’s relationship of worshipped and worshipper (visaya and äsraya). May this breathing of the Supreme Personality of Godhead act to pacify the itching sensation of argument within the minds of the conditioned souls. May the appearance of Lord Kurma and the efficacy of His pastimes blow within the hearts of the conditioned souls like a favourable breeze, and alleviate the itching of their tendency for material enjoyments.”

puramrtartham daiteya-danavaih saha devatah
manthanam mandaram krtvä mamantam kstra sagaram
mathyamane tada tasmim Kurmarapi janardanah
vyabhara mandaram devo devanam hitakamyaya
deväsca tustuvurdevam naradadya maharsayah
Kurmarupadharam drtsva saksinam visnumavyayam

(Kurma Purana, Purva 11.27.29)

“In the past, the demigods and the demons churned the Ocean of Milk using Mandara Mountain as a churning rod to obtain the nectar of immortality. At that time, Lord Janardana in the form of a tortoise, desiring the welfare of the demigods, held Mandara Mountain on His back. Upon seeing the imperishable Lord Visnu Himself in His avatara as a tortoise, the demigods, Narada and other sages became very satisfied.”

The description of the Lord’s appearance as Kurmadeva in the Eighth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam is the same as was previously discussed. There is an important point to be learned here: whenever the demigods and demons become proud, the Lord destroys their pride. Even after their pride has been destroyed, they become proud again and again. In this way, the intelligence of living beings that are illusioned by the maya of Lord Visnu becomes bewildered. Ultimately, the Lord entered into the demigods and demons to give them strength to perform the task of churning the ocean. Therefore, the false pride that “I am the doer” is the cause of great ignorance. This mentality should be given up completely.
Ksitir iha vipulatare tisthati tava prsthe
kesava dhrta-Kurma-sarira jaya jagadisa hare

(Sri Jayadeva’s Dasavatara-stotra, 2nd Verse)

“O Kesava! Due to holding up the world, a large round sore-like mark has been made in the wide expanse of Your back. O Lord of the universe! O Lord Hari, who have assumed the form of a tortoise! All glories unto You!”

Here, Sri Jayadeva has used the words ksiti and dharani for Mandara Mountain. The earth holds the living entities, and Lord Kurma holds the earth. While worshipping the Supreme Lord, one chants the following mantra of worship for Lord Kurma before sitting on the asana (a sacred flat seat on the ground for worship):
(om) asana-mantrasya, meru-prstha rsih, sutalam chandah
kurmo devata, asanabhimantrena viniyogah
prthvi tvaya dhrtä loka devi tvam visnuna dhrta
tvam ca dharaya mäm nityam pavitram asanam kuru

(Hari-bhakti-vilasa 5.21-22)

“For the asana-mantra, the rsi(sage) is Meru-prstha, the chandah (meter) is Sutala and the Presiding Deity is Kurma. ‘O Goddess Earth! You are supporting all living beings. O Devi, you are being supported by Lord Visnu. Therefore, please support me always and purify this asana.’ ”

[From "Dasavatara - The Ten Manifestations of God" by Swami B.B. Tirtha.]

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