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Shiva Purana 11

Vishnu gave to Shiva a garland of santanaka flowers to give as a gift to Indra, King of the Devas, who had just won a war between the Asuras and Devas.  Indra had thought he had finally conquered every world from the Asuras, and did not yet understand that this meant his war would continue: he could not yet comprehend the means to peace with the Asuras - or that Vishnu could be a friend to both the Asuras and the Devas.  The flowers were given as a gift to "celebrate" his victory, and help the Asuras.  Indra graciously accepted the flowers, and draped them around the neck of his vehicle, the elephant Airavata.  But there were bees on the flower, and the animal grew terrified: Airavata pulled off the flowers and smashed them (and the bees) on the ground.

Shiva played the part Vishnu cast him, and spoke in anger (though of course this reaction of Airavata is exactly what was intended from the start), "arrogant Indra!  Even if it were just a gift from me, you shouldn't treat it like this!  That was a gift from Vishnu!  Now look what you have done to it!  You will lose the three worlds you rule, you will lose all your wealth.  And all your devas will experience old age and death!"  Airavata, being Indra's vehicle, was more than a simple elephant: it was an extension of Indra's own person, and Shiva had every right to be upset.  Indra tried to apologize, but Shiva coldly said "I am not forgiving!" echoing Indra's own words when the Asuras had begged forgiveness.

Proud Indra, though he understood, did not make things right.  So, when the next war between the Asuras and Devas came, the Devas actually died from the Asura's weapons.  To Indra's surprise, the Devas did not come back to life as they usually had!  And all the Devas began to weaken from their extreme age.  The Devas quickly lost every world to the Asuras.  They sought the help of Brahma, who was aware of Vishnu's play.  Brahma therefore advised them to seek the help of Vishnu.  Vishnu was their friend, after all.

Vishnu said he would help the Devas, he was their friend, after all.  "Devas, churn the Kshirasagara (primordial ocean), until it gives up amrita (a word that means "no longer begging for what sustains life" a thing which satisfies every desire - it is a play on words, as well, as the Devas had been reduced to beggars, and were begging Vishnu for forgiveness).  Let the Asuras be your allies in the churning - at least until the amrita rises.  Agree to any condition they demand, and I promise you none of them will drink the amrita.  Befriend them - as the snake does the mouse."

(The reason for not sharing the amrita lies in both previous and subsequent episodes of this story, of which this section is only one episode - but suffice to say that the Asuras already had Amrita, though they did not know it.  Eventually, Vishnu, by the last several Avataras, restores peace to both Asuras and Devas: it is not by conquest or domination one establishes peace, but by accomplishing the purpose of the struggle, and working with an adversary against the conditions that led to opposition.  Vishnu teaches both sides self-restraint, and to sacrifice both their right to revenge and victory, teaching them to value the friendship and cooperation they sought enough to remember it was their purpose.  Thus, the Devas and Asuras sacrifice not only the worlds they conquered, but their native worlds too - for the sake of the friendship and peace they rightly desired because they understood the means of conflict and war was not accomplishing their purpose: this is how they all became friends, living in peace, together with all the beings of every world.  Vishnu, eventually, by the subsequent Avatara of the Buddha, shares the Amrita with all beings).  

So Indra led the Devas to Bali, the Asura King.  They lied, just as Vishnu had directed them to and Bali was convinced that his victory over them and every world would not be complete without the amrita - and those other things which would emerge from the churning.  "Neither the Asuras nor Devas alone have the strength to churn the ocean, but together we might."  As they began to plan how to do this great thing, Vishnu spoke to the assembly of Devas and Asuras, saying "use Mount Madara as your churning rod, and Vasuki and his people as your rope."  (Vasuki was the King of the Nagas, dragon or snake-like beings who could change shape at will, and a servant-vehicle of Vishnu).

Of course, Vasuki was in on the play as well, and agreed to be used as a rope when Bali offered him a share of the Amrita, and commanded all his people to be used as ropes as well.  So the Devas and Asuras, singing in their work, uprooted Mount Madara and tried to carry it to the ocean - but it was too heavy, and they dropped it, killing many Devas and Asuras.  The survivors began to cry, and so Vishnu cheered them up - with one finger, he lifted Mandara, and revived all the dead Asuras and Devas.  As if helping children with their work, Vishnu completed the task of bringing the mountain to the ocean.

Vasuki and his people wound themselves around the mountain, and announced they were ready.  The Devas took hold of the head, and the Asuras the tail - and the Asuras protested - they would not be denied the honor of the greater danger (Vasuki breathed fire, and in the exertion could not be expected to fully restrain himself).  Vishnu smiled, sighed, shook his head at this arrogance and encouraged the Devas, "agree to whatever the Asuras want."  So the Devas and Asuras switched places.

The mountain kept sinking down into the ocean's floor, and so they could not churn the ocean.  So, Vishnu was manifested by Kurma, the turtle, and swimming to the ocean floor, supported the churning rod.  Now, the Asuras and Devas sang and enjoyed the work, greater and greater speed, stirring the sea like you would make cheese out of milk.  Vishnu laughed and enjoyed the friendship the Asuras and Devas shared, and because he was tickled by the spinning mountain on his back.

But the faster the churning, the more the mountain wobbled.  So Vishnu was manifested  again, thousand armed as tall as the sky, and held the peak of the mountain steady.  Now, Vishnu was above and below the mountain, as well as the churning rope.  But the Asuras and Devas were playing together, in friendship: they challenged one another to greater exertion, and effort, in love.

But now the trouble started: Vasuki was strained, and began to vomit fire and venom, this burned Bali, and the other Asuras.  All their fancy clothes and garlands were burned, their jewelry was scalded by the acid.  Of course, the Devas were more resistant to it, and this suffering was unnecessary.  Nevertheless, the Asuras refused to yield their position to the Devas.  By their stubbornness, the Asuras would have been burned alive, but Vishnu then manifested as a thundershower, and cooled the flames.  The waters began to froth, and things began to rise out of the waves.

Now the Asuras and Devas were growing tired.  So Vishnu manifested on either end of their long line holding Vasuki, as both a Deva and Asura, and as a parent would secretly aid their children in a difficult task, secretly lent his strength to the churning.  Vishnu was able to keep his help secret because when the Devas and Asuras grew tired, they were also helped by every other being - this helped the Devas and Asuras confuse the strength of Vishnu with their own.

(It should be clear by now that Vishnu might have churned the ocean by himself.  But only the Devas and Asuras could build their own friendship).

Now the fish fled the area: the halahala (poison) began to rise from the ancient ocean floor, threatening to hurt Vishnu - and destroy every world by ending Time (Vishnu is Time).  Vishnu began to worry: only Shiva could save him from the halahala: Vishnu called out to Shiva to take the poison, "Shiva accepts everything!"  Sacrificing the poison to Shiva, Vishnu sacrificed his own defeat: in the nick of time, Shiva commanded the Ganas to gather the poison, and Shiva drank it all up.  Gauri, his literal "other half" manifested as Bhavani, and choked him, so that the poison would not enter his body, or leave his mouth, but stay in his throat until it could be purified.  Nandi, his vehicle and extension, licked up the drops of poison that dribbled from Shiva's mouth before they caused much harm.

Now the ocean began to yield its treasures: Kamadhenu (a wish-granting cow), Varuni (intoxication), Ucchaisravas (a horse-vehicle of light, the Apsaras, the moon, and much more.  Both the Devas and Asuras equally received great treasure from the churning, and even gave each other gifts of the treasures they were earning in expressions of friendship and love.  This delighted Vishnu.

But then, just as Vishnu was growing too tired to continue his work (remember, the Asuras and Devas were "helping" Vishnu, but not enough to actually accomplish the churning), he manifested Dhanvantari, a manifestation of medicine as a physician, bearing Amrita, and Vishnu thus tended his own strain and wounds.  And that of the Devas and Asuras too.  The churning continued.

Now, they exerted a little more and from their "second wind" of determination out of the ocean rose Laxmi, Vishnu's love and wife.  In this moment of her re-making, she did not recognize where she was for a moment, or anything about her: then she saw Vishnu, and remembering her love for him, went to his side, as if she had always been there.  She then helped in the churning, sitting atop the mountain (which is now on every side of Vishnu), she brought the Ganga, and all the rivers, and precious fruits, and dance, and all kinds of other refreshment, rest and recreation, to renew everyone's effort.  The Vedas were chanted, and the work continued - but then the Asuras saw that Dhanvantari, the physician, was using the amrita to treat everyone!

(See how Vishnu had tricked the Asuras and Devas to keep working, after the amrita rose - so that Laxmi might be churned out of the ocean?).

The Asuras began to fight over the amrita, and could not decide who should drink first, or how much share everyone should get.  But then suddenly, they became aware of an embodiment of Seduction: Vishnu manifested as Mohini, and approached.  Bali was overcome by Seduction and mindlessly gave the amrita to Mohini, "please, share this among us as would be fair?"

Mohini studied the Asuras carefully, as if about to attack them.  Then she said, "I am Seduction.  Haven't you heard that I am dangerous?  And yet you think I am your friend?  You come near to me, and stay by me, and even ask my help?  So be it.  I will help you - but only if you do whatever I say, whether or not it seems right or wrong."  The Asuras, totally overcome by Seduction, agreed.

Mohini made the Devas and Asuras assemble in a hall, which was made to be as romantic as possible.  There, she continued her work of seduction, and the Asuras and Devas grew insane with desire.  Mohini's loose clothes occasionally slipped, revealing everything; she flirted with the Asuras, and promised them everything.  Then, when the Asuras were sufficiently crazed, she was satisfied: they were utterly defeated by her seduction, when they understood this, they would be humiliated.  So she sat the Asuras on one side, and the Devas on the other.  She poured the Amrita for the Devas first, taking her time, while looking over her shoulder at the Asuras, and flirting with the Asuras.  Though the Asuras were now quite impatient, they waited, not wanting to upset Mohini.  Except Rahu.

Rahu, the Asura, saw the trick of Mohini, and made himself appear like a Deva.  He snuck across the hall to sit with the Devas, between the Surya (sun) and Soma (moon).  Mohini was too distracted by her work of seduction to notice that Rahu was not what he seemed - until Surya and Soma cried out!  In an instant, Rahu drank the Amrita, and in the same instant, Mohini drew a Chakra (a frisbee-like razor weapon, which is associated with Vishnu) and cut off Rahu's head - but because he had already tasted the Amrita, Rahu's head was immortal.  Rahu flew off into the sky, and Vishnu recognized Rahu's achievement, and permitted him that victory.  Yet even today, Rahu, Soma and Surya continue their squabble, and occasionally, Rahu will eclipse them, though frequently Soma and Surya chase Rahu from the sky.

The Asuras did not even notice this chaotic event, so taken were they with Mohini.  It was not until the Devas had drunk all the Amrita that the Asuras noticed none was left for them.  Vishnu took his usual form.  Realizing they had been tricked, the Asuras attacked the Devas - and Vishnu.  Vishnu, with a firm gentleness and kindness, drove them back until the domains of the Devas and Asuras were restored to how they were before the wars.  But, in chasing the Asuras to their home, Mohini herself was lost to the insanity of seduction: the Asuras were quick learners, and had learned Seduction from Vishnu!  In Patala, their home, the Asuras and their wives and husbands now seduced Vishnu, capturing Vishnu!

Vishnu, still as Mohini, had practiced seduction, but unwisely, not practiced the defense against seduction.  In response, she used the only weapon in her hand: and counter attacking seduction with seduction, the Asuras and Vishnu were driven insane.  Thus, Vishnu would have remained in Patala forever, ensnared by desire, if Shiva had not followed after Vishnu and tried to rescue him.  Both Mohini and her captors attacked Shiva - in the insanity, no one wanted Vishnu to leave!  The Devas chased after Shiva to try to rescue Shiva, but then themselves became overcome by desire in the seduction of Mohini and all the Asuras.  After the Devas came the Yakshas, Rakshasas, and all the other beings of every world - each would-be rescuer themselves overcome.  Soon, every being was then in Patala, writhing in desire.  Even Shiva began to weaken.  Shiva understood what needed to be done - but before he himself was overcome, he had to destroy Mohini's beautiful form.

At last, for a moment, the trance was broken, and Shiva was able to carry Vishnu, and all the beings of every world, back to where they all belonged.  Vishnu apologized, and Shiva forgave him - Vishnu was not invincible, after all.  Shiva warned everyone to stay away from Patala - it was not a place easy to escape from!

Mohini, of course, had other adventures before this, and many other adventures afterward: Vishnu is Time, and not bound by Time.  Previously, Shiva helped Vishnu perfect the form of Mohini, permitting Vishnu to test the weapons of seduction on him before using them on the Asuras and Devas (Vishnu thought that if Shiva could be overpowered, he, Vishnu, could overpower anyone).  And even with the help of Gauri, Shiva could not withstand Mohini - and when Shiva spontaneously lost control of his semen, it was taken by the wind to his wife, and Hanuman was born.  When Gauri could not restrain Shiva, Shiva captured Mohini, and they coupled: from this coupling, Ayappan the tiger-rider was born.

But those other stories cannot be told here, without confusing digression.

So, now, the Devas believed they had again triumphed, and this was the end to war.  Shiva saw this, and approached them, and tried to help them: he showed them how, from the beginning, Vishnu had set them up, and explained the play.  Vishnu was their friend, it was true, but Vishnu was also the friend of the Asuras - and neither (even together) could have churned the ocean: it was all Vishnu's doing.  Shiva explained to them the means of lasting peace, but they were not able to fully understand what Shiva was telling them.  Not yet.  Shiva grew frustrated - even the Asuras knew what happened, and blamed Vishnu for their misfortune - how could the Devas not understand Vishnu's role in their success?

Shiva also tried to explain to the Asuras that Vishnu was, nevertheless, their friend too, showing them the ways that Vishnu had helped them in the past, and present, the gentleness and kindness shown - and how even the Devas blamed Vishnu for their suffering, and had to have sought Vishnu's help in recovering their vigor and ability of resurrection, how Vishnu had tricked Indra with the bees so that the Asuras could regain their home ... but like the Devas, the Asuras were not quite ready to understand everything Shiva was trying to teach them.

Some beings are able to learn by the simple instructions of Shiva, but others find it necessary to learn by guided experiences, such as the "plays" of Vishnu.