The Ramayana/Book I/Canto XLV: The Quest of The Amrit

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The Ramayana of Valmiki by Valmiki, translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Book I — Canto XLV: The Quest of The Amrit

High and more high their wonder rose
As the strange story reached its close,
And thus, with Lakshman, Ráma, best
Of Raghu's sons, the saint addressed:
'Most wondrous is the tale which thou
Hast told of heavenly Gangá, how
From realms above descending she
Flowed through the land and filled the sea.
In thinking o'er what thou hast said
The night has like a moment fled,
Whose hours in musing have been spent
Upon thy words most excellent:
So much, O holy Sage, thy lore
Has charmed us with this tale of yore.'

Day dawned. The morning rites were done
And the victorious Raghu's son
Addressed the sage in words like these,
Rich in his long austerities:
'The night is past: the morn is clear;
Told is the tale so good to hear:
Now o'er that river let us go,
Three-pathed, the best of all that flow.
This boat stands ready on the shore
To bear the holy hermits o'er,
Who of thy coming warned, in haste,
The barge upon the bank have placed.'

And Kas'ik's son approved his speech,
And moving to the sandy beach,
Placed in the boat the hermit band,
And reached the river's further strand.
On the north bank their feet they set,
And greeted all the (illegible) they met.
On Gangá's shore they lighted down,
And saw Vis'ada's lovely town.
Thither, the princes by his side,
The best of holy hermits hied.
It was a town exceeding fair

That might with heaven itself compare.
Then, suppliant palm to palm applied,
Famed Ráma asked his holy guide:
'O best of hermits, say what race
Of monarchs rules this lovely place.
Dear master, let my prayer prevail,
For much I long to hear the tale.'
Moved by his words, the saintly man
Vis'álá's ancient tale began:
'List, Rama, list, with closest heed
The tale of Indra's wondrous deed,
And mark me as I truly tell
What here in ancient days befell.
Ere Krita's famous Age [1]had fled.
Strong were the sons of Diti [2] bred;
And Aditi's brave children too
Were very mighty, good, and true.
The rival brothers fierce and bold
Were sons of Kas'yap lofty-souled.
Of sister mothers born, they vied,
Brood against brood, in jealous pride.
Once, as they say, band met with band,
And, joined in awful council, planned
To live, unharmed by age and time,
Immortal in their youthful prime.
Then this was, after due debate,
The counsel of the wise and great,
To churn with might the milky sea [3]
The life-bestowing drink to free.
This planned, they seized the Serpent King,
Vásuki, for their churning-string,
And Mandar's mountain for their pole,
And churned with all their heart and soul.
As thus, a thousand seasons through,
This way and that the snake they drew,
Biting the rocks, each tortured head,
A very deadly venom shed.
Thence, bursting like a mighty flame,
A pestilential poison came,
Consuming, as it onward ran,
The home of God, and fiend, and man.
Then all the suppliant Gods in fear
To S'ankar [4], mighty lord, drew near.
To Rudra, King of Herds, dismayed,
'Save us, O save us, Lord!' they prayed.
Then Vishnu, bearing shell, and mace,
And discus, showed his radiant face,
And thus addressed in smiling glee
The Trident wielding deity:
What treasure first the Gods upturn
From troubled Ocean, as they churn,
Should--for thou art the eldest--be
Conferred, O best of Gods, on thee.

Then come, and for thy birthright's sake,
This venom as thy firstfruits take.'
He spoke, and vanished from their sight.
When Siva saw their wild affright,
And heard his speech by whom is borne
The mighty bow of bending horn, [5]
The poisoned flood at once he quaffed
As 'twere the Amrit's heavenly draught.
Then from the Gods departing went
S'iva, the Lord pre-eminent.
The host of Gods and Asurs still
Kept churning with one heart and will.
But Mandar's mountain, whirling round.
Pierced to the depths below the ground.
Then Gods and bards in terror flew
To him who mighty Madhu slew.
'Help of all beings! more than all,
The Gods on thee for aid may call.
Ward off, O mighty-armed! our fate,
And bear up Mandar's threatening weight.'
Then Vishnu, as their need was sore,
The semblance of a tortoise wore,
And in the bed of Ocean lay
The mountain on his back to stay.
Then he, the soul pervading all,
Whose locks in radiant tresses fall,
One mighty arm extended still,
And grasped the summit of the hill.
So ranged among the Immortals, he
Joined in the churning of the sea.

A thousand years had reached their close,
When calmly from the ocean rose
The gentle sage [6]with staff and can,
Lord of the art of healing man.
Then as the waters foamed and boiled.
As churning still the Immortals toiled,
Of winning face and lovely frame,
Forth sixty million fair ones came.
Born of the foam and water, these
Were aptly named Apsarases. [7]

Each had her maids. The tongue would fail--
So vast the throng--to count the tale,
But when no God or Titan wooed
A wife from all that multitude,
Refused by all, they gave their love
In common to the Gods above.
Then from the sea still vext and wild
Rose Surá, [8]Varun's maiden child.
A fitting match she sought to find:
But Diti's sons her love declined.
Their kinsmen of the rival brood
To the pure maid in honour sued.
Hence those who loved that nymph so fair
The hallowed name of Suras bear.
And Asurs are the Titan crowd
Her gentle claims who disallowed.
Then from the foamy sea was freed
Uchchaihs'ravas, [9]the generous steed,
And Kaustubha, of gems the gem, [10]
And Soma, Moon God, after them.

At length when many a year had fled,
Up floated, on her lotus bed,
A maiden fair and tender-eyed,
In the young flush of beauty's pride.
She shone with pearl and golden sheen,
And seals of glory stamped her queen.
On each round arm glowed many a gem,
On her smooth brows, a diadem,
Rolling in waves beneath her crown
The glory of her hair flowed down.
Pearls on her neck of price untold,
The lady shone like burnisht gold.
Queen of the Gods, she leapt to land,
A lotus in her perfect hand,

And fondly, of the lotus-sprung,
To lotus-bearing Vishnu clung.
Her Gods above and men below
As Beauty's Queen and Fortune know. [11]
Gods, Titans, and the minstrel train
Still churned and wrought the troubled main.
At length the prize so madly sought,
The Amrit, to their sight was brought.
For the rich spoil,'twixt these and those
A fratricidal war arose,
And, host 'gainst host in battle, set,
Aditi's sons and Diti's met.
United, with the giants' aid,
Their fierce attack the Titans made,
And wildly raged for many a day
That universe-astounding fray.
When wearied arms were faint to strike,
And ruin threatened all alike,
Vishnu, with art's illusive aid,
The Amrit from their sight conveyed.
That Best of Beings smote his foes
Who dared his deathless arm oppose:
Yea, Vishnu, all-pervading God,
Beneath his feet the Titans trod
Aditi's race, the sons of light,
slew Diti's brood in cruel fight.
Then town-destroying [12]Indra gained
His empire, and in glory reigned
O'er the three worlds with bard and sage
Rejoicing in his heritage.


  1. The first or Golden Age.
  2. Diti and Aditi were wives of Kas'yap, and mothers respectively of Titans and Gods.
  3. One of the seven seas surrounding as many worlds in concentric rings.
  4. S'ankar and Rudra are names of S'iva.
  5. S'árigin, literally carrying a bow of horn, is a constantly recurring name of Vishnu. The Indians also, therefore, knew the art of making bows out of the hons of antelopes or wild goats, which Homer ascribes to the Trojans of the heroic age.' SCHLEGEL.
  6. Dhanvantari, the physician of the Gods.
  7. The poet plays upon the word and fancifully derives it from apsu, the locative case plural of ap, water, and rasa, taste.... The word is probably derived from ap, water, and sri, to go, and seems to signify inhabitants of the water, nymphs of the stream; or, as Goldstücker thinks (Dict. s.v.) these divinities were originally personifications of the vapours which are attracted by the sun and form into mist or clouds.
  8. 'Surá, the feminine comprehends all sorts of intoxicating liquors, many kinds of which the Indians from the earliest times distilled and prepared from rice, sugar-cane, the palm tree, and various flowers and plants. Nothing is considered more disgraceful among orthodox Hindus than drunkenness, and the use of wine is forbidden not only to Bráhmans but the two other orders as well.... So it clearly appears derogatory to the dignity of the Gods to have received a nymph so pernicious, who ought rather to have been made over to the Titans. However the etymological fancy has prevailed. The word Sura, a God, is derived from the indeclinable Svar heaven.' SCHLEGEL.
  9. Literally, high-eared, the horse of Indra. Compare the production of the horse from the sea by Neptune.

  10.      'And Kaustubha the best
       Of gems that burns with living light
       Upon Lord Vishnu's breast.'
                      Churning of the Ocean.
  11. 'That this story of the birth of Lakshimi is of considerable antiquity is evident from one of her names *Kshirábdhi-tanayá, daughter of the Milky Sea, which is found in Amarasinha the most ancient of Indian lexicographers. The similarity to the Greek myth of Venus being born from the foam of the sea is remarkable.'

    'In this description of Lakshmi one thing only offends me, that she is said to have four arms. Each of Vishnu's arms, single, as far as the elbow, there branches into two; but Lakshmi in all the brass seals that I possess or remember to have seen has two arms only. Nor does this deformity of redundant limbs suit the pattern of perfect beauty.' SCHLEGEL. I have omitted the offensive epithet.
  12. Purandhar, a common title of Indra.