The story of Shiva consuming the deadly poison to save the Universe and establishing the new doctrine –
He who has a power; has a responsibility
Brahma created the Universe, the mother earth and lives, Gods (The Good power) and Demons (The Evil powers) and their most beautiful creation of all – humans. The humans often offered prayers and yagnas to God, which were known to boost their powers. Demons with the aim of conquering the universe and control earth (where human lived) and Swarg lok (heaven the abode of Gods) often attacked and tortured humans (who were their natural victim as humans supported God). To save themselves, humans would inevitably turn to Gods and this would give rise to Deva-sur Sangram (Battle between Gods and Demons).
More often than not Demons would emerge victorious over the God. The secret lies in the hand of the Demon Guru (Teacher and adviser) Sukracharya (A great devotee to Lord Shiva) who got a power from Shiva called Mrita-Sanjivini (That can bring a dead back to life). This ensured that no demon would ever be killed. In absence of such a power God always had a loosing hand. The solution?
Were the miseries insufficient for Gods to incur another curse? It so happened that once the king of Gods, Indra was traveling on his elephant when he met saint Durvasa. Durvasa offered him a flower garland which Indra in light vein placed on his elephants head and the animal threw it on the ground. Durvasa, who was well known for his short tempers, took the incident as an insult and the arrogance of Gods. He cursed Gods “Let all richness and power of yours be gone”. The Godess of prosperity Laxmi at once vanished in the depth of ocean. What could be a better opportunity for demons? They forced the Gods out of the heaven.
Gods, cursed, defeated and demoralised, turned to their deity – Lord Vishnu, The Protector. Vishnu suggested a solution – Sagar Manthan (Churning the ocean to get precious elements out) to get the most precious of all resource – Amrit or nectar (A Drink to make one immortal.) But the task was too difficult to be accomplished by Gods alone, in other words without the joint effort of the natural rivals Gods and Demons.
Demons were invited for joint venture and to share whatever comes out of the great ocean. Sukracharya was first reluctant as they never needed Amrit. But when pointed out that the demons power would collapse once Sukracharya dies since he is the only person who could bring others to lives but not himself. The Sagar Manthan was agreed upon.
It was decided that the mountain called Mandrachal would be used as pivot and the great snake Vasuki (the garland or Lord Shiva) as the rope to turn the pivot. The Gods and Demons would pull the snake from either side to stir the ocean. But the Big question… who will face the snake and the deadly venoms? Narad, played the trick and flattered the demons to accept the head portion.
The efforts started, and Sagar yielded many valuable elements, jewels, treasures etc. which were divided among Gods and Demons. Then came Godess Laxmi from the ocean whom Lord Vishnu took as his wife. At the end came the much desired Amrit (nectar), which Lord Vishnu by his trick ensured only for Gods. But churning of ocean is not the story of obtaining the nectar. So let us go back to the real story. Before Amrit, came the deadly poison.
The poison was so deadly it became a danger to the extend of finishing the entire creation. It was named kaalkut – the manifestation of death. It was growing uncontrollable and causing unrest to the entire universe. Whom then, God and demons turn to?
Who had the ability to control this weapon of devastation? Who except Maha-mrityunjay (Lord Shiva) himself? All turned to Bhole-nath (Shiva). Shiva took the universe under his guardianship and swallowed the entire poison. The poison of course couldn’t bring any harm to Mahadev Shiva, but so deadly was the poison that it got accumulated in his throat and turned it blue… and Ashutosh Shiva got a new name Nilkanth (God with blue throat)
The episode of churning of ocean is not really about getting the nectar (amrit) but it the story about Shiva’s consuming the poison. It is the story of establishing a tradition:
he who has the power has got a responsibility.
When others were fighting over getting Amrit, Lord Shiva swallowed the poison. Nilkantha aspect of Shiva continues to inspire Indian culture from ancient times where people have put themselves in trouble to save and support those in need. In many a cases the reason was capability and not a matter of duty.