Samudra Manthan: divided cosmos reflects inner polarity

Samudramanthana, the Churning of the Ocean. 19th Century, India. at the British Museum of Art. US Public Domain via Wikimedia
Samudra manthana, the Churning of the Ocean. 19th Century, India. at the British Museum of Art. US Public Domain via Wikimedia

The image above is a watercolor of Samudra manthana, the Churning of the Ocean. The British Museum provides a description of the image:

“This event took place during the second incarnation of Visnu as Kurma, the tortoise. The painting shows Visnu seated on the top of Mount Mandara, here represented as a pole. He holds a discus, sword, conch and lotus in his four hands and has a golden nimbus around his head. Around the pole is wrapped the snake Vasuki. On one side the snake is pulled by the gods and on the other it is pulled by the Danava’s. On the shore of the ocean are the objects which have emerged during the churning, which include Laksmi, Varuni, the conch, the elephant mount of Brahma, Airavata, Surabhi the wish fulfilling cow and the vessel holding amrita which bestows immortality on the drinker. A crescent moon is shown in the top left corner of the painting. The painting is surrounded by a black border.”[1]

From an archetypal perspective, Vishnu is an image of the Self.  The central pole may be seen as the axis mundi. The axis mundi is the world pole which offers a connection between the three worlds or three states of consciousness. The snake is wrapped around the pole, an image of the instincts– both lower and higher. The gods and demons churn the great sea of milk by pulling on either ends of the snake. This image may be seen as representing the synthesis of Self.

Jung understood the importance of such polarity in churning the ocean of consciousness. He understood that such polarities reflect the polarities of our own inner world. Jung says:

“How else could it have occurred to man to divide the cosmos, on the analogy of day and night, summer and winter, into a bright day-world and a dark night-world peopled with fabulous monsters, unless he had the prototype of such a division in himself, in the polarity between the conscious and the invisible and unknowable unconscious?” (Carl Jung, CW 91, para. 187)

Reference:

  1. The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)
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