Kurma (Sanskrit: कूर्म; Kūrma, lit. turtle) is the second Avatar of Vishnu. Like other avatars of Vishnu, Kurma appears at a time of crisis to restore the cosmic equilibrium. Sage Durvasa had cursed the Devas (gods) to be mortal and fade away. The gods needed nectar of immortality (amrit) to overcome this curse, and they make a pact with the asuras (demons) to churn the cosmic ocean of milk, so as to extract the nectar, and once it skims out they would share it. Kurma, the creative problem solving Vishnu avatar in the form of a tortoise or turtle, appears to support as the foundation for the cosmos and the cosmic churning stick (Mount Mandara).
Incarnation of Vishnu as a Turtle
Together the gods and demons churn the ocean with divine serpent Vasuki as the rope (samudra manthan), and the churn skims out a combination of good and bad things. Along with other products, it produces poison which Shiva drinks and holds it in his throat, and immortality nectar which the demons grab and run away with. The Kurma avatar, according to Hindu mythology, then transforms into a femme fatale named Mohini to seduce the demons. They fall for her. They ask her to take the nectar, please be their wife and distribute it between them one by one. Mohini-Vishnu takes the pot of nectar and gives it to the gods, thus preventing evil from becoming eternal, and preserving the good.
The Kurma legend appears in the Vedic texts, and a complete version is found in the Shatapatha Brahmana of the Yajurveda. His iconography is either a tortoise, or as half man-half tortoise. The temples dedicated to Kurma are found in Kurmai, Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh, and Srikurmam, Srikakulam District , Andhra Pradesh. His iconography is found in many Vaishnava temple ceilings or wall reliefs.
The Kurma legend is described in Vaishnava Puranas. In one version, sage Durvasa had given a garland to Indra, the king of Gods. Indra placed the garland around his elephant, but the animal trampled it, insulting the sage. Durvasa then cursed the gods to lose their immortality, strength, and divine powers. After losing the kingdom of heaven, they approached Vishnu for help. He advised that they had to drink the nectar of immortality to regain their glory. To obtain it, they needed to churn the ocean of milk, a body of water so large they needed Mount Mandara as the churning staff, and the serpent Vasuki as the churning rope. The Devas were not strong enough to churn on their own, and declared peace with their foes, the Asuras, to enlist their help. Finally, Mount Mandara churned, but the force was so great the mountain began to sink into the ocean of milk. Taking the form of the turtle Kurma, Vishnu bore the mountain on his back as they churned the waters. Fourteen precious things arose from the turbulent ocean, culminating with Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, who brought with him the nectar of immortality.
The Asuras immediately took the nectar, and quarreled amongst themselves. Vishnu then manifested himself as the beautiful Mohini and tricked the Asuras to retrieve the potion, which he then distributed to the Devas. Though the Asuras realized the trick, it was too late—the Devas had regained their powers, and were then able to defeat their foes.
There are three temples dedicated to this incarnation of Vishnu in India: Kurmai of Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh, Sri Kurmam in Srikakulam District of Andhra Pradesh, and Gavirangapur in the Chitradurg District of Karnataka. The name of the village Kurmai mentioned above originated as there is historical temple of Kurma Varadarajaswamy (Kurmavatar of Lord Vishnu), god in this village. The temple located in Srikurmam in Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh, is also the Avatar of Kurma.
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