Samudra Manthan: The Milk Ocean Treasures
A long time ago, when the Universe was recreated by Lord Shiva, both the Gods and the Demons were fighting for amrita, the nectar of immortality. There was no peace on Earth or in Heaven because the asuras (the demons) had taken control of the Universe. As per the legend, Indra, the king of the devas (the Gods) was gifted a garland by sage Durvasa. Durvasa’s garland was given to him by Lord Shiva and he gave it to Indra as a prasada. Indra places it on the trunk of his divine elephant Airavat, who throws it on the ground. This enrages Durvasa and he curses Indra and the devas to be bereft of their strength and fortune. In the battles that followed, the mighty asuras defeat the devas, and King Bali (the demon king) becomes the ruler of the Universe. The Gods seek help from Vishnu and he advises them to form an alliance with the asuras and extract the nectar from the ocean of milk. The ocean of milk is the fifth from the centre of the seven oceans that surround loka (the Sanskrit word for “World”). After much debate, the Gods come to the conclusion that they indeed need the help of the asuras to churn the ocean of milk, which would bring forth the amrita as well as numerous other treasures.
The devas assured the asuras that the amrita would be shared equally and both can become immortal and strong by drinking it. The demons agreed and even helped the Gods tear up Mount Mandara, which was to be used as a churning stick. What they needed next was a churning rope to move the mountain. Vasuki, the king of the Serpents allowed himself to be bound to Mount Mandara to extract the nectar of immortal life from the ocean of milk. During the samudra manthan, Lord Vishnu tricks the demons into holding the head of the snake while the devas hold the tail. Vasuki, the serpent is pulled back and forth and they start churning the ocean. Poison starts escaping from Vasuki’s mouth and this terrifies both the Gods and the demons, as it was lethal enough to destroy the Universe. The Gods approach Lord Shiva for protection and he consumes this poison to save the Universe. Parvati, his wife, stops this poison from spreading into his body by pressing his throat and his throat turns blue. In folklore, Lord Shiva is known as Neelkantha because of this reason. As the churning progresses, the mountain suddenly begins to sink into the ocean and Lord Vishnu transforms into a turtle (his avatar popularly known as Kurma) and brings it back up by supporting it on his back. The churning resumes and it lasts for a millennium, and many divine things emerge from the ocean of milk.
The treasures that emerged were accepted by Lord Vishnu, the devas and the asuras. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth becomes Vishnu’s eternal consort. Divine nymphs (Apsaras) like Rambha, Menaka, Punjisthala choose the Gods, and Sura, the goddess of alcohol, goes to the demons. Parijat, the divine flowering tree with blossoms that never wilt is taken to Indralok by the devas. Kaamdhenu or Surabhi, the divine wish granting cow is taken by Vishnu and he gives it to the sages to use the ghee from her milk for sacrifices and rituals. Many other valuables and supernatural beings emerge and in the end, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician appears with the pot of amrita in his hand. He starts distributing this to the Gods and the demons realize that they have been tricked. The demons and the gods engage in a fierce battle once again. The devas appeal to Vishnu for help, and Vishnu in his avatar as Mohini, an enchantress, distracts the asuras and distributes the amrita to the devas. RahuKetu, an asura notices this and disguises himself as a deva and drinks some nectar, but upon finding out RahuKetu’s true identity, Mohini cuts off his head with a divine chakra (Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra). The asura becomes immortal but his head remains separated from his body. The head of RahuKetu comes to be known as Rahu and the body is called Ketu. The amrita restores strength in the devas and they become powerful once again. They defeat the asuras, send them back to patala-loka (the underworld where demons reside) and take control of the Universe.
(Disclaimer: The information compiled here is taken from sources freely available and is reproduced here just to indicate a link of milk with mythology. It is not intended to exemplify or promote any particular mythology. Further, the information is introductory and by no means complete.)