Kurma avatar of Vishnu and the story of churning the ocean of milk
Medium: Pen and ink on paper
Pen and ink drawing of The Churning of the Sea of Milk, from an 'Album of 51 drawings (57 folios) of buildings, sculpture and paintings in the temple and choultry of Tirumala Nayyak at Madura. c.1801-05', by an anonymous artist working in the South India/Madurai style, c. 1801-1805. Each picture is inscribed with a title and a number in ink.
This drawing is of a carving that can be found in the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple of Madurai, the great sacred complex built under the patronage of the Nayaka ruler Tirumala in the 17th century. Within the large enclosure are two temples dedicated to Shiva as Sundareshvara with his consort Minakshi, and several mandapas (halls) with elaborately sculpted columns of the gods from the Hindu pantheon. The Churning of the Sea of Milk is a creation myth where the cosmic sea 'milk' was churned and creation 'butter' appeared as a result. The snake Vasuki was used as a churning rope by the gods and demons, and the sacred mountain Mandara was used as a pole that was set on the back of the tortoise, Kurma, the second incarnation of Vishnu. By churning the waters of the cosmic sea the drink of immortality (amrita) was created and was enjoyed by the gods. Kurma is considered to be the base upon which the world is placed.