A popular theme in Khmer art is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a creation myth from the Hindu epic the Bhagavata-Purana, which describes the various incarnations of Vishnu. At the beginning of this episode, the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) are lined up on opposite sides, trying to use Mount Mandara to churn the ocean in order to produce amrita, the elixir of immortality. They tug on the serpent Vasuki, who is coiled around the mountain, but to no effect. Vishnu arrives and instructs them to pull rhythmically, but the mountain begins to sink. Things get worse when Vasuki vomits a deadly venom, which threatens to destroy the devas and asuras; Brahma asks Shiva to drink up the venom, which he does, but it burns his throat, which is blue thereafter. Vishnu meanwhile, in his incarnation as the tortoise Kurma, supports Mount Mandara, allowing the churning to continue for another thousand years, after which the amrita is finally produced. Unfortunately, the elixir is seized by the asuras, but Vishnu again comes to the rescue as the apparition Maya and regains the cup of elixir. The churning also results in the manifestation of mythical beings, including the three-headed elephant, Airavata; the goddess of beauty, Lakshmi, who becomes Vishnu’s wife; and the celestial dancers, the apsaras.

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