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.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Cambodia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The truth about elephant tourism in Asia

The truth about elephant tourism in Asia

Elephants are born free, but are everywhere in chains – and it’s tourism which is increasingly to blame. Riding an elephant used to be on every visitor’s …

25 Nov 2016 • Gavin Thomas insert_drive_file Article
11 gorgeous pictures of Cambodia

11 gorgeous pictures of Cambodia

This beguiling country in Southeast Asia has captured the hearts and imaginations of travellers from all over the world. Travel photographer Fiona Campbell is …

11 Jan 2016 • Fiona Campbell insert_drive_file Article
How to see Angkor Wat without the crowds

How to see Angkor Wat without the crowds

The sky is lightening. Squint and you can just about make out a change in the colour of it, a shift from inky-black to blue-black. As the sun rises further it c…

03 Jun 2015 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month