KURMA AVATAR- Significance of the Kurma Avatar Story


Kurma avatar is is the second avatar of Lord Vishnu following the Matsya Avatar. The word Kurma means Tortoise, and the story of the Kurma Avatar of Vishnu has its beginning in the Puranas. The Kurma Avatar was taken by Lord Vishnu to help the Gods win the amrita or elixir of life over the demons during the churning of the ocean.  All the stories mentioned in the Puranas have a deeper significance. Similarly the Kurma Avatar story has a profound meaning that has to be interpreted.

Kurma avatar- The secret and the significance

kurma avatar storyAs per the puranic story, the Gods and Demons had churned the ocean to obtain the elixir of life. The churning is symbolized by a literal tug of war between the Gods and Demons in the story. The ocean is representative of the deep consciousness or the human mind.  The Gods and demons themselves symbolize our own good and satanic tendencies. The tug of war represents the struggle in our own selves to choose between the good and bad karma in our every day life. And by the choices that we make by our own free will, it be determined whether we get a chance to taste the elixir of life (represented by liberation from samsara) or remain mortal (bonded in samsara- repetitive cycle of life and death).

In the puranic story, the churning stick is Mount Mandara that is used to churn the ocean. Mount Mandara represents the sum total of all our efforts in this life that are used to churn our own thought process and develop our mind. When the Mount Mandara starts drowning in the mid ocean (symbolizing our own despair in life), Lord Vishnu takes the form of a tortoise and attaches himself as the base to stop the moutain from sinking.  Also in the story, at one point, the mountain rises higher (symbolizing our own pride) and the Mount Mandara goes out of range for it to churn the ocean. It is again Lord Vishnu who takes the form of an eagle and sits on top to balance the weight and complete the churning.

This symbolizes that while we excercise our own free will and make our own efforts, a faith in the divine will help us to neither drown in despair in times of adversity or lose our humility in times of success.


Another  similarity that is often linked to Darwin’s theory is in evolution. The evolution theory tells us that after the aquatic organisms, amphibians were formed. Similarly in the puranas, the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu Matsya avatar (fish- aquatic) is followed by the Kurma avatar (tortoise- amphibian). This is in line with many such stories or incidents in the Vedas, that have a direct link with the formation of the universe.


The story starts with a meeting between Sage Durvasa and Lord Indra. Sage Durvasa as a mark of respect offers a garland of flowers to Lord Indra. The king of Gods, Lord Indra who is seated on his elephant, Airavata, takes the garland of flowers and places it on the forehead of the elephant. The elephant takes the garland and throws it down on the earth.

The chief of sages Durvasa, angry at this disrespectful treatment of his gift, proclaims to the King of Gods that his kingdom will be ruined.

Destiny acts to fulfill the words of Sage Durvasa and the Asuras (demons) declare war on the Gods.  The Gods want to taste the nectar of immortality and approach Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu advises the Gods to churn the ocean along with the Demons and offer them a share of nectar as well.

The Mandara mountain is to be used to the churning stick and the snake Vasuki is the churning rope. But once the churning starts, the mountain starts drowning in the ocean as there is no support base to keep it afloat. It is then Lord Vishnu took the form of the tortoise (Kurma Avatar) to keep the mountain afloat. It is Kurma avatar, the tortoise, that goes below the mountain and stops it from sinking.

There were a lot of divine objects and fortunate things that arise in the Kurma Avatar Story- Wish-fulfilling tree Kalpavriksha, Wish-fulfilling cow Kamadhenu,  Wish-fulfilling gem Chintamani, Seven-headed flying horse Ucchaishrava, Six-tusked elephant Airavata, Conch – Panchajanya,  Bow of king Saranga,  Beautiful nymph Rambha, Moon-god, Chandra, Goddess of ocean Varuni, Physician Dhanvantari. An incarnation of Vishnu, the enemy of disease, he brought with him Ayurveda, Goddess of fortune Lakshmi,  Elixir of immortality Amrita, and the poison Halahal.

The Goddess Lakshmi chooses Vishnu and thus chooses the Gods over the demons. The Gods restored with their vigor and energy fight the Asuras again and prevail over them.

Kurma Jayanati, or the day when the incarnation of Lord Vishnu happened, is observed on Purnima or full moon day in the month of Vaisakha.

The temples dedicated to the Kurma Avatar are located in Kurmai, Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh, and Srikurmam, Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh. The name of the village Kurmai 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.

Click to see Kurma Avatar idol (in coppper and brass) to be kept at office and home:

Suggested Reading

Lord Vishnu explains the right way of living

The lesser known story of the Varaha Avatar

Significance of Navratri- Why do we celebrate it?

Why do we celebrate Holi?

The truth about the self- Lord Brahma instructs

Upanishad story- Raikva, the cart driver