A long, long time ago, an antagonised sage cursed the Devas to be stripped off their strength and good fortune. In an ensuing war against the Asuras, they were defeated and thereby lost control of the universe. In despair, they turned to Lord Brahma, who then directed them to Lord Vishnu for help. Vishnu offered them a solution — to consume the divine nectar, the Amrita obtained by churning the ocean. But there was a catch— the Devas and the Asuras had to work together. And they did. You’ve probably heard this story before, but ever wondered how the fishes saw it?
(The ocean is calm and beautiful — a picture of quiet strength and stability. A tuna and an orca have been enjoying a seemingly ordinary evening. Until…)
TUNA: Orca, is that you?
ORCA: Huh? What do you mean?
TUNA: Your stomachs are in mutiny. We might have a smelly situation.
ORCA: No! The sea otters were perfectly okay. And tasty.
TUNA: And innocent too.
ORCA: I was hungry. And it’s a trusty family recipe, so I think we should be okay.
TUNA: Oh, Orca…
(Loud rumbling in the distance)
TUNA: Wait. Did you hear that?
ORCA: Hmph! You are excessively skittish these days.
TUNA: Well, in my defence, you don’t have a stalkerish Great White Shark who thinks you are his dream dinner on your tail.
(The rumbling becomes louder and closer.)
TUNA: Is that your great-aunt Narwhal turning in her grave?
ORCA: (pointing at Mount Mandara) Look! What is that thing?
TUNA: Not your great-aunt Narwhal, I hope?
ORCA: Is that a mountain? It’s enormous.
TUNA: Alright Fishlock, mountains are enormous. It’s, like a rule or something.
ORCA: And it’s moving. Mountains are so cool!
TUNA: How about you show some loyalty to your ocean turf, bud?
ORCA: It’s remarkably brown. Does someone dye it?
TUNA: Orca, it’s coming for us. THE APOCALYPSE IS HERE! Move!
(They attempt to escape, swimming away from the turbulent waves, but get tossed around).
In the meantime,
BALI, King of the Asuras: (grunts) It’s heavy.
INDRA, King of the Devas: Well, it is a mountain.
BALI: Right. A mountain that cost people their lives trying to move it.
INDRA: (sighs) I know. But we can bring them back once we get hold of the Amrita. And we get to be immortal.
(The Devas and Asuras get Vasuki—the King of Snakes who will be used as the churning rope—in place.)
SURYA: (whispers) Why are we holding Vasuki’s head? Doesn’t he emit poisonous fumes from his mouth when twisted and pulled?
INDRA: (whispers back) Because Vishnu advised us to, didn’t he? We are merely following instructions.
SURYA: Huh. We better do. We lost too many of our people in the war against the Asuras.
BALI: (booms) We have been tricked. You gave us the rear end to hold, but we know the tail is impure. This is beneath us. We demand to hold the head!
VASUKI: You do realise I can hear you, right?
BALI: (still addressing the Devas) You must concede to our wishes. We are, after all, helping you for the greater good.
VASUKI: Are you squabbling about who gets to hold my head? From where I am standing, or rather, twisting—painfully, might I add…I’m doing all the hard work!
INDRA: (exchanges a knowing look with Surya) Sure. Help yourselves. You get to hold the head.
VASUKI: Back to ignoring me, are we?
(The Devas and Asuras proceed to place Mount Mandara, the churning rod in the middle of the ocean.)
(Mount Mandara is placed in the middle of the ocean, the Devas and Asuras are preparing to churn it. The sea creatures have managed to survive—till now.)
ORCA: I can’t breathe. There is water everywhere.
TUNA: Enough with the dramatics, Orca. You are a fish.
ORCA: I’m a whale, actually.
TUNA: A dolphin, you silly.
ORCA: Hey, look! It’s the Great White Shark.
TUNA: WHAT! (immediately hides under Orca’s fin)
(Enter The Great White Shark)
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: Have you seen Tuna? It’s such a pain—I’ve never managed to get hold of that one.
ORCA: Oh, he’s right here. (points at a visibly shaken Tuna)
TUNA: Orca, you blithering dunderhead! He wants to EAT ME! The world is ending but apparently, he wants a tuna sandwich.
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: You are absolutely correct. You could say it’s my death wish.
TUNA: You mean, final wish?
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: Semantics, tuna fish.
TUNA: Orca, can you please eat him for me?
ORCA: I’m afraid I can’t.
TUNA: Why not? I’m your best friend, and I let you win hide-and-fish. Every. Single. Time.
ORCA: Friendship aside, you are terrible at that game, courtesy of my sonar hearing. And yes, you are my friend. But I can’t compromise on my diet. Momma would get mad.
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: Are you two done?
ORCA and TUNA: NO!
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: Well, the sea level is rapidly rising, and I’m pretty sure it’s not global warming.
ORCA: Is that the mountain? It looks like it’s coming to live with us. Yay!
TUNA: Orca, silly, it’s sinking.
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: That’s a good observation. I always appreciated a smart meal.
(Sinking stops almost immediately)
ORCA: Turtles are the best. Look at him supporting the mountain at the bottom of the ocean! Taking the entire weight on his back must require a lot of strength.
TUNA: Oh, thankfully he has saved us—for the time being, at least.
ORCA: Wait, are we moving forward?
TUNA: …and backward? Or side-to-side?
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: I’m getting a little dizzy here.
ORCA: Yay! It’s like a sideways sea-saw.
TUNA and THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: ORCAA!
TUNA: The ocean’s turning milky and I…I feel suffocated. Oh, some strange things are happening today.
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: Can I eat you now? It looks like we are all going to die anyway.
ORCA: By drowning in milk! Who would have thought of that?
BALI: I get first dibs on whatever comes out of the ocean.
INDRA: Sure. Just continue pulling from your end.
BALI: And I get to eat the Amrita as well.
INDRA: A reasonable amount, yes.
VASUKI: First dibs, huh? Take that poison emerging from the ocean, then.
VASUKI: Where’s everybody?
(after a period of long, uncomfortable silence)
(Enter Devas and Asuras)
INDRA: We can get on with the churning now.
VASUKI: I can’t say I’m excited by the prospect. But what about the Halahala? That poison can kill creation—destroy the entire universe!
INDRA: We asked Vishnu for help. Brahma ran interference, Shiva has a blue throat now, and the three worlds are Halahala-free.
VASUKI: Shiva has a blue throat? Did I hear that right?
INDRA: He drank the Halahala. It was the only way to contain it.
VASUKI: Oh, my. It sounds painful. That counts for something—considering I’m being used as a churning rope.
INDRA: It was. But Parvati placed a hand on his throat to stop its flow. It’s all good now.
VASUKI: Wonderful. Shall we?
(The Devas and Asuras continue churning the ocean)
TUNA: Has it finally stopped? I’m so dizzy—surely my head is about to explode!
ORCA: Well, I guess you’re right; it doesn’t feel like we’re rocking back and forth anymore. Such a pity—I was enjoying the ride!
TUNA: (visibly gasping) Enjoying? I can’t breathe; I can’t even see anything.
ORCA: Well, apart from all that and the fact that death is imminent— it was pretty fun, wouldn’t you say?
TUNA: At least, you don’t have the Great White Shark on your tail. I’m sure he’ll turn up to eat me any second; I don’t think I’d be able to negotiate my way out of it again.
ORCA: Be thankful, for this spinning adventure has thrown him off-balance as well. He’ll take ages to find you again. All hail the power of the ocean!
TUNA: It’s the power of the ocean that’s going to kill us first, you fool!
ORCA: I’m hopeful about our situation. I heard some roaring popping sounds—you know, the kind when huge things break out of the surface? It seems to be giving up precious commodities to the earth above. Hopefully, it will lose its energy soon, and everything will be calm.
TUNA: (moving against his will) AARGH, It’s starting again! I wish you were right, but the ocean is vast—an abode of ever-lasting energy. It never dies, Orca—never! Sadly, the same can’t be said for us.
(The Devas and Asuras continue churning the ocean. Along with the gods and Maha Rishis, they lay claim to the riches emerging from the ocean—fourteen in total.)
INDRA: I see Airavat, the beautiful white elephant. It shall carry me and stand at the entrance of my palace.
BALI: I’ll take Uchchaihshravas then, the 7-headed flying horse. It is one of its kind—the most magnificent there is.
VASUKI: Do I get anything?
INDRA: Parijat—the tree with never-fading blossoms—is ours!
BALI: Well, Varuni—the creator of wine—shall reside with us!
VISHNU: I will give the wish-fulfilling cow—Kamadhenu—to the sages. She will be worshipped as the mother of all cows.
(Then came the beautiful Goddess Lakshmi, and all stared at her dumbfounded; the churning came to a halt. The apsaras—dancing maidens—danced for her and handed her a garland.)
INDRA: Let’s get her a chair to sit on, quick!
BALI: It’s bold of you to think that will work. This is a Swayamvar—Goddess Lakshmi will choose her own husband.
INDRA: There’s no harm in trying; after all, only one of us could be the lucky one.
(Goddess Lakshmi ultimately puts the garland over Vishnu, choosing him above all others.)
INDRA: Ah, it’s a perfect match! She, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity and He, the Preserving God. Let’s rejoice—it’s a moment to celebrate!
(The churning continues after the divine Swayamwar. A physician emerges carrying the pot of Amrita, the heavenly nectar of immortality. A quarrel among the Devas and Asuras ensues. To keep the pot away from the asuras, Garuda the eagle clutches it in his talons and flies away.)
TUNA: I don’t want to sound too hopeful, but don’t you think things have died down?
ORCA: Yes! Let’s go up to the surface to find out what’s going on.
TUNA: What? No! That’s not what I meant. It is still very risky; we are talking about our lives here.
ORCA: Come on! Pay heed to my inquisitive nature.
(As they reach just beneath the surface of the ocean, they bear witness to a spectacle on a shore some distance away. Or only Orca does, courtesy of his powerful vision and hearing sense.)
ORCA: Look at that! There’s quite a crowd collected there. But wait, half of them seem to be just staring—no, gawking at a maiden, as if they’ve been enchanted. While the other half are forming a line to—to wait for a chance to drink from a pot? Ah, this is so entertaining. We hardly get company around here.
TUNA: You realise it’s because of them we were almost on the verge of destruction, right? They are the cause of all the spinning and tossing—I’m sure of it. To them, we are just small fishes in the boundless ocean—expendable and worthless.
INDRA: (to Devas) We are forever indebted to Vishnu. Indeed, we got the entire Amrit for ourselves. At long last, we are immortal—pray for our foes for we are now indestructible.
SURYA and CHANDRA: (a sudden realisation dawning) Not so soon! We have a problem—We need to act quick.
(Surya and Chandra whisper something to Mohini—Vishnu’s incarnation as the enchanting damsel. Mohini instantly throws her discus, the Sudarshana Chakra, at one of the devas assembled there. Everyone holds their breath in shock.)
MOHINI: Don’t worry. That was Svarbhanu; he disguised himself as a deva. I cut his head off before the nectar could pass down his throat. Henceforth, his head shall be known as Rahu while the body will be called Ketu.
(The ocean’s calm once again. It’s the Surya Grahan.)
ORCA: It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
TUNA: Rahu swallowing and un-swallowing Surya?
ORCA: Yes. Such a gastronomic wonder.
TUNA: You mean, astronomic?
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: (suddenly appearing) Semantics, my little prey.
TUNA: (bouncing back) I thought we were friends now. We almost died that day—together. Don’t you think it counts as a life-altering event, binding us in the holy bond of fish-ship?
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: That’s a beautiful sentiment—but a shark’s got to eat.
(A low rumble is heard)
TUNA: (scared) Is that…is that a rumble I hear?
THE GREAT WHITE SHARK: (visibly gags) You know what? I’ll catch you guys later.
(Exit The Great White Shark)
TUNA: Orca, is that you?
ORCA: (turns pink with embarrassment) Well, the sea lion did taste funny.
TUNA: (fin-slaps his head and sighs in resignation) Oh, Orca…
~Written by Deepthi Priyanka C and Tulika Somani for MTTN
~Edited by Siri Rajanahally for MTTN
~Featured Image by Vidhisha Deo for MTTN