Kurmavatara (Vishnu's Incarnation as a Tortoise)
Page from a dispersed Dasavatara set and/or Bhagavata Purana (Story of Lord Vishnu)
Artist/maker unknown, India
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The Hindu god Vishnu activates each cycle of existence by creating the universe, together with the devas (gods who uphold cosmic order) and the asuras (anti-gods or demons who disrupt it). Vishnu intervenes in the perpetual struggle by incarnating in earthly forms called avatars, usually standardized as a set of ten. The second of Vishnu’s avatars was the tortoise Kurma (seen here as the circle in the water that supports the pink mountain on which Vishnu sits). When chaos and floods devastated the earth, all good things were lost in an ocean of milk. Kurma dove to the ocean bottom and the devas and asuras joined forces to set the cosmic mountain Meru on his back. Then the serpent king Vasuki wrapped around the mountain as a churning rope. The devas and asuras stood on opposite sides, churning the ocean of milk to release the treasures.