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Kurma Dwadashi

Category: Hindu holidays

Kurma Dwadashi
14 January 2022  friday
03 January 2023  tuesday
22 January 2024  monday

109 days before

Kurma Dwadasi is a vrat dedicated to Kurma avatara of Lord Vishnu.

Kurma (Sanskrit: कूर्म; Kūrma, lit. turtle) is the second Avatar of Vishnu. Like other avatars of Vishnu, Kurma appears at a time of crisis to restore the cosmic equilibrium. His iconography is either a tortoise, or more commonly as half man-half tortoise. These are found in many Vaishnava temple ceilings or wall reliefs.

The earliest account of Kurma is found in the Shatapatha Brahmana (Yajur veda), where he is a form of Prajapati-Brahma and helps with the samudra manthan (churning of cosmic ocean). In the Epics and the Puranas, the legend expands and evolves into many versions, with Kurma becoming an avatar of Vishnu. He appears in the form of a tortoise or turtle to support the foundation for the cosmos and the cosmic churning stick (Mount Mandara).

Together the gods and demons churn the ocean with divine serpent Vasuki as the rope (samudra manthan), and the churn skims out a combination of good and bad things. Along with other products, it produces poison which Shiva drinks and holds it in his throat, and immortality nectar which the demons grab and run away with. The Kurma avatar, according to Hindu mythology, then transforms into a femme fatale named Mohini to seduce the demons. They fall for her. They ask her to take the nectar, please be their wife and distribute it between them one by one. Mohini-Vishnu takes the pot of nectar and gives it to the gods, thus preventing evil from becoming eternal, and preserving the good.

The Kurma legend appears in the Vedic texts, and a complete version is found in the Shatapatha Brahmana of the Yajurveda. In the Vedic era, like Matsya and Varaha, Kurma is associated with Prajapati Brahma, and is not related to Vishnu. The first hint of association of Kurma as an avatar of Vishnu is found in the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. These links, however, are ambiguous as the Kurma is referred to by epithets such as Akupara. It is only in the Puranas, that both Kurma and Matsya are exclusively and clearly linked to Vishnu.

Kurma in the Vedic texts is a symbolic cosmogonic myth. He symbolizes the need for foundational principles and support for any sustained creative activity. In sections 6.1.1 and 7.5.1 of the Shatapatha Brahmana, Kurma's shape reflects the presumed hemispherical shape of the earth and this makes it part of the fire altar design. He is also considered the lord of the waters, thus symbolism for Varuna. In these early Hindu texts, Varuna and goddess earth are considered husband and wife, a couple that depend on each other to create and nourish a myriad of life forms. Alternate names such as Kumma, Kashyapa and Kacchapa abound in the Vedic literature, as well as early Buddhist mythologies such as those in Jataka Tales and Jain texts, which also refer to tortoise or turtle.

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