By Swami Harshananda
Amṛta literally means ‘that which gives immortality’.
The desire to become immortal is natural to all mortals. Purana-s often mention that by drinking ‘amṛta,’ the nectar or ambrosia, one can become immortal.
One such story is of Indra, the king of gods, who lost his kingdom to the demons, due to the curse of the sage Durvāsas. Lord Viṣṇu advised him to make up with the demons and with their help, churn the ocean of milk, out of which amṛta could be got. By drinking it the gods could become immortal and regain their lost sovereignty. Amrta was the last product got out of this churning. Lord Viṣṇu, in the guise of Mohinī (the enchantress) successfully deceived the demons and served it to the gods. After consuming it the gods were inebriated by the new strength and vigor. The gods routed the demons and regained all they had lost.
Garuda is said to have brought it from heaven to give it to Kadru, his aunt, to release his mother Vinatā from her slavery. So also, Kṛṣṇa is believed to have got it for the sage Udaṅka.
The word amṛta is also used in several other senses mentioned below :
- What is left over after a sacrifice
- Food obtained without begging
- An auspicious time of conjunction of certain nakṣatras (stars) with certain week days and so on.
The last is also known as ‘amṛtasiddhiyoga.’
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore