Amritam - The Nectar of Immortality

Hinduism Concepts

by Jayaram V

Amritam or amritam literally means that which is without death. It denotes the state of immortality as well a drink which is sweet in taste and makes one immortal. In concept, it is similar to the ambrosia of the Greeks. Hindu texts describe amritam as an elixir consumed by gods which made them immortal. According to legends four drops of the nectar fell upon earth at Ujjain, Prayag, Hardwar and Nasik and the four are pilgrim places.

Amritam is an antidote to death. He who drinks it becomes immortal. As a drink it is no more available because whatever drink that was churned out of the oceans by the gods and demons at the beginning of creation was consumed to the last drop. If any of it is still left, it will remain hidden until the end of creation because if the demons gain hold of it there will be chaos. However, even though amritam is not available in a drink form, one can still become immortal by attaining liberation or mukti.

The precursor to the idea of amritam may be the Soma juice of the Vedic times. The Soma juice is associated with the Soma sacrifices, dream state and the Moon. Presently we do not know how the Vedic people extracted the Soma juice. However, we have strong indications to believe that it was an intoxicant used in the rituals by the Vedic priests to enter into a state of reveries and communicate with gods and ancestors.

Death was the most common sight in the ancient world. The lifespan of people was very short. Many children died for one reason or the other before they reached adolescence. For the common people death was the most visible and frightening aspect of our existence. Therefore they longed for immortality, an escape from the death and the suffering it causes. Ideas such as amritam or the existence of immortal gods who could battle death gave them hope and solace.

Over a period of time the word amritam assumed many connotations. The state of immortality arising from amritam is called amritatvam. It is also used as a noun and adjective to describe the quality of sweetness and kindness. Amritabhavam is the pleasant state of mind of the highest gods. On the downside, it is also used to denote liquor (sura). According to the Puranas both were produced out of the ocean. One the gods obtained and the other was gifted to the demons.

Rains are often referred to as amrita-dhara or amrita-varsha as they renew life upon earth and help the seeds sprout and grow into plants. A kind heart is often referred to as amrita-hridayam and a hand that feeds the hungry and the destitute is called amrita-hastam. There are also some place names associated with it. There is a waterfall in Orissa near Manendragarh which is called amritadhara. Amritasar, where the golden temple is located, is a important pilgrim center of the Sikhs. The word is also used in conjunction with a particular raga (ragamritam) in Indian classical music.

It is also believed that on certain auspicious days the rays of the moon pours downs certain aspects of this sweet nectar upon earth and that any food which has been exposed to it on such occasions would acquire some of its qualities and contribute to better health and longevity.

According to Hindu mythology, once gods and demons joined their forces to create amritam by churning the oceans. When it was finally created gods played a trick upon the demons and stole the amritam entirely for themselves. The demons never forgave the gods for this treachery and intensified their rivalry with the latter. Thus began a series of celestial wars between gods and demons in the fashion of the Star Wars.

According to the Hindu Puranas, when the gods drank the amritam obtained from the churning of the ocean, four drops fell on earth at four different places, namely Hardwar, Nasik, Ujjain and Allahabad. These four are important pilgrim centers. Visiting them and taking bath in the rivers on whose banks they are located is considered very auspicious and spiritually beneficial.

The concept of amritam is very closely associated with the concept of immortality. Earthly creatures are mortal for various reasons. However the soul that resides within them is immortal. When it comes under the influence of Prakriti or nature, it becomes subject to the cycle of births and deaths, assuming various forms and bodies according to its deeds (karma) and continues its journey till it finds a way out through self realization. The main purpose of human life, therefore, is to gain freedom from this cycle of births and deaths and become immortal once again through a process of spiritual cleansing and alignment of the mind and the body with the higher consciousness. Practice of Hath yoga said to result in the sublimation of sexual energy and accumulation of amritam in the head.

People can become immortal either by going to heaven and partaking of amritam along with gods or by gaining self realization through spiritual discipline while living upon earth. Both are effective remedies, but only one is longer lasting. People who go to heaven would ultimately return to earth having exhausted their good karma and repeat the cycle of births and deaths while those who achieve self-realization would never return.

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