One of the most famous incarnations of Vishnu is Kurma the tortoise, who helped the gods during the Churning of the Ocean. Now I had always assumed that the story of the churning of the ocean only took place in the Chakshusha Manvantara. For those who don't know, the four Yugas together make up one Mahayuga, and a thousand Mahayugas make up one Kalpa or day of Brahma. But as I discuss in this answer, a Kalpa is also divided into fourteen periods called Manvantaras, and during each Manvantara humanity is ruled by a different Manu, there is a different Indra ruling the three world, there is a different set of Saptarishis, etc.

Now we are living in the seventh Manvantara of the present Kalpa, known as the Vaivasvata Manvantara. And I thought that the Churning of the Ocean only took place in the Chakshusha Manvantara. For instance, this chapter and subsequent chapters of the Srimad Bhagavatam describes the story of the Churning of the Ocean which took place in the Chakshusha Manvantara:

The son of Cakṣu known as Cākṣuṣa was the sixth Manu. He had many sons, headed by Pūru, Pūruṣa and Sudyumna. During the reign of Cākṣuṣa Manu, the King of heaven was known as Mantradruma. Among the demigods were the Āpyas, and among the great sages were Haviṣmān and Vīraka. In this sixth manvantara millennium, Lord Viṣṇu, the master of the universe, appeared in His partial expansion. He was begotten by Vairāja in the womb of his wife, Devasambhūti, and His name was Ajita. By churning the Ocean of Milk, Ajita produced nectar for the demigods. In the form of a tortoise, He moved here and there, carrying on His back the great mountain known as Mandara.

But now I think this may not be the only time that the story of the Churning of the Ocean took place.

In this chapter and subsequent chapters of the Bala Kanda of the Ramayana, Vishwamitra tells Rama and Lakshmana a story about the Churning of the Ocean:

Oh, Rama, I tell of the legend of Indra as I was told and listen to it as I tell. What really chanced in this country, oh, Raghava, that be listened in its quintessence. *Once in Krita era, oh, Rama, the sons of Lady Diti were extremely energetic ones in their brawniness, whereas the sons of her younger sister Lady Aditi were venerable, vigorous and highly righteous ones.** Oh, tigerly-man, Rama, there was a thinking to those great-souls then, as to 'how we shall [thrive] deathless, ageless and wasteless...' Thus thought the sons of Diti and Aditi. For them who were thinking thus on that subject a thought occurred to those masterminds, 'on churning the Milky Ocean, therein we get its elixir, indeed. Then on deciding to churn the Milky Ocean, they made Vasuki, the mighty King of Snakes, with thousand heads, as the churning rope and Mt. Mandara as stirrer and those who have unlimited energy started churning the Milky Ocean.

Now the Adityas, i.e. the sons of Aditi, were not the gods who ruled in the Chakshusha Manvantara, rather they're the gods ruling right now in the Vaivasvata Manvantara. So my question is, did the Churning of the Ocean happen again in one of the Satya Yugas of the Vaivasvata Manvantara?

If it did happen more than once, that would explain a long-standing confusion I've had: Garuda transported mount Mandara to the ocean of milk, and the churning of the ocean produced the flying horse Ucchaishravas. Yet before Garuda was born, Garuda's mother Vinata and her co-wife Kadru had a bet over the color of Ucchaishravas' tail as he was flying through the sky. Perhaps this sort of thing can be explained by the Ucchaishravas that Vinata and Kadru bet on being from a previous Churning of the Ocean.

On a side note, given that Vishwamitra is telling the story of the Churning of the Ocean to Rama, is it possible that the story is described in the Vedas?

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    @Tezz I think it was Sati who was present during Samudra Mathana, because the Bhagavatam says, "Dakshayani praised Shiva for drinking poison." See this question I asked about this. Also, Sati never held Shiva's neck, Lord Shiva stopped it by his own will. Sati holding his neck is folklore, which may or may not be true. – Surya May 5 '16 at 16:23
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    @Keshav I have a theory about this, that though the devas are just posts, which change every Manvantara, I think the original essence of the gods is the same. Like the divine essence of the devas enters whoever becomes a deva for the Manvantara. It is sort of like the Egyptian concept of Horus pervading the body of whoever is the Pharaoh, and also the concept of the same divinities reincarnating in different lifetimes to fulfil some purpose - yet they remain the same. – Surya May 5 '16 at 16:27
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    And I think the Garuda who transported Mandara mountain is the Nityasuri Garuda, not Vainateya. He is the same Garuda who appeared in Daksha's and Nabhi's Yajnas, and was present when Prishnigarbha blessed Dhruva, and when Lord Hari rescued Gajendra, all of which were before the birth of Vainateya. – Surya May 5 '16 at 16:31
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    @Keshav "There were twelve celebrated deities in a former Manwantara, called Tushitas, who, upon the approach of the present period, or in the reign of the last Manu, Chákshusha, assembled, and said to one another, "Come, let us quickly enter into the womb of Adití, that we may be born in the next Manwantara, for thereby we shall again enjoy the rank of gods:" and accordingly they were born the sons of Kaśyapa, the son of Maríchi, by Adití, the daughter of Daksha." So the same deities who churned the ocean were reborn as Adityas. 2/2 – Surya May 5 '16 at 17:42
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    @Surya I think I have proof that the churning of the ocean happened in the Vaivasvata Manvantara. In the Aranya Kanda of the Ramayana, Jatayu says that he witnessed the churning of the ocean. Yet Jatayu is the son of Garuda's brother Aruna, and Garuda and Aruna were born after the churning of the ocean because Vinata and Kadru see Ucchaishravas in the sky, and Ucchaishravas was born from the churning of the ocean. So that means the churning of the ocean must have happened again. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 20 '17 at 15:13

There is no discrepancy at all. The churning of the ocean happened in the current Vaivasvata Manvantara only. It is due to a slight translation error that such a confusion arises.

Let’s look at the verses which begin after Śukadēva Gōswāmī describes demigods of the Cākṣuṣa Manvantara i.e. verse 9 onwards (there are translation errors, which I have marked by Roman numbers):-

तत्रापि देवसम्भूत्यां वैराजस्याभवत् सुतः।
अजितो नाम भगवानंशेन जगतः पतिः॥९॥

tatra api — again in that sixth manvantara; devasambhūtyām — by Devasambhūti(i); vairājasya — by her husband, Vairāja (ii); abhavat — there was(iii); sutaḥ — a son; ajitaḥ nāma — by the name Ajita; bhagavān — the Supreme Personality of Godhead; aṁśena — partially; jagataḥ patiḥ — the master of the universe.

In this sixth manvantara millennium, Lord Viṣṇu, the master of the universe, appeared in His partial expansion. He was begotten by Vairāja in the womb of his wife, Devasambhūti, and His name was Ajita.

Though there is a slight translation error though the gist of this verse remains the same. The correct translation should be-
In that sixth manvantara, Lord Viṣṇu, the master of the universe, in his partial expansion was/became the son of Vairāja in Devasambhūti, named Ajita.

पयोधिं येन निर्मथ्य सुराणां साधिता सुधा।
भ्रममाणोऽम्भसि धृतः कूर्मरूपेण मन्दरः॥१०॥

payodhim — the Ocean of Milk; yena — by whom; nirmathya — by churning(i); surāṇām — of the demigods; sādhitā — produced; sudhā — nectar; bhramamāṇaḥ — moving here and there(ii); ambhasi — within the water; dhṛtaḥ — was staying(iii); kūrma-rūpeṇa — in the form of a tortoise; mandaraḥ — the mountain known as Mandara.

There is a slightly more significant translation error here, and the actual translation should be-
The ocean of milk, having been churned by whom in the form of a tortoise, the nectar of the demigods was received/produced and the moving Mandara mountain was held/ supported.

(Note:- The line was received/produced may not make complete sense in English but translating it into an Indian language like Hindi would make complete sense - क्षीरसगार को जिसके द्वारा मथकर देवों का अमृत प्राप्त हुआ और हिलता हुआ मन्दर कूर्म रूप में धारण किया गया।)

The confusion in interpretation arises because of the words “by whom” used in the second verse. Whether it refers to the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu as a tortoise or Lord Viṣṇu as Ajita in the form of a tortoise, i.e. whether Lord Viṣṇu was born from the womb of Devasambhūti as a tortoise named Ajita.

It clearly refers to the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu (not Ajita) as taking the form of a tortoise (Explained in detail below). The two verses must be combined to read as under:-

Lord Viṣṇu, the master of the universe, by whom the ocean of milk having been churned in the form of a tortoise, the nectar of the gods was produced/received and the moving mount Mandara was held/supported; in the sixth manvantara, in his partial expansion was/became the son of Vairāja in Devasambhūti, named Ajita.

Further, in the next verse king Parīkshita asks as under:-

King Parīkṣit inquired: O great brāhmaṇa, Śukadeva Gosvāmī, why and how did Lord Viṣṇu churn the Ocean of Milk? For what reason did He stay in the water as a tortoise and hold up Mandara Mountain? How did the demigods obtain the nectar, and what other things were produced from the churning of the ocean? Kindly describe all these wonderful activities of the Lord.

In the above verse, the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu is being referred to and not Ajita.

The same becomes clearer when Śukadēva goes onto explain the episode of churning of the ocean-

Verse 17-18 of the very same chapter read as under:

Lord Indra, Varuṇa and the other demigods, seeing their lives in such a state, consulted among themselves, but they could not find any solution. Then all the demigods assembled and went together to the peak of Sumeru Mountain. There, in the assembly of Lord Brahmā, they fell down to offer Lord Brahmā their obeisances, and then they informed him of all the incidents that had taken place.

We can see that Indra and Varuna have been referred to as the demigods. This is a clear reference to the Adityas, as though Indra is a title, Varuna is clearly the name of one of the Adityas.

Thereafter, in the the next chapter, on the command of Lord Viṣṇu, the demigods approach the Asura King Bali-

Then Lord Brahmā and Lord Śiva, after offering their respectful obeisances to the Lord, returned to their abodes. All the demigods then approached Mahārāja Bali. (ŚB 8.6.27)

This King Bali is the very same one, who had been the main reason for whom Lord Vishnu had taken the Vamana Avatara. Meaning he is the son of Virōcana and grandson of Prahlāda. This can be evidenced from verse 29:

The demigods approached Bali Mahārāja, the son of Virocana, and sat down near him. Bali Mahārāja was protected by the commanders of the demons and was most opulent, having conquered the entire universe.

The mention of Bali (grandson of Prahlada and great grandson of Hiranyakashipu) being the leader of the Asuras is indicative of the fact that the churning of the ocean takes place much after Narasimha avatar. As per this answer, the Narasimha Avatar took place in the Vaivasvata Manvanantara only.

This shows us undisputedly that the Indra of the current Manvanatra along with Varuna and other demigods approached the King of the Asuras named Bali in the current Vaivasvata Manvantara only, and therefore clearly indicates the churning of the ocean happened during the Vaivasvata Manvantara.

The final nail in the coffin is hit by the description of Lord Vishnu taking the form of the tortoise in the seventh chapter of the 8th canto itself:

O son of the Pāṇḍu dynasty, when Mandara Mountain was thus being used as a churning rod in the Ocean of Milk, it had no support, and therefore although held by the strong hands of the demigods and demons, it sank into the water. (ŚB 8.7.6)

Because the mountain had been sunk by the strength of providence, the demigods and demons were disappointed, and their faces seemed to shrivel. (ŚB 8.7.7)

Seeing the situation that had been created by the will of the Supreme, the unlimitedly powerful Lord, whose determination is infallible, took the wonderful shape of a tortoise, entered the water, and lifted the great Mandara Mountain. (ŚB 8.7.8)

Thus from the above verses we can see that the Supreme Lord Vishnu took the form of a tortoise only when the demigods and demons were disappointed and the mountain began to sink.

There is no linkage whatsoever with Ajita and the tortoise incarnation. Ajita is one of the forms that the supreme Lord Vishnu took in the previous manvantara. He is the very same Supreme lord Vishnu who in this manvantara took the form of a tortoise.

I will give another example of a translation error in this Srimad Bhagavatam (for finally convincing about the error in translation due to “by whom”)

In ŚB 6.6.40, the translation says that the Asvini Kumaras are the sons of Yamuna (Yami). This is however not true. All sources (even the Amar Chitra Katha) say they were sons of Surya and Samjna, who had taken the form of a horse and mare, in Uttarakuru, respectively. The interpretation error again in this again arises due to the words “she also becoming a mare”. Though the entire verse describes the progeny of Surya and Samjna, the translation has said that Yamuna becomes a mare and begets Ashvini Kumaras. We know that Yamuna as Kalindi weds Krishna and it can’t be true that she’s the mother of the Ashvini Kumaras.

Similarly above the words “by whom” are the confusion creating words.

Thus there is no discrepancy and the churning of the ocean took place in the Vaivasvata Manvanatara, in consonance with the facts stated in Valmiki Ramayana.

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    The question that arises from this interpretation is, why would Shukabrahma talk about an event of another Manvantara instead of saying about Ajita's pastimes? It's like saying, Lord Vishnu, who stole butter and curds from the gopis houses, was born as Vamana to Kashyapa and Aditi. That diverts the focus of the narration from one Avatara to another, which is not exactly a good narration. – Surya Apr 17 at 4:36

atri rishi r saptarishi of both 1st & current manvantar!!& so is vashishtha...so kashyapa & aditi were before vaivasvat & they maybe give birth to new set of gods every manu but it is also said that a god of heaven & a demon can live up to kalpanta if not killed.what i wanna say is samudra manthan happened in chakshusha only...as it is also said that varaha avatar happened 2 times in present kalpa that is 1st while starting of kalpa to bring out earth from water & 2nd time in chakshusha to kill hiranyaksha it is said in laghu bhagwatamrita...what i wanna prove is this..:)

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