"Palazhi' is the 'Ocean of Milk.' Palazhimathanam is a famous episode from the Bhagavata Purana
, an ancient text containing instances of all the incarnations of Lord Vishnu
. The literal meaning of ‘palazhimathanam’ is ‘churning of the ocean of milk’. In this particular episode, the gods along with the asuras (demons) churned the mythical ocean of milk to get ‘amrit,’ the nectar possessing the power of immortality.
The demons were tricked into helping the gods, by Lord Vishnu who promised them their share of the nectar. For the churning, Mandara, a mythical mountain, was used as the rod, while Vasuki, a serpent, served as the cord. Kurma, the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu, provided the support for holding the mountain. The churning led to the emergence of many beings and objects from the ocean, along with Lord Dhanvantari, the original teacher of Ayurveda. He held the pot containing the nectar, which with the help of Lord Vishnu was promptly delivered to the gods without letting the demons to get their hands on it. The gods, who had lost all their powers owing to a curse from Sage Durvasa, regained their old glory and defeated the demons.
The Palazhimathanam episode is celebrated every 12 years through the Kumbh Mela festival.