Atlas is a Giant Turtle and Two Snakes

Culture | Written By, Namhar Hernanto |

Greek mythology acknowledges Atlas as a titan condemned to bear the weight of the heavens – often portrayed as a celestial globe – on his shoulders. Balinese mythology, however, begs to differ.

Atlas is said to be the one who knows the depths of the whole sea and keeps the tall pillars that hold the heavens carried on his shoulders apart from the earth. Here on the Island of the Gods, it’s a giant turtle that carries the heavens on its shell, while being guarded by two mythical snakes called naga.

The Hindu epic Bhagavatha tells the chronology of God Vishnu’s ten major incarnations; and one of them is as Kurma (turtle). Vishnu is one of the principal Hindu deities, worshipped as the protecter and preserver of the world and restorer of dharma (moral order).

Vishnu’s preserving, restoring, and protecting powers were once manifested in the form of a turtle when he helped to create the world by supporting it on his back. With the help of the two nagas, the turtle churned the ocean to prevent the mountains from sinking into it. Vishnu, as the giant turtle, carried the world underwater until it finally hit the nectar of immortality.

Today, to honour the great work of the giant turtle and the two snakes, symbols of the animals are widely used in many religious and cultural ornaments such as bade (the vessel of a dead body used before cremation). Important temples dedicated to the supreme God Sanghyang Widi, such as Pura Agung Jagatnatha in Denpasar, clearly depicts the Balinese conception of the cosmos by having the tallest, most important shrine sitting on top of a turtle guarded by two snakes.

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