Cradle of Imagination

Indian Mythology, Myth Theory 14 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, December 10, 2010

In the beginning there was Narayana who slept in a dreamless slumber. He slept in the coils of a serpent with innumerable hoods called Adi-Ananta-Sesha, meaninging one-infinity-zero. And the serpent floated on a sea of milk that was still and unmoving. As long as Narayana was in slumber the world did not come into being. Creation began when he awoke. This is the most popular version of creation found in the Puranas. It is a vivid imagery that is very clearly a code, and not to be taken literally.

The ancient poets and sages realized that when we are in deep slumber we are not aware of the world around us. Functionally speaking, our world does not exist when we are in deep sleep. In this state the serpent is called Sesha, or residue of nothingness, meaning the number zero. Our world comes into being only when we awaken and become aware of our surroundings, and we distinguish ourselves from our surroundings. In this state, the serpent is called Adi, or one, when reality is experienced, when we realize that we live ‘in’ a world that is distinct from us. Then we realize that we can influence that world in innumerable ways. This is Ananta, or infinity of possibilities.

This approach to creation is unique to Indian thought. It focuses on subjective reality, not objective reality. The ocean of milk is our mind waiting to be churned so that it produces ideas just as milk when churned produces butter. The serpent is our imagination that can either sense objective reality only as in the waking state (Adi= one) or imagine infinite ways to improve it (Ananta = infinity) or not sense it at all as during slumber (Sesha=0).

So a customer enters a grocery store and looks around. The shopkeeper looks at him and does not bother to engage with him. This is Sesha, the state of nothingness, as nothing is being done to churn the ocean of possibilities that exists in the shop between the customer and the shopkeeper. This is slumber, destruction.

Zero turns into one, Sesha becomes Adi, when either the customer states his objective or when the shopkeeper offers to help. The slumber has been shattered. The shop awakens with the shopkeeper and the customer making a connection. This is what is called the moment of truth, when a transaction can take place because one has chosen to engage with the other. Unless this happens, there can be no business.

Should the customer ask for something and the shopkeeper delivers it, the state of Adi reaches fruition. After this there are two possibilities – return to slumber or the movement of Nara to Narayan, from one to infinity. And this can happen only when the shopkeeper says, “Anything more I can help you with?” or if the customer says, “Anything else you have to offer?”

With these questions, a whole world of possibilities awaken. Imagination stirs like a serpent with infinite hoods. Adi becomes Ananta, one becomes infinity, and all sorts of ideas pop into the imagination. The shopkeeper can do this by extrapolating from the shopping list given to him and come up with other products and services that might interest the customer. The customer can provoke the shopkeeper to present a bouquet of new ideas and thoughts that might interest him. This is a fertile state, with limitless paths. This is where the customer ends up buying more than he planned and the shopkeeper squeezes more out of the customer’s wallet than he would have in the Adi state.

Often, customers and those who serve them are in Sesha state, waiting for the other to make a move. Nothing happens then. It is slumber. It is destruction. Many a time, transactions take place based on need expressed by the customer. This is the reactive Adi state. Business booms only when the customer and those who serve them engage in dialogue that involves proactively churning the milk, stirring the imagination, coming with new desires and wants and expectations that makes the customer want to spend more. That is Ananta.


    Well, but most companies never ask their customers what they want and instead give them what the Companies think they want??

    And this is a very Arrogant Feature in Indian companies!!!

    Even if there is a Feedback system created to engage in dialogue with the customer…the form is mostly given to happy customers and not the ones with complaints.

    So even if the company goes from Adi to ananta state…there is no guarantee that the milk is being churned by the Good and the Bad both…Most companies select themselves how they want to churn the milk???

    So whats the use of this awakening????

    Example: Maruti Suzuki created a Fan page on Facebook for its Ritz car buyers to post their feedback on…

    Till the time i was posting all good reviews about them, they replied to each and every post of mine.

    But recently i was having a starting problem with my car which was not solved after 3 repeated complaints and i wrote this on their fan page and asked whether they can take action against the Franchisee.

    Well can u guess, they didnt reply to that post and barred others from posting their comments on it.

    So now they are in conversation with the client but only till they receive good positive feedback…then what about the negative ones…

    I dont think the stirring of the milk is complete without a mix of these 2 feedbacks…

    What does Anant nag have to say about this???

  • ashim

    I somehow do not agree with this explanation about Adi, Ananta etc. Umpteen instances may be given to the contrary of your exxplanation, The experience of Anudup Samui as regards his Maruti Ritz is an apt example that shows the weakness of this explanation !!!

  • D Balasubramaniam

    The article is fantastic and gives a new perspective to approach everyday life. The example stated by Anudip states the perspective of the Company, but I feel the opening up of his personal ideas has led to this post and the message he wanted to communicate through the fan page will anyways reach the audience (through forums beyond the control of Maruti!) and may eventually lead Maruti to mend ways or its competitors may gain some insights! any which ways, innumerable ideas have been generated!

    Indian companies do not engage in market research or taking feedback seriously – but that is possible only till the market is enormous and one customer slipping off does not impact the business. the same does not hold good as competition picks up and rest assured any negative feedback if not taken seriously would only arm the competition (by improving their products and services apart from publicity perspective)

  • @anudip, @ashim – Infinity is definitely scary. That often obstructs the movement of Nara towards Narayan … Shesh is easy. Risk free. it is difficult to enter infinity and remain in continuum because humans are so used to Shesh, slumber, inactivity. it takes time, focus(dhyan) and practice(saadhna) to achieve Narayan(a state where you are one with the customer.).


    I wish to share my understanding here, please correct me if I am wrong.
    To begin with, the depiction of Shri Narayana recline in slumber upon the Adi Sesha is to highlight the juxtaposition of 2 seemingly contradictory values. The Serpent is the sign of total awareness. This symbolism is also apparent in lord Shiva. But Lord Vishnu is in slumber. The connotation here is that the Divine Lord is completely aware of everything that IS, despite being in slumber. His slumber is due to the Mahamaaya effected by Mahadevi, our Divine Mother Goddess (ref Devi Mahatmayam, Markandeya Purana). Hence the symbolism is to show that all contradictory values coexist and originate in Divinity. When Narayana awakes from the deep slumber of Mahamaaya, He evokes creation through the Creative aspect of Shakti. This brings forth Brahma who then translates the thought of the One: “I am. Let there be many” (mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, if I am not mistaken) – thus the many worlds are born. And the entire creation lasts until the Lifetime of Brahma. Upon completion of the Kalpa, the Cosmic dissolution (Mahapralaya) takes place – this is the Rudra (Shiva) aspect, after which Narayana goes back into slumber.
    In a similar way is an organization also born. It begins as a single idea (ONE) in the mind of an Individual. The idea manifests and then diversifies, owing to expansion and growth of the organization, during which many individuals, departments and entities are formed as its parts. It even multiplies to span globally, across countries and continents. The progress then continues or reaches a plateau stage. After a certain time, the organization either gets dissolved (owing to varied factors), or merges with another (M&A) and thus only tranmutes its identity, but in the end meets its own end. To cite from Yoga Vashishta:
    Creation is, but an idea in the Great Mind of the Infinite consciousness, powered by the Mahashakti, just like a reflection of the Being in the Mirror.

    • Sushma

      Well said!

    • Sumedha

      Wow! An Excellent Point & U have Illustrated it with Complete Clarity Anirudh!!
      I have been very keen to read the Purans, could you guide me as to where/with what I should start. Thankyou

  • aarthi raghavan

    well i heard something different.i heard that when Brahma is asleep the world does not exist.when he awakes the is begining to form again. but what you said was something different. i even read in Bhagavad Gita about Brahma doing this job. could you clarify this to me?



      Brahma is borne of Narayana’s navel when Narayana engages the thought of Creation. In fact, it is interesting to know that Brahma also “dies” at the end of an entire Kalpa, at the time of Cosmic dissolution. Can you cite the exact chapter and verse of the Srimad Bhagwat Gita where you have read the information you stated ?
      You can verify my version in the Devi Bhagwatam from the Markandeya Purana.
      In fact, even Brahma is a result of the Cosmic infinite consciousness manifesting itself through Its Divine Intelligence in various forms, which becomes the Creation. The same is also stated in Yoga Vashishtha. The only IMMORTAL and ETERNAL beings are Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva with neither beginning nor end,whereas Lord Brahma has a Life span which also determines the existence of Creation. At the end of Brahma’s life span, Cosmic dissolution occurs and Narayana goes back to sleep under Mahamaaya. You can chek out these brief (not complete, mind you) descriptions from WIKIPEDIA:


  • utpal

    This one’s amazing too came back to your site after quite a while. All refreshing stuff.

  • Madhu

    Hi Devdutt,

    This is a very well written article. I especially like the way you have put a complex subject like Creation, in simple terms like the interaction between Shopkeeper and Creation.

    But, whenever I’ve read Indian mythology explanations, I can’t help but wonder why the ancients had to put across such simple messages in such a convoluted form – full of symbolism and mystique. It is almost as if they were daring us to try and get smart enough to understand them.

    I’d really like to know your thoughts on this, along with the thoughts of other readers.

    And, oh, thanks for reviving my interest in Indian mythology!

    • Madhu

      Sorry for the initial typo – I meant “interaction between Shopkeeper and Customer”

      • Deep Biswas

        Everything is not meant for everyone. You will decipher the codes by yourself in case you’re one of the “chosen ones”.

  • Arvind Kumar Sharma

    I think the ‘Shesha state’ or ‘slumber’ is NOT ‘destruction’, as claimed, but only prequel to creation.