Vajrena hatva nir pah sasarja
After killing Vajra you let the waters flow
The King of Kings.
Handsomest of the handsome. More powerful than the most powerful.
Hero of the Rig veda. A warrior par excellence. Ruler of the heavens.
Dispenser of rain. One who can grant any boon. The eldest son of
Kasyapa and Aditi. Resplendent with his loyal elephant and
brilliantly bedecked horse. Wielding the vajra (thunderbolt)
for a weapon, Indra, marks the beginning, the tallest figure in the
Hindu pantheon in ancient times.
A deity with so many
superlatives, has naturally a whole corpus of literature on him. Each
of these deal with a different facet of his persona. Myths that are
part of the Hindu sacred texts, stories that are told about in folk
lore, parables that are prevalent but the origin of which one knows
not and hymns and prayers that are meant only for him. The stories
about him talk not only of his valour and magnificence, his power and
grace but also of his abilities to create mischief.
Etymologically, the word
Indra seems to have been derived from the Sanskrit verb ind,
meaning to be powerful, to tear enemies asunder. Some others opine it
is derived from the root verb in which means to be
able, strong ene Rigetic. Either way, Indra is the Man for all
Indra, the son of
Kasyapa, who himself was the grandsom of Brahma, occupied the most
eminent place in the early stages of Hinduism. Much later other Gods
were either equated to him in strength and valour or placed above him
in hierarchy. Indra seems to have been born strong. While there is no
clear story on how Indra became the King of heavens, there are many
stories on his rule and his bravery. In fact some scholars classify
Indra as a translucent deity for he refuses to reveal his origin. He
had two vehicles: Airavata, the famous elephant which was white in
colour and Uccaisravas, the horse.
Story goes that his
mother Aditi knew he would never perish and so when she sensed some
danger to herself, she decided to abandon the child, knowing fully
well that he would survive wherever he went. But Indra refused to go
and followed his mother. He chanced to drink some the juice of the
soma plant (intoxicant) and so gained even greater strength.
Then when the demon Vrtra advanced towards his house, Aditi tried to
hide Indra, but Indra plunged into a full fledge battle. Vrtra
blocked rivers and so caused great sorrow to the followers of Indra.
This battle is recorded as one of the most famous ones in Hindu
mythology. Though Indra is said to have sought the blessings and
support of Lord Vishnu, his victory over Vrtra made him a legend even
in his times. But Vrtra was not the only demon he vanquished, the
list is endless
Kesi, Mahabali are some others.
Indra has many aspects.
He is known for his martial qualities as depicted in his battle with
Vrtra and other demons. He is known for h is magnanimity, for his
royal, genealogical and anthropomorphic traits as well as his
friendship with other Gods.
In the Rig veda, Indra is
described as the upholder of men. This epithet for him is
said to occur nine times, thus establishing his supreme status. Of
all the Rig vedic deities, Indra is the one most fully
anthropomorphic. Indra has a relationship with almost every other
God. How complicated the relationship and the details of it will be
too long to go into here, but it can be said that where power has to
be denoted, every God and Indra become synonymous. Which them is
greater, only they can tell.
Indra is said to have a
thousand eyes. A celestial maiden by name of Tillotama was coming to
the world of mortals. Before she left, she said her farewell to the
Gods and as she circled them, she looked so beautiful that Indra
could not bear to lose sight of her for even a minute. So he sprang a
thousand eyes, so he could see her wherever she went!
Indra is known for his
roving eye. It is said that Indra once fell in love with Ahalya, the
wife of sage Gautama. His mind was quick to work out on how to reach
her. He made the cock crow much in advance. The sage thinking it was
morning, went to the river to perform his morning duties. Indra then
donned the disguise of the sage and Ahalya, thinking her husband was
back early, succumbed to his desires. Sage Gautama was of course
furious when he returned and saw the trick Indra had played upon him.
He cursed Ahalya to turn into a stone. The Ramayana recounts how when
Ramas foot touched the stone, Ahalya came back to life.
It is customary to pray
to Indra for rain. Two stories are told on how the earth began to get
rain. In one story Garuda, or the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, was
carrying a hundred snake children on his back and flying them across
the sky. They were the children of Garudas second wife. The
suns heat made the snake children unconscious and their mother
prayed to Indra. Indra immediately let rain pour and saved the
Another story says that
Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow, was crying. Indra was most upset
to see her thus. He asked for the reason. Kamadhenu said she was
upset because her kith and kin on earth were suffering because there
was no food.
The earth was dry and
parched with no water, so no life could grew and the cows were
becoming skinny. Indra immediately sent the cooling showers bringing
bounty and restoring happiness on earth. The importance of rain for
the Indian economy is in no way diminished and so the prayers resound
even now in agrarian India.
The city where Indra
ruled was called Amaravati and his court, the Indra sabha is
endlessly described in many a text. Indra sabha is said to be
grand, laRige and dotted with trees. Its architect was coveted by
many. Its splendour could not be equaled by palaces in any of the
other worlds. The throne and the other ornaments glisten almost as
much as the sun, overshadowed only by the presence of Indra himself
who sits in rich clothes along with wife Saccidevi.
The chronicled exploits
of this God have led to many interpretations of his significance in
Indian mythology, whether he was a war God or a storm God and any
other such. The debates continue but it is not to be disputed that
whichever theory finds favour will have a multitude of tales and
legends to back it.