Sunday, March 2, 2008


Indra, the god of firmament and the king of the abode of gods, is probably the most colorful character in Hindu mythology. The ebb and tide of his career, the rise and fall of his power provides a very fascinating story to all, who are interested in the lives of Hindu gods and goddesses. His parents were the sky god DYAUS PITA and the earth goddess PRTHIVI; he was born fully-grown and fully armed from his mother's side.

In the Vedas - rather early Vedic age - Indra stands as the top-ranking figure among gods. Still he is not equivalent to OMKAR or Brahma because he has a parentage.

Indra- Riding his Airavat

He was the leader of the Devas, the god of war, the god of thunder and storms, and the greatest of all warriors, the strongest of all beings. He was the defender of gods and mankind against the forces of evil. He had early aspects of a sun god, riding in a golden chariot across the heavens, but he is more often known as the god of thunder, wielding the celestial weapon VAJRA, the lightening bolt.

He once killed a demon named VALA, who had stolen cows so that men would not use the milk for themselves or for religious ceremonies. He killed this demon and saved the cows. During his warfare against enemies of gods he was assisted by other lesser gods-especially MARUTS. He has got more hymns of praise than other gods in Vedas and he was widely worshipped for his kindness and as the granter of rains and the giver of fertility. He was known as a great drinker of Soma; sometimes he did this to draw strength, and when he did he grew to gigantic proportions to battle his enemies, but more often he merely wanted to get drunk. When not in his chariot, Indra rode on the great white elephant AIRAVATA, who was always victorious, and who had four tusks, which resembled a sacred mountain. He was given numerous titles including Sakra("Powerful"), Vajri ("the Thunderer"), Purandar("Destroyer of Cities"), Meghavahan ("Rider of the Clouds"), and Swargapati ("the Lord of Heaven").

Vritra Vadha

Indra's most notable exploit was his battle with the asura VRITRA. Vritra took the form of a mighty snake, and had stolen all the water in the world for himself. No one could do anything about this until Indra was born. Upon hearing what had happened, Indra vowed to take back the life giving liquid. He rode forth to meet him the terrible Vritra. He consumed great amounts of Soma to give him the strength needed to fight such a foe. Indra smashed through Vritra's ninety-nine fortresses, and then came upon the snake. The two clashed, and after a long battle Indra was able to destroy his powerful enemy. Vritra had been keeping the earth in a drought, but when Indra split open the demon, the waters again fell from the skies. So Indra became a hero to all people, and the gods elected him their king for his victory.

In a later version of the story, Vritra was created by Tvashtri to get revenge for Indra's murder of his son, Trisiras, a pious Brahmin whose increase of power worried Indra. Vritra won the battle and swallowed Indra, but the other gods forced him to vomit Indra out. The battle continued and Indra fled. Vishnu and the Rishis brokered a truce, and Indra swore he would not attack Vritra with anything made of metal, wood or stone, nor anything that was dry or wet, or during the day or the night. Indra used the foam from the waves of the ocean to kill him at twilight.

In yet another version, recounted in the Mahabharata, Vritra was a Brahmin who got hold of supernatural powers, went rogue and became a danger to the gods. Indra had to intervene, and slew him after a hard fight. A horrible goddess named Brahmanahatya(the personified sin of Brahmin murder) came from the dead corpse of Vritra and pursued Indra, who hid inside a lotus flower. Indra went to Brahma and begged forgiveness for having killed a Brahmin. "Vajrayudha" which Indra possessed is believed to be prepared from backbone of a sage Dadhichi to kill Asuras.

Indra and the Ants

In this story from the Brahmavaivarta Purana, Indra defeats Vritra and releases the waters. Elevated to the rank of King of the Gods, Indra orders the heavenly craftsman, Vishvakarma, to build him a grand palace. Full of pride, Indra continues to demand more and more improvements for the palace. At last, exhausted, Vishvakarma asks Brahma the Creator for help. Brahman in turn appeals to Vishnu, the Supreme Being.

Vishnu visits Indra's palace in the form of a brahmin boy; Indra welcomes him in. Vishnu praises Indra's palace, casually adding that no former Indra had succeeded in building such a palace. At first, Indra is amused by the brahmin boy's claim to know of former Indras. But the amusement turns to horror as the boy tells about Indra's ancestors, about the great cycles of creation and destruction, and even about the infinite number of worlds scattered through the void, each with its own Indra. The boy claims to have seen them all. During the boy's speech, a procession of ants had entered the hall. The boy saw the ants and laughed. Finally humbled, Indra asks the boy why he laughed. The boy reveals that the ants are all former Indras.

Another visitor enters the hall. He is Shiva, in the form of a hermit. On his chest lies a circular cluster of hairs, intact at the circumference but with a gap in the middle. Shiva reveals that each of these chest hairs corresponds to the life of one Indra. Each time a hair falls, one Indra dies and another replaces him.

No longer interested in wealth and honor, Indra rewards Vishvakarma and releases him from any further work on the palace. Indra himself decides to leave his life of luxury to become a hermit and seek wisdom. Horrified, Indra's wife Shachi asks the priest Brihaspati to change her husband's mind. He teaches Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties.

Each Manu rules during an eon called a Manvantara. 14 Manvantaras make up a Kalpa, a period corresponding to a day in the life of Brahma. Every Manvantara has a different Indra. The list is according to Vishnu Purana(Chapters 3.1 and 3.2):for more on time yugas and kalpas click here

Manvatara/Manu ------- Indra

Svayambuva --------------- Yajna

Swarochish -----------------vipaschit

Uttam ----------------------Sushaanti

Taamas -------------------- Shibi

Raivat ----------------------Vibhu

Chaakshush ----------------Manojav

Shraaddhdev ---------------Purandar(he is the present Indra)

Savarni --------------------Bali

Daksha saavarni -----------Adbhut

Brahma saavarni ----------Shanti

Dharma saavarni ----------Vish

Rudra putra saavarni ------Ritudhaama

Ruchi (Deva saavarni) -----Devaspati

Bhaum (Indra saavarni) ---Suchi

As believed by many Indra has origin in Graeco-indo religion. He is also connected with the mittani. Eventhough Indra was the major diety of ancient vedic religion, but later with the advent of the trimurthi, his importance faded.

The following stories contribute to his humanly nature and so the downfall of the lord of all devas.

Sahasra Chaksu

Indra had an affair with Ahalya , wife of Gautama Maharishi . He was punished by Gautama with a curse that one thousand Vaginas cover his body in a grotesque and vulgar display, and that his reign as king of the gods would meet with disaster and catastrophe. Gautama later commuted the curse, upon the pleading of Brahma, to one thousand eyes instead, this is the reason he was give the name Sahasra chaksu(thousand eyed).

Due to this sin Indra's throne remains insecure forever. He is repeatedly humiliated by demonic kings like Ravana of Lanka, whose son Indrajit (whose name means victor over Indra) bound Indra in serpent nooses and dragged him across Lanka in a humiliating display. Indrajit released Indra when Brahma him to do so in exchange for celestial weapons, but Indra, as the defeated, had to pay tribute and accept Ravana's supremacy. Indra realized the consequences of his sin, and was later avenged by the Avatar of Vishnu, Rama, who slew Ravana to deliver the three worlds from evil, as described in the epic Ramayana.

Downfall of Indra in Vaishnavism

According to Vaishnava legend, Indra was losing his hold over the human beings, and became jealous of the boy Krishna.

Indra thus invoked many clouds to appear in the sky and schemed to flood the region with rains lasting for seven days and seven nights. Krishna in reply then lifted Govardhan hill, under which all the animals and people of the region took shelter, safe from the rains of Indra's fury. Ultimately, Indra accepted defeat, and after praying to Krishna, left for his heavenly abode, the Svarga.

This is a symbolic representation of how Indra lost his powers to krishna the supreme diety in Vaishnava movement.

Indra the most referred god in vedas also finds place in other religion like buddhism, jainism, and chinese religion. He has been mentioned in zoroastrianism as well, but as a demon who is against the rta (Dharma).

From the basic reference to Indra it seems that he was an ancient king and due to his popularity and good deeds rose to divinity. And the Indra is not a person but a position, which is handed over to different persons from time to time, however mostly deities aspire for this post but humans can also reach this position, the best example would be king Nahush.

1 comment:

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