Indra

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For other uses, see Indra (disambiguation).
Indra
King of the Gods
God of Weather and War
Indra deva.jpg
Indra on his mount Airavata
Devanagari इन्द्र or इंद्र
Sanskrit Transliteration इन्द्र
Tamil script இந்திரன்
Affiliation Deva
Abode Amarāvati in Svarga/ Indraloka
Mantra om indraya namah
Weapon Vajra (Thunderbolt)
Symbols Vajra
Consort Shachi (Indrani)
Mount Airavata (White elephant), Uchchaihshravas (white horse)
Texts Vedas, Puranas, Epics

Indra, also known as Śakra in the Vedas, is the leader of the Devas or demi gods and the lord of Svargaloka or heaven in the Hindu religion. He is the god of rain and thunderstorms.[1] He wields a lightning thunderbolt known as vajra and rides on a white elephant known as Airavata. Indra is the supreme deity and is the twin brother of Agni and is also mentioned as an Āditya, son of Aditi. His home is situated on Mount Meru in the heaven.[2] He has many epithets, notably vṛṣan the bull, and vṛtrahan, slayer of Vṛtra, Meghavahana "the one who rides the clouds" and Devapati "the lord of gods or devas".[2] Indra appears as the name of a daeva in Zoroastrianism (but please note that word Indra can be used in general sense as a leader, either of devatas or asuras[3]), while his epithet, Verethragna, appears as a god of victory. Indra is also called Śakra frequently in the Vedas and in Buddhism (Pali: Sakka). He is known in Burmese as သိကြားမင်း, pronounced: [ðadʑá mɪ́ɴ]; in Thai as พระอินทร์ Phra In, in Khmer as ព្រះឥន្ទ្រា pronounced [preah ʔəntraa], in Malay as Indera,in Kannada as ಇಂದ್ರ Indra, in Telugu as ఇంద్రుడు Indrudu, in Tamil as இந்திரன் Inthiran, Chinese as 帝释天 Dìshìtiān, and in Japanese as 帝釈天 Taishakuten.[4] He is celebrated as a demiurge who pushes up the sky, releases Ushas (dawn) from the Vala cave, and slays Vṛtra; both latter actions are central to the Soma sacrifice. He is associated with Vajrapani - the Chief Dharmapala or Defender and Protector of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha who embodies the power of the Five Dhyani Buddhas. On the other hand, he also commits many kinds of mischief (kilbiṣa) for which he is sometimes punished. In Puranic mythology, Indra is bestowed with a heroic and almost brash and amorous character at times, even as his reputation and role diminished in later Hinduism with the rise of the Trimurti.

Origins[edit]

Aspects of Indra as a deity are cognate to other Indo-European gods; they are either thunder gods such as Thor, Perun, and Zeus, or gods of intoxicating drinks such as Dionysus. The name of Indra (Indara) is also mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni, a Hurrian-speaking people who ruled northern Syria from ca.1500BC-1300BC.[5]

Janda (1998:221) suggests that the Proto-Indo-European (or Graeco-Aryan) predecessor of Indra had the epithet *trigw-welumos [or rather *trigw-t-welumos? See Vala (Vedic)] "smasher of the enclosure" (of Vritra, Vala) and diye-snūtyos "impeller of streams" (the liberated rivers, corresponding to Vedic apam ajas "agitator of the waters"), which resulted in the Greek gods Triptolemus and Dionysus.

Vedic Indra corresponds to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian Avesta as the noun verethragna- corresponds to Vedic vrtrahan-, which is predominantly an epithet of Indra. According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.[6] It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",[6] which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"[7] from the Bactria–Margiana Culture.[7] At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.[8] According to Anthony,

Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with Soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from Ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.[9]

The word vrtra-/verethra- means "obstacle". Thus, vrtrahan-/verethragna- is the "smiter of resistance". Vritra as such does not appear in either the Avesta or books of Zoroastrian tradition. Since the name 'Indra' appears in Zoroastrian texts as that of a demon opposing Truth (Vd. 10.9; Dk. 9.3; Gbd. 27.6, 34.27) Zoroastrian tradition has separated both aspects of Indra.

In the Rigveda[edit]

The Rigveda states,

He under whose supreme control are horses, all chariots, the villages, and cattle;
He who gave being to the Sun and Morning, who leads the waters, He, O men, is Indra. (2.12.7, trans. Griffith)

It further states,

Indra, you lifted up the pariah who was oppressed, you glorified the blind and the lame. (Rg-Veda 2:13:12)[10]

Indra is, with Varuna and Mitra, one of the Ādityas, the chief gods of the Rigveda (besides Agni and others such as the Ashvins). He delights in drinking soma and the central Vedic myth is his heroic defeat of Vṛtrá, liberating the rivers, or alternatively, his smashing of the Vala cave, a stone enclosure where the Panis had imprisoned the cows that are habitually identified with Ushas, the dawn(s). He is the god of war, smashing the stone fortresses of the Dasyu, but he is also is invoked by combatants on both sides in the Battle of the Ten Kings.

Indra as depicted in Yakshagana, popular folk art of Karnataka

The Rig-Veda frequently refers to him as Śakra: the mighty-one. In the Vedic period, the number of gods was assumed to be thirty-three and Indra was their lord. (Some early post Rigvedic texts such as the Khilas and the late Vedic Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad enumerates the gods as the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, Indra, and Prajapati). As lord of the Vasus, Indra was also referred to as Vāsava.

By the age of the Vedanta, Indra became the prototype for all lords and thus a king could be called Mānavēndra (Indra or lord of men) and Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was referred to as Rāghavendra (Indra of the clan of Raghu). Hence the original Indra was also referred to as Devendra (Indra of the Devas). However, Sakra and Vasava were used exclusively for the original Indra. Though modern texts usually adhere to the name Indra, the traditional Hindu texts (the Vedas, epics and Puranas) use Indra, Sakra and Vasava interchangeably and with the same frequency.

"Of the Vedas I am the Sama Veda; of the demigods I am Indra, the king of heaven; of the senses I am the mind; and in living beings I am the living force [consciousness]." (Bhagavad Gita 10.22) [3]

Status and function[edit]

In the Rigveda, Indra is the king of the gods and ruler of the heavens. Indra is the god of thunder and rain and a great warrior, a symbol of courage and strength. He leads the Deva (the gods who form and maintain Heaven) and the elements, such as Agni (fire), Varuna (water) and Surya (sun), and constantly wages war against the opponents of the gods, the demon-like asuras. As the god of war, he is also regarded as one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the east. As the favourite 'national' god of the Vedic Indians, Indra has about 250 hymns dedicated to him in the Rigveda.

Characteristics[edit]

Appearance[edit]

Detail of the Phra Prang, the central tower of the Wat Arun ("Temple of Dawn") in Bangkok, Thailand - showing Indra on his three-headed elephant Erawan (Airavata).

One Atharva Vedic verse reads, "In Indra are set fast all forms of golden hue."[11]

In the RV 1.65 reads, "SAKRA, who is the purifier (of his worshipers), and well-skilled in horses, who is wonderful and golden-bodied."[12] Rigveda also reads that Indra "is the dancing god who, clothed in perfumed garments, golden-cheeked rides his golden cart."[13] One passage calls him both brown and yellow.[14] "Him with the fleece they purify, brown, golden-hued, beloved of all, Who with exhilarating juice goes forth to all the deities"

Other characteristics[edit]

Like violent gusts of wind the droughts that I have drunk have lifted me

Have I not drunk of Soma juice?[15]

Fair cheeks hath Indra, Maghavan, the Victor, Lord of a great host, Stormer, strong in action. What once thou didst in might when mortals vexed thee, where now, O Bull, are those thy hero exploits?

—RigVeda, Book 3, Hymn XXX: Griffith[16]

May the strong Heaven make thee the Strong wax stronger: Strong, for thou art borne by thy two strong Bay Horses. So, fair of cheek, with mighty chariot, mighty, uphold us, strong-willed, thunder armed, in battle.

—RigVeda, Book 5, Hymn XXXVI: Griffith[17]

Indra's weapon, which he used to kill Vritra, is the (vajra), though he also uses a bow, a net, and a hook. In the post-Vedic period, he rides a large, four-tusked white elephant called Airavata. When portrayed having four arms, he has lances in two of his hands which resemble elephant goads. When he is shown to have two, he holds the Vajra and a bow.[18] He lives in Svarga in the clouds around Mount Meru. Deceased warriors go to his hall after death, where they live without sadness, pain or fear. They watch the apsaras and the gandharvas dance, and play games. The gods of the elements, celestial sages, great kings, and warriors enrich his court.

Indra's Bow[edit]

In Hindu mythology, the rainbow is called Indra's Bow (Sanskrit: indradhanus इन्द्रधनुस्).

Relations with other gods[edit]

In Hindu myth, he is married to Shachi or Indrani or Pulomaja [2](whose father, Puloman, Indra killed), and is the father of Arjuna (by Kunti), Jayanta, Midhusa, Nilambara, Khamla, Ribhus, Rsabha. Indra is a brother to Surya. He is attended to by the Maruts (and the Vasus), children of Diti (mother of demons). Indra had slain Diti's previous wicked children, so she hoped her son would be more powerful than him and kept herself pregnant for a century, practicing magic to aid her fetal son. When Indra discovered this, he threw a thunderbolt at her and shattered the fetus into 7 or 49 parts; each part regenerated into a complete individual, and the parts grew into the Maruts, a group of storm gods, who are less powerful than Indra.

Indra and Shachi are described to a daughter called Jayanti. He is also stated to be the father of Devasena, the consort of the god Kartikeya.

Indra and Vritra[edit]

In post-Vedic myth, Vritra, an asura, stole all the water in the world and Indra drank much Soma to prepare himself for the battle with the huge serpent. He passed through Vritra's ninety-nine fortresses, slew the monster and brought water back to Earth. In another version of the story,[citation needed] Vritra was created by Tvastar 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. An evil goddess named Brāhmanahatya (the personified sin of Brahmin murder) came from the 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 the asuras.

In the Puranas[edit]

Status and function[edit]

Krishna holding Govardhan hill from Smithsonian Institution’s collections

In post-Vedic texts, Indra is described with more human characteristics and vices than any other Vedic deity. Modern Hindus, also tend to see Indra as minor deity in comparison to others in the Hindu pantheon, such as Shiva, Vishnu, or Devi. A Puranic story illustrating the subjugation of Indra's pride is illustrated in the story of Govardhan hill where Krishna, Avatar or incarnation of Vishnu carried the hill and protected his devotees when Indra, angered by non-worship of him, launched rains over the village. In another Mahabharata story, Karna tries to earn merit and fame by becoming the lord of charity, a ‘daan-veer’. Krishna takes advantage of this charitable nature and gets Indra, king of the gods, to ask as charity Karna’s natural armor 'Kavach and Kundal'. Karna donates this leaving himself vulnerable. Impressed by Karna’s unwavering commitment to charity, Indra gifts Karna a spear that never misses its mark but can be used only once.[19]

Gautama's curse[edit]

Indra tricked Ahalya,the wife of Gautama Maharishi.The affair between Ahalya and Indra was not mutual. Gautama punished Indra with a curse of losing his manliness and Ahalya too was cursed of being invisible to the eyes of everyone.

Indra and the Ants[edit]

In this story from the Brahmavaivarta Purana,[20][citation needed][21] Indra defeats Vṛtrá 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. Brahma 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.

The 14 Indras[edit]

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 1 Indra that means with every Kalpa 14 Indras changes. Thae Markandye Rishi is said to have a complete age of one Kalpa and in a Puran on his name called "Markandey Puran" the exact age corresponding to the human age or solar year is described in details. The following list is according to Vishnu Purana 3.1–2):[22]

Manvatara/Manu Indra
Svayambhuva Yajna (Avatar of Vishnu)
Swarochish Vipaschit
Uttam Sushaanti
Taamas Shibi
Raivat Vibhu
Chaakshush Manojav
Shraaddhdev Purandar (the present Indra)
Savarni Bali
Daksha Saavarni Adbhut
Brahma Saavarni Shanti
Dharma Saavarni Vish
Rudraputra Saavarni Ritudhaama
Ruchi (Deva Saavarni) Devaspati
Bhaum (Indra Saavarni) Suchi

In Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Bali[edit]

Indra as Sakka and Sachi Riding the Divine Elephant Airavata, Folio from a Jain text, Panchakalyanaka (Five Auspicious Events in the Life of the tirthankara Rishabha), circa 1670-1680, Painting in LACMA museum, originally from Amer, Rajasthan
A Burmese statue of Thagyamin, the Burmese representation of Sakka-Indra.
Main article: Śakra (Buddhism)

In Buddhism and Jainism, Indra is commonly called by his other name, Śakra or Sakka, ruler of the Trāyastriṃśa heaven. However, Śakra is sometimes given the title Indra, or, more commonly, Devānām Indra, "Lord of the Devas". The ceremonial name of Bangkok claims that the city was "given by Indra and built by Vishvakarman." The provincial seal of Surin Province, Thailand is an image of Indra atop Airavata.

In Jainism, Indra is also known as Saudharmendra, and always serves the Tirthankaras. Indra most commonly appears in stories related to Mahavira, in which Indra himself manages and celebrates the five auspicious events in that Tirthankara's life, such as Chavan kalyanak, Janma kalyanak, Diksha kalyanak, Kevalgyan kalyanak, and moksha kalyanak.

In China, Korea, and Japan, he is known by the characters 帝释天 (Chinese: 釋提桓因, pinyin: shì dī huán yīn, Korean: "Je-seok-cheon" or 桓因 Hwan-in, Japanese: "Tai-shaku-ten", kanji: 帝釈天). In Japan, Indra always appears opposite Brahma (梵天, Japanese: "Bonten") in Buddhist art. Brahma and Indra are revered together as protectors of the historical Buddha (释迦, Japanese: "Shaka", kanji: 釈迦), and are frequently shown giving Shaka his first bath. Although Indra is often depicted like a bodhisattva in the Far East, typically in Tang dynasty costume, his iconography also includes a martial aspect, wielding a thunderbolt from atop his elephant mount.

Some Buddhists regard the Daoist Jade Emperor as another interpretation of Indra.

In the Huayan school of Buddhism and elsewhere, the image of Indra's net is a metaphor for the emptiness of all things.

In Bali, the legend of Tirta Empul Temple origin is related to Indra. The sacred spring was created by the Indra, whose soldiers were poisoned at one time by Mayadanawa. Indra pierced the earth to create a fountain of immortality to revive them.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Indra in the Rig-Veda. Journal or Americal Oriental Society. p. 121. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Wilkings, W.J. (27 December 2001). Hindu mythology, Vedic & Puranic. Elibron Classics (reprint of 1882 edition by Thaker, Spink & Co., Calcutta. p. 52. 
  3. ^ for example: daitya-indra-tapasā means Hiraṇyakaśipu - King (or "Indra") of the Daityas, who performed tapasyas to defeat real Indra (leader of devatas, Vedic demigods) [1]. See also: [2]
  4. ^ Presidential Address W. H. D. Rouse Folklore, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Mar., 1907), pp. 12-23: "King of the Gods is Sakka, or Indra"
  5. ^ State and society in the late Bronze Age by CDL Press, 2008 edition, page 77
  6. ^ a b Anthony 2007, p. 462.
  7. ^ a b Beckwith 2009, p. 32.
  8. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 454-455.
  9. ^ Anthony 2007, p. 454.
  10. ^ "Indra and Shiva" by KOENRAAD ELST
  11. ^ Hymn XXX, P. 407 The Hymns of the Atharvaveda
  12. ^ P. 113 Rig-Veda-Sanhitá By Horace Hayman Wilson, Edward Byles Cowell, William Frederick Webster
  13. ^ P. 248 Journal of the American Oriental Society By American Oriental Society
  14. ^ P. 520 The hymns of the R̥gveda By Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith, Jagdish Lal Shastri
  15. ^ Rigveda:10.119.2
  16. ^ Rigveda: Rig-Veda, Book 3: HYMN XXX. Indra
  17. ^ Rigveda: Rig-Veda, Book 5: HYMN XXXVI. Indra
  18. ^ (Masson-Oursel and Morin, 326).
  19. ^ Devdutt. "A boy called Karna". Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  20. ^ Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, ed. Joseph Campbell (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), p. 3-11
  21. ^ webadept-ga, "Re: Religion and Suffering," 7 January 2003 21:26 PST, Google Answers, 28 March 2007 <http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=138918>
  22. ^ The 14 Indras

Sources[edit]

  • Anthony, David W. (2007), The Horse The Wheel And Language. How Bronze-Age Riders From the Eurasian Steppes Shaped The Modern World, Princeton University Press 
  • Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009), Empires of the Silk Road, Princeton University Press 
  • Masson-Oursel, P.; Morin, Louise (1976). "Indian Mythology." In New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, pp. 325–359. New York: The Hamlyn Publishing Group.
  • Janda, M., Eleusis, das indogermanische Erbe der Mysterien (1998).
  • http://www.magellanexperiences.com/tirta_empul_temple.htm