|King of the Gods
God of the Heaven
God of Weather and War
Indra on his mount Airavata
|Devanagari||इन्द्र or इंद्र|
|Abode||Amarāvati in Svarga/ Indraloka|
|Mantra||om indraya namah|
|Mount||Airavata (White elephant), Uchchaihshravas (white horse)|
|Texts||Vedas, Puranas, Epics|
Indra (//, Sanskrit: इन्द्र) is the leader of the Devas and the lord of Svargaloka or a level of Heaven in Hinduism. He is the deva of rain and thunderstorms. He wields a lightning thunderbolt known as vajra and rides on a white elephant known as Airavata. His horse's name is Uchchaihshrava. Indra is the most important deity worshiped by the Rigvedic tribes and is the son of Dyaus and the goddess Savasi. His home is situated on Mount Meru in the heavens. 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. On the other hand, he also commits many kinds of mischief (kilbiṣa) for which he is sometimes punished. In the Puranas, 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.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Origins
- 3 In the Rigveda
- 4 In the Puranas
- 5 Sangam literature (300 BCE-300 AD)
- 6 In Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Bali
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
Indra has many epithets notably:
- Śakra (शक्र) - powerful one.
- Vṛṣan (वृषन्) - mighty.
- Vṛtrahan (वृत्रहन्) - slayer of Vṛtra.
- Meghavāhana (मेघवाहन) - he whose cloud is vehicle.
- Devarāja (देवराज) - king of deities.
- Devendra (देवेन्द्र)- the lord of deities.
- Surendra (सुरेन्द्र) - chief of deities.
- Svargapati (स्वर्गपति) - the lord of heaven (Svargaloka).
- Vajrapāṇī (वज्रपाणि) - he who has thunderbolt (Vajra) in his hand.
- Vāsava (वासव) - lord of Vasus.
Indra appears as the name of a daeva in Zoroastrianism (though 'Indra' can be used in a general sense for a leader, either of devatas or asuras), 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 or Indra in Malayalam as ഇന്ദ്രന് Indran , in Tamil as இந்திரன் Inthiran, Chinese as 帝释天 Dìshìtiān, and in Japanese as 帝釈天 Taishakuten.
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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.
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 David 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. It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements", which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices" from the Bactria–Margiana Culture. At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma. 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.
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
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)
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 his central feat 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 invoked by combatants on both sides in the Battle of the Ten Kings.
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) 
Status and function
In the Rigveda, Indra is the god of thunder and rain and a great warrior who battles with the water obstructing serpent Vritra and other enemies frequently referred to as Dasa. In the later Hindu religion he leads the Deva (the gods who form and maintain Heaven) and the elements, such as the god of fire, Agni, the sun god Surya, and Vayu of the wind. He constantly wages war against the opponents of the gods, the demonized asuras. As the god of war, he is also regarded as one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the east. As the most popular god of the Vedic Indians, Indra has about 250 hymns dedicated to him in the Rigveda.
In Rigveda, Indra the solar god is sometimes described as golden-bodied with golden jaw, nails, hair, beard.
One Atharva Vedic verse reads, "In Indra are set fast all forms of golden hue."
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." Rigveda also reads that Indra "is the dancing god who, clothed in perfumed garments, golden-cheeked rides his golden cart." One passage calls him both brown and yellow. "Him with the fleece they purify, brown, golden-hued, beloved of all, Who with exhilarating juice goes forth to all the deities":
With him too is this rain of his that comes like herds: Indra throws drops of moisture on his golden beard. When the sweet juice is shed he seeks the pleasant place, and stirs the worshipper as wind disturbs the wood.— Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn XXIII, P. 4 
At the swift draught the Soma-drinker waxed in might, the Iron One with yellow beard and yellow hair.— Rig Veda, Book 10, Hymn XCVI, P. 8 
Like violent gusts of wind the droughts that I have drunk have lifted me
Have I not drunk of Soma juice?
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
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
Indra's weapon, which he used to kill Vritra, is the (vajra), though he also uses a bow, a net, and a hook. The thunderbolt of Indra is called Bhaudhara. 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. 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.
Relations with other gods
In Hindu religion, he is married to Shachi or Indrani or Pulomaja.
In the Puranas
Status and function
In post-Vedic texts, Indra is described with more human characteristics and vices than any other Vedic deity. Modern Hindus 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 Mahabhrata, Lord Indra became afraid of the fighting prowess of Karna and he himself took the form of a bee and stung Karna's thigh in order to benefit his son Arjuna. On a day towards the end of his training Karna happened to offer Parashurama his lap so his guru could rest his head and nap. But while Parashurama was asleep, Indra in the form of a bee stung Karna's thigh and despite the pain, Karna did not move, so as not to disturb his guru's sleep.With blood oozing from his wound and making him impure, Parashurama woke up and laid curse upon Karna that he would forget all the knowledge required to wield the divine weapon Brahmanda astra, at the moment of his greatest need.Later this incident saved the life of Indra's son Arjuna from certain death. 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 gives Karna a spear that never misses its mark but can be used only once. Indra is also believed to have composed a treatise on modern philosophy named Bahudantaka.
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
In this story from the Brahmavaivarta Purana, 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
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):
|Svayambhuva||Yajna (Avatar of Vishnu)|
|Shraaddhadeva||Purandara (the present Indra)|
|Ruchi (Deva Saavarni)||Devaspati|
|Bhauma (Indra Saavarni)||Suchi|
Sangam literature (300 BCE-300 AD)
Sangam literature of the Tamil language contains more stories about Indra by various authors. In Silapathikaram Indra is described as Maalai venkudai mannavan (மாலைவெண் குடை மன்னவன்), literally meaning Indra with the pearl-garland and white umberella.
The Sangam literature also describes, Indhira Vizha (festival for Indra), the festival for want of rain, celebrated for one full month starting from the full moon in Ootrai (later name-Cittirai) and completed on the full moon in Puyaazhi (Vaikaasi) (which coincides with Buddhapurnima). It is described in the epic Cilapatikaram in detail.
In Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Bali
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 China, Korea, and Japan, he is known by the characters 帝釋天 (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 (Chinese: 釋迦, kanji: 釈迦, also known as Shakyamuni), and are frequently shown giving the infant Buddha 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.
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.
In Japan, Indra is one of the twelve Devas, as guardian deities, who are found in o r around Buddhist shrines (Jūni-ten, 十二天). In Japan, Indra has been called "Taishaku-ten". He joins these other eleven Devas of Buddhism, found in Japan and other parts of southeast Asia: Indra (Taishaku-ten), Agni (Ka-ten), Yama (Emma-ten), Nirrti (Rasetsu-ten), Vayu (Fu-ten), Ishana (Ishana-ten), Kubera (Tamon-ten), Varuna (Sui-ten) Brahma (Bon-ten), Prithvi (Chi-ten), Surya (Nit-ten), Chandra (Gat-ten).
In Jainism, Indra is also known as Saudharmendra, and always serves the Tirthankaras. Indra most commonly appears in stories related to Tirthankaras, in which Indra himself manages and celebrates the five auspicious events in that Tirthankara's life, such as Chavan kalyanak, Janma kalyanak, Diksha kalyanak, Kevala Jnana kalyanak, and moksha kalyanak.
Certain Jain texts also depict the comparative powers of Indra in the following manner:
- A bull is as powerful as 12 warriors.
- A horse is as powerful as 10 bulls.
- A buffalo is as powerful as 12 horses.
- A Lion is as powerful as 15 buffalos.
- An elephant is as powerful as 500 Lions.
- An octoped (Astapada mythical eight limbed animal) is as powerful as 2,000 maned elephant.
- A Baldeva is as powerful as 1 million octopeds.
- A Vasudeva is as powerful as 2 Baldevs. (A Prati-vasudeva is slightly less powerful that a Vasudeva)
- A Chakravarti is as powerful as 2 Vasudevs.
- A king of serpent gods is as powerful as 100,000 Chakravartis.
- An Indra is as powerful as 10 million kings of serpent gods.
- The power of innumerable Indras is insignificant as compared to that of the small finger of a Tirthankara.
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- Hindu deities
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