Indra was our ancient Indian hero even before Sri Rama. Valmiki thought so highly of Sri Rama that he compared him to Indra, in every Kanda of the Ramayana. In fact an Indra among men, is Narendra, a king. To be the Indra of something is to be the king of it. The best at it. In fact, since Valmiki was Rama’s contemporary, to describe his greatness, he had to compare him to Indra and Vishnu. (Today someone may be compared to Rama and Krishna.) In fact Indra is the strategist behind the Ramayana war as the article demonstrates later on.
(In the balakanda of the Valmiki Ramayanam, 15th sarga, he is described as “tridasha raajaanam shakram”. Megasthanes wrote about that 30 walled cities of the powerful Andhras in his Indica, They have been recently unearthed by ASI. I think that “Andhra” is in fact derived from “Indra” as is in the french “andrei” : More)
What was Indra like? He was very strong, very handsome and very fond of Soma Rasa ( a drink). He was the king of the Devas. Or… should I say he is the king of the Devas? For that we have to decide whether Indra is human or divine. He is definitely both, and we have to understand what we are talking about from the context.
In the rest of this article we look at Indra, as we learn from the various texts (eg Bhagavatham, Vedas, Ramayanam etc)
Indra’s Time Scale as per the Bhagavatham:
The Bhagavatam tells us that 1 day for Indra is a month for us. So each such Indra presides over 50-100 human generations and a new Indra takes over after that. Click here for details.
Indra in the Vedas:
Indra is first mentioned in the Vedas, which are older than the Ramayana. Now we know that the Vedas have been interpreted differently by different scholars. Scholars who think that Indra is a hero, interpret the mantras one way, scholars who think he is a Force of Nature interpret them another way and the spiritual scholars take a very sublime view of the whole thing.
In the Rk Veda, the Vishu Bindu referred to Indra.
In the 9th Samputanu of the Vignana Sarvaswamu – Telugu Encyclopedia, combined with a book on Indian Astronomy, written by grandfather, Kandula Nagabhushanam, this is what I found, and understood (with some help from my father). First take, the earths’ axis, and then take a plane perpendicular to it, through the earth’s equator. Now extend that equatorial plane till it intersects the earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun in two points. The two points are the two times a year when the earth’s orbit intersects the equatorial plane. They are… you guessed right the equinoxes, one in Spring and one in Autumn.The Malayalis celebrate their new year, on Vishu. The word I want to draw your attention to is Vishu Bindu, the point of intersection of the equatorial plane with the earth’s orbit in Spring.
The explanation shlokam quoted is : Subhrahmanyam, Subrahmanyam, Subrahmanyam, Indragaccha hariva, agachha methatithe, mesha vrushanaashvasya mene” meaning: Indra, the Vishu Bindu, moved from Kruthika (related to kruthika – karthikeya) to Mesha and Meena. Rk Veda Mantram 8-2-40: Itthaa dheevantamadripah kaanvam methyatithim, meshobhuto abhi yunnayah.Wilson, who did not know Indian Astronomy, translated as ”the king of the thunder, came in the form of a goat to please methatithi a descandant of Kanva.”
It is said that unless you learn, Vedanga Jyotisham, Chanddas, Panini’s grammar and Yaska’s Niruktham (etymyology) among a few other things, you can never understand the Vedas. (search for posts on theses topics in satyaveda and ancientindians blogsites on wordspress.) Let us attempt a translation at that point.
Vasishta, Sri Rama’s Guru tells us in RV_07.020.01.2 : that Indra killed Vrtra
virah indrah – The valorous indra;
vRtram hantA – killed vritra;
sudAsE lokam kartA – he gave the world (kingdom) to sudasa (lit.. good dAsa or devotee)
muhuh dAs’uSE vasu dAtA bhUt – He was a donor of wealth (vasu) to the yajamana (person performing yajna), many times
aha vA u – 3 fillers for chandas..(metre)
jaritAram prAvIt – He protected the praiser.
nu – quickly Uti – with weapons
s’Us’uvAnah – (vardhamAnah), one who was growing, (Indra)
The valorous Indra, as he was growing, killed Vritra. He gifted Sudasa with a Kindom. He protected those who praised him quickly with his weapons/defences. He donated wealth to the yajamAna of the yajna., many a time.
In this interpretation of this mantra, we see Indra as valorous young man who was generous, brave, protective and successful in destroying enemies.
This translation is based on the synonyms selected/suggested by sAyaNAcArya as the most appropriate match.
Vasishta addressed Indra as Chakri! RV_07.020.01.1
All of us born in the last century think of Vishnu as Chakri. Vishnu has this sudarshana chakra also used by Sri Krishna.. and if someone has been really bad, they should watch out for it, it can take a man’s head off. A discovery channel program actually demonstrated a weapon like a chakra that could be used for exactly the same purpose, from the Punjab Region. So I have no doubt that Sri Krishna hurled his chakra with great force and strength at that horrible s’is’upAla of no redeeming features.
sAyaNa tells us that chakri means one who accomplishes the intended goal. (kartA eva)
So Indra is ugra (which we generally think means anger, but it means one full of ojas), svadhAvAn – means strong, (svadhA is also a vedic word used during yajnas), who was born for valourous deeds (vIryAya jagnye). Indra is narya or narahita, a benefactor of humankind. yat kariSyan, apah cakrih – he accomplishes what he has/decides to do. He is a protector or trAta. He enters the yajnyagruha (nrSadanam) with his rakshanas (avobhih) and protects us from mahascit (major) Enasah (sins).
Indra : Deva or Rshi?
- Devas: Human or Divine? : Vaishnava writers in english use the word demigod or man-god to refer to the devas. It is possible to interpret the devas in human, astronomical, spiritual, extra terrestrial, divine and so many other ways. This article discusses that.
- Deva Bhashas : Sanskrit And Tamil? : There is evidence in the the puranas well as sthala puranas to indicate that the deva-home was the south-eastern coast of India. This article consolidates exploration of all that data.
- Aditi and Kasyapa, Adityas – Suras, Daityas, Danavas : To understand the relationships between all the kulas.
Many (4 to 12) of the important Devatas of the Rg Veda Mantras were Adityas ie sons of Aditi and Kasyapa., for eg Indra, Viwaswan, Varuna and Mitra. Aditi was the daughter of Daksha and granddaughter of Brahma. Kasyapa rshi was the son of Marici and the grandson of Brahma. (See : Daksha : He named the fixed stars!,Brahma)
So Indra and his brothers including his Daitya step brothers were genetically 100% brahmans. Contrast this with his second cousin Ravana, Ravana and his siblings were half brahman, 1/32 rakshasa, 3/32 deva, 3/8 gandharva. (See Rakshasas for the detailed lineage of Ravana).
- (Click here for the devatAs of Vasishta’s Veda Mantras : 7th Mandala : “trayastrims’am sUktam : vasiSTaputrAh, vasiSTah devatah : Please note that the Devatah for these mantras are Vasishta’s sons and Vasishta himself. Thus we learn that the Devata is the luminary who is the object of worship. The rshis for these mantras are vasiSTah for his sons and vasiSTaputrAh indrah va rSayah for Vasishta himself. That means that Vasishta’s sons and Indra worshipped Vasishta and Vasishta worshipped his sons”, See Also Difference between Mantram – Slokam)
So both genetically and from the Veda Mantras, we see that Indra was a brahman and a rshi.
- Contrast with Ravana who was half-brahman and not a rishi at all. (Please also bear in mind that in the Krta (Satya) Yuga, there was only one varna, so when I say brahman, I refer to jathi and not to varna. See :Indian Caste System: Then and Now: Jati, Varna, Kula.)
In movies and paintings we see Indra with a golden crown and jewellery, clean shaven, unlike the rshis of his time whom we see with long beards, matted hair in a top knot and wearing only the yajnopavitam. We also see that he is the king of the devas.
- From the puranas and itihasas we know that Indra was a heroic fighter and a strategist who did a lot of the back ground planning such that Sri Rama, the descendant of his brother Viwaswan (Surya), could defeat his (Indra’s) cousin Ravana. See Indra.
- We know that Indra fought and killed Vrtra with a weapon made from dadIci maharshi’s backbone. We know that Indra was defeated by Ravana’s son Meghanath, who then took on the title Indrajit. We know that Jambavantha and Indra fought alongside each other.
- While shaving is a waste of time for rshis, flowing beards are a nuisance for warriors. Perhaps this why we perceive Indra as clean-shaven.
It is also interesting that Brhaspati, (the son of Angiras and grandson of Brahma) was the guru of the devas and therefore of Indra also, and that his son Bharadwaja is rishi of many mantras of which Indra is the luminary.
- As I was struggling yesterday to understand Bharadwaja Maharshi’s mantras to Indra, I prayed to my (our) forefather Bharadwaja to help me understand what all this was all about and all this is was what was revealed to/or struck my mind.
- Brihaspati was a grandson of Brahma and thus an uncle of Indra. Bharadwaja was thus Indra’s cousin.
- One of the many possible interpretations of these Veda Mantras might be that Bharadwaja was reminding his cousin Indra of his great strength and heroism so that he could defeat their common enemies and protect their godhana, and other forms of wealth etc. “win! protect us! you can do it!”. (No wonder then that Pandu selected Indra to father one of his sons! It makes me very curious about what mantras Durvasa taught Kunthi.. but that is a whole other matter!)
RV_07.020.03.1 : Indra, an invincible hero from birth: Vasishta
yudhmah : A warrior
anarvā : unstoppable
khajakṛt : yuddhakrt : one who wages wars
samat va śūraḥ : valorous in battle
satrāṣāḍ – invincible and victorious
januṣA – from birth
Im – This, indraḥ – indra svojāh – most powerful
aṣāḷhaḥ – never defeated
vyāsa – divided, disarrayed pṛtanāḥ enemy armies
adhā – and
viśvaṃśatrūyantaṃ jaghāna – destroyed his entire enemy (forces)
From birth, this Indra was an unstoppable warrior, invincible, victorious and valorous in battle. This most powerful wager of wars was never defeated, disarrayed his enemy forces and destroyed them entirely.
- Rg Veda Samhita Translation by H.P. Venkata Rao, Samhita, Pada Patha, Sayana Bhashya, Pada artha, tatparya and english translation
- yAska muni, niruktha, Vedic Etymyology : अर्थं वाच: पुष्पफलम्
- Learning Vedic Sanskrit, a few words at a time,, in quest of the true meaning of the Vedas..
- Learning Vedic Sanskrit
- RV_07.020.03.1 : Indra, an invincible hero from birth: Vasishta
- Rg Veda 7.081.02 7th Mandala (Vasishta)
Indra in the Valmiki Ramayanam.
Since I trust Valmiki hugely, let us look at what Indra did in the Valmiki Ramayanam. In the beginning, he led the team of Devas, asking Vishnu to be born on earth as a man, to kill Ravana, the Brahmana – Rakshasa.
Training Sri Rama in the use of divine weapons.
Vasishtha trained Sri Rama as a young boy, and then Viswamitra took him away and taught him all the celestial weapons. Celestial weapons means divine weapons or the weapons of the Devas. He learned to use the weapons that each Deva used or ruled. He then, saluted all the Devas and asked them to ‘please leave now and come back when I need you’. Indra and the Devas were present there when Viswamitra gave Sri Rama the divine weapons and when he trained him how to use them.
Indra, Vajra and Vrtrasura:
Indra himself used the Vajrayudham and the Sakthi. Vajra means hard. And Ayudham means weapon. It can mean diamond too. Indra’s Vajrayudham was made of the backbone of a great sage called Dadichi. Hanuman is called Vajranga Bali (the strong one with hard limbs – as hard as diamond or bone). In Hindi Vajranga Bali became Bajranga Bali. Jai Bajrang Bali! Indra used the Vajrayudham to kill Vrttrasura, which means the mighty Vrttra! We know this from the Vedas. Who or what was Vrttra? We will come back to this later. In Sanskrit Sakthi means energy or power or competence.
Viswamitra himself was a powerful warrior who could have killed any of the Rakshasas who interrupted his Yajna. But he wanted to test and to train Sri Rama. He was happy to see that Sri Rama was not only powerful in that he could kill Subahu and chase away Marichi, but also obedient in that he would kill Tataka, a woman Rakshasi, because his guru Viswamitra asked him to. All this Indra knew.
Indra and Ahalya …A love story… (Valmiki Ramayana – Balakanda)
On the way to Mithila, Viswamitra took Sri Rama past Ahalya’s Asrama. The story of Indra and Ahlaya is very famous. Ahalya was the mother of Satananda, the priest of Raja Janaka the king of Mithila and Sita’s father. We also know that Ahalya was the wife of Gautama Maharshi. This story must be after the time when Gautama and Ahalya lived on Brahmagiri and discovered the Godavari.
To Err is Human: Indra was in love with Ahalya, since the time that Brahma had created this great beauty. But Brahma decreed that Ahalya should marry the pure and good Gautama. Ahalya was a devoted wife and she made Gautama very happy. But, one day, Indra came and expressed his love for Ahalya. And she, a beautiful, young lady, was flattered that the handsome and strong king of the Devas, was interested in her. She wondered how it would be if she had been with Indra, instead of with Gautama. When Gautama came home and found them together, he was badly hurt and he cursed both of them. Indra became Sahasraksha – the one with a thousand eyes, and Ahalya became a spirit living in the abandoned Asrama waiting to be redeemed from the curse. Some say she lived in a stone.
And To Forgive is divine: When Sri Rama passed the hermitage in which Ahalya lived, his foot touched the stone that Ahalya was in. And Ahalya turned back into a lovely lady again. Gautama Maharshi came there too at that time. Ahalya was purfied by Rama and Gautama forgave her and loved her again. Satananda and Viswamitra were very happy to see this kind-heartedness. It also gave them a clue, that he might forgive his own wife, if the situation came up. This is one of the reasons that Gandhiji praised Rama as Patita Pavana (the one who purifies the fallen).
Indra and Ahalya …An agriculture story?… An interpretation!
Ahalya means unploughed and Indra is the God of Rain. Gautama was devoted to the devas. So Indra rained on Gauthama’s fields. When Gautama came back to see his fields at the time of Sri Rama’s visit, all the fields had come to life! And Sahasraksha is a not a curse, but a praise! Only God has a thousand eyes with which He keeps watch over the entire universe. The Purusha Suktham describes God as Sahasraksha and Sahasrapad, with a thousand eyes and a thousand feet, who sees everything and is present everywhere. Even Varuna is described as Sahasraksha in some suktams of the Vedas. Durvasa complained that Gauthama and Vasishtha overly praised Indra and made him arrogant.
Indra and Sravana Kumara (Valmiki Ramayana – Balakanda)
All of us know that Dasaratha (Rama’s father) accidentally killed Sravana Kumara. But did you know that Indra came personally to take Sravana Kumara to heaven? Sravana Kumara was a devoted son of his blind parents and had gone to fetch water for his parents. Dasaratha thought that it was an animal drinking water that caused the sound and shot in that direction. Since Sravana Kumara lived a life of love and devoted service, Indra came for him personally, to take him to Svarga (normally translated as heaven). (See also: Ksheera Sagara Mathanam (Location) and Svarga Naraka Paraloka)
Is it possible that the Sravana Nakshatram was named after Sravana Kumara? Possibly not. The 27 nakshatrams were named by Daksha Prajapati. Perhaps Sravana Kumara was named after the nakshatram.
Indra with Sarabhanga (Valmiki Ramayana – Aranyakanda)
Kaikeyi had Sri Rama exiled to the forest for 14 years. Sita and Lakshmana went with him. He refused to stay with his friend, Guha, the Nishada king and went further into the forest. He refused to turn back, irrespective of whoever asked him to come back home, his brother, his own mother or even his step-mother Kaikeyi. Once in the forest he moved from the hermitage of one Rishi to another.
The Aranyakanda of the Valmiki Ramayana begins with Rama’s visit to the Sarabhanga Asrama, after Rama and Lakshmana had killed Viradha. There Sri Rama saw Indra, brilliant as the sun and the fire, surrounded by the other devas, wearing shining ornaments and clothes that gathered no dust, in a chariot in the sky, drawn by fast horses, not touching the earth. Rama noticed that Indra was talking to Sarabhanga, and recognised Indra by his youthful appearance (devas always looked 25 or 30) and all the other paraphernalia around him. He asked Lakshmana to stay with Vaidehi (Sita) and went to take a closer look. Indra told Sarabhanga that he would meet Rama only later, after the war with Ravana , and hurried off into the sky in his chariot.
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana took a seat near the sage who was doing Agnihotram (worshipping with fire), and asked him about Indra. Sarabhanga said, “Indra came here to take me to Brahmaloka, but I wanted to see you first. Oh Rama! follow this Mandakini River and it will lead you to Sutikshana’s Asrama. He will look after you.”
Rama’s journey from hermitage to hermitage, was part of Indra’s plan to eliminate the powerful Rakshasas. Under the mighty Ravana, the Rakshasas of Sri Lanka, had taken control of Janasthana (part of modern Maharashtra) and were making forays even to the forests around Kosala (north of the Gangetic Plain).
Agastya gives Sri Rama Divine Weapons. (Valmiki Ramayana – Aranyakanda)
Sri Rama defeated and killed the Rakshasas wherever he went, at the request of the Rishis. After meeting Sutikshana and before meeting Agastya, Rama met a lot of Rishis. They told him that the Rakshasas were troubling them and trying to do ‘Yajnanasanam’ (destruction of Yajnas). (See Also : Daksha Yajnanasanam ). Then Rama told them, that the real reason his father sent him to the forest was to protect the Rishis from the Rakshasas. Did you know that Dasaratha and Indra were friends? Dasaratha helped Indra in his wars against the Asuras.
After visiting Sutikshna, Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana went to visit some other sages and then he went to visit Rishi Agastya. Agastya is one of the first few Rishis, who came from the north of India to the south. (Vasishtha on the other hand is one of the Rishis who went with Satyavrata Manu from South of India to the north, at the time of the Matsya Avatar flood.)
Agastya gave Sri Rama, the following divine weapons.
- A Vaishnava (belonging to Vishnu) bow, great and divine, adorned by gold and diamonds, made by Viswakarma.
- The best arrow, amazing and bright as the sun, given by Brahma.
- The two inexhaustible quivers, full of sharp arrows, as if lit with fire, given unto him, by Mahendra (the great Indra),
- A sword decorated with gold and with a golden sheath.
Notice that at the time, that Sri Rama was given all these wonderful weapons, he had not yet run into Ravana. Yet Agastya thought that it would be good if Sri Rama were this well-armed. Agastya was the son of Varuna Deva and Urvasi as per one story.
Indra feeds Sita (Valmiki Ramayana – Aranyakanda)
Ravana abducted Sita, when they were staying at Panchavati and arranged for to stay in the Asoka Vana, till she agreed to marry him. Sita refused to eat the food offered to her by Ravana.
Then, Ravana’s paternal grandfather, Brahma asked Indra to go and feed Sita. Indra entered Lanka and told Nidra (sleep personified) to make everyone fall asleep. When everyone was asleep, Indra offered Sita Devi some ‘Havi’ to eat. ‘Havi’ is the food of the Devas. It is the uncooked grains, ghee etc offered in the Vedic Fire. Here, Indra is called SataKratu – one who has performed 100 Kratus (like Yajnas) OR a hundred times as powerful, sahasrakhsa – one who has a thousand eyes, sacipati, the husband of Sachi and Pakasasana – the controller of Paka, Sachi is a variant of Sakthi which means energy, power, competence and such things.
Indra spoke to Sita. “I am the king of the Devas. Be safe! Don’t grieve. Oh daughter of Janaka, I will help Raghava (Rama, a descendant of Raghu) achieve his goal. By my grace he will cross the pcean with strong ones. It is my illusions (maya) that these Rakshasis are under. I have brought you the anna (food) of ‘Havi’. If you eat this you will neither be hungry nor thirsty for years.” Then Sita asked him to prove that he was a Deva so that she could trust him. Then Indra showed her that his feet did not touch the ground, his eyes did not blink, his clothes didn’t get dirty and his garland did not wilt.’ Sita was very happy. She told Indra, ’I see you as a father and a father-in-law and Sri Rama now has a protector. For the sake of the Raghuvamsam, I will eat this payasam (sweet made of milk, rice and sugar).’ Then Indra left for Amaravathi.
You can find this story between the 56th and 57th sarga in the aranyakanda.
Indra’s Children :
One of Indra’s sons, Jayanta, a Kaka (crow), attacked Sita. Rama put out one of his eyes, but did not kill him. However, he sympathised with Sugreeva and killed Vali, another son of Indra’s, because Vali had taken away Sugreeva’s wife. Sugreeva and Rama had promised each other that they would help each other recover their respective wives. There is however another angle to this. The Uttarakanda tells us that Vali and Ravana concluded a treaty of friendship with Agni as the witness. (Agnisakshi). So it was clear that though Vali was Indra’s son, he would be of no help in eliminating Ravana.
Indra’s son through Kunthi was Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata, second only to Sri Krishna. Indra’s daughter Jayanti was the wife of Sukracharya and the daughter-in-law of Bhrgu Maharshi. It is stated in the Siva Purana that after Skanda was born to Siva, Indra had no children through his own wife, Saci, due to Parvathi’s sapam.
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