Indra is the God of Atmosphere, Storms, Rain, and Battle. Hence he controls weather, rain, thunder and lightning. Indra is a pre-Vedic supreme god or deva according the the Rigveda. With over more than two hundred and fifty hymns addressed to him, legends depict him as the most powerful foe with powers to prevent rain which nourishes Mother Earth. In his role as the supreme deity, he served as ruler over other devas who maintained Heaven and the elements, such as Agni -Fire, Varuna -Water and Surya -Sun.
He is also known as Parjanya, Purandara, Sakra. However the Puranas have a distinct story line for Parjanya to show a link as opposed to a shared name. His other name is Meghavahana. As controller of the ‘megha’ or clouds’, he is master of the clouds and is also known as ‘Maghavan. Indra is said to send thunderstorms wherever and whenever he desires. Rig Veda 2.12.7 states: ‘He under whose supreme control are horses, all chariots, and the villages, and cattle; He who gave being to the Sun and Morning, who leads the waters, He, O men, is Indra.’
BIRTH AND APPEARANCE:
Indra was begot of the sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi. Aditi had twelve sons, of whom Indra was the eleventh. Thus Indra is the only God to have come from human progenitors. However he possesses transcendent qualities; his ability to take innumerable physical forms is one such quality. He is depicted as being a muscular man, golden or reddish in color, sometimes with four very long arms. Despite his exalted status as chief demigod of the heavenly planets, his human frailties common of the material world downplay his divinity as opposed to Vedic deities. He is known for his soma intoxication, drunkenness.
Indra is the deity presiding over the hands which are said to span the entirety of the skies. When the two hands of the universal form of the Lord became manifested, with them came the power of grasping and dropping things, and after that Lord Indra appeared. In Hindu art Indra is frequently represented as having four arms: one hand holds a thunderbolt, the second wields a spear, the third holds a quiver of arrows, and the fourth carries a net of illusions and a hook for entrapping foes.
Indra is known as Vajra-dhara, the carrier of the thunderbolt – the ‘vajra’, his favorite weapon. The Vajra is circular with a hole at its center, and serves the purpose of creating both lightning and thunder. Indra also employs arrows, a net, a huge lance and the anka- a hook for the purpose of catching enemies. When portrayed with four arms, he has lances in two of his hands that resemble elephant goads. He holds only the vajra and a bow when he is shown to have two arms.
Indra rides on the King of the Elephants, Airawat, who is white in color and has four tusks. According to the Brihat Samhita, when Indra is two armed his vehicle is ‘Eravata the elephant’ and his weapon is the Vajra. In the Vishnoharmottara Purana he is four armed; his weapons and other arm positions are the Lotus, Vajra, Ankusha and he embraces his wife Shachi with his fourth arm. In Brihat Samhita and Roop Mandana he also has four arms on his Eravata vehicle and his weapons and arm positions are the Varda Mudra or giving blessings, Vajra, Ankusha and water vessel. Indra is also depicted riding a resplendent golden carriage which is drawn by two brown horses with flowing manes.
INDRA – INDRANI:
Indra happens to cast his eyes on a beautiful maiden named Sachi. He found her voluptuous and literally demanded that they be lovers. Legends have it that Sachi too was taken up by Indra’s influence in the heavens. So they had a secret tryst. Sachi was deflowered before any marriage could be arranged. In any event, her father, King Puloman learnt of the affair. He was unpleased with a sexually malingering son-in-law. He charged at Indra to punish him for depriving Sachi’s virginity. Indra unleashed his majestic appearance. Puloman was smitten and fell dead. Some legends state that Puloman was murdered by Indra. That clears the path for the couple and they leave for Indralokha, where Sachi takes the name Indrani to reflect loyalty and devotion to her husband. Despite his nocturnal activities, Indrani stood by the husband.
INDRA – ANUSUYA:
Just as Lord Brahma and Lord Siva have many faces, the King of heaven, Indra, has many eyes. This according to legends is a curse by Gautama rishi who caught Indra fiddling with his wife Anusuya. Indra, in disguise, managed to have sexual intercourse with the wife of a great sage. There are some writings to the extent that Anusuya was aware of Indra’s person as opposed to a non-performing husband in Gautama. So the story goes both ways! Indra is cursed by Gautama and that puts vaginas all over his body. Being very embarrassed and ashamed, Indra begged for pardon. The sage was compassionate and turned the vaginas into eyes; therefore Indra possesses hundreds and thousands of eyes all over his body.
Another related mythology is that Gautama’s curse renders his throne unstable. That made it easy for the asuras to defeat Indra in battle. After capture, Indra was bound in a rope and dragged all over Lanka. Hence Ravana’s son, earns the name Indrajit meaning ‘defeater of Indra’. The Trimurthi’s step in to pay ransom for Indra’s release by giving celestial weapons to Ravana. To mitigate, Indra relinquishes his God of the Gods post. Later Indra was avenged by Vishnu’s avatar, Rama The Trimuthis succeeded him as the Ruler of the Heavens.
INDRA – DITI:
The heavens were frequently under the attack of demons. Diti, married to Kashapa, is said to be a powerful earth goddess. She was filled with extreme lust. That made her a vessel for impure children born as demons ever ready to oppose gods at every turn. These demons were progressively killed by Indra at every turn to keep the heavens in peace. Nearly all the demons were killed. Diti becomes pregnant again. So she took to tantra and magic to keep all the demons in her womb from being born. Kashapa keeps fathering frequently for a century. When they were all born these group of demons would be stronger than Indra, she planned. Indra learns of this and waited patiently. At the time the demons were exiting from the womb, Indra made a thunderous shout and sent his thunderbolt. This shattered the fetus in Diti’s womb into forty nine parts. Each part became a small storm deity inferior to Indra. Indra then got to remain as the supreme god of the skies.
In pre Veda mythology, the Veda names Indra as manifestation of Para Brahman called Parmeshwara the supreme God. ‘Idi Parmeshvarye Dhatu’ added with the prefix ‘ran’ is Indra. This is the first meaning of Indra ie, Parmeshwara or God. As the protector of the east, he is also a Dikpaala or Lokapala the protector of the directions. King Indra is described as bhagavan, which is generally used in reference to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Manasottara Mountain is the abodes of four demigods. East of Sumeru Mountain is Devadhani, where King Indra lives, and south of Sumeru is Samyamani, the abode of Yamaraja, the superintendent of death. Similarly, west of Sumeru is Nimlocani, the abode of Varuna, the demigod who controls the water, and north of Sumeru is Vibhavari, where the demigod of the moon lives. As the demigod in charge of the eastern side of the universe known to be the paradise, Indra reigned over Swargaloka or Indraloka.
Thus He is the King of the ‘Swarga’ dimension or ‘Vinnulaga Athibathi’ in the Tamil language. Swarga is equivalent to heaven or ‘jagat. This heaven is called ‘swarga’ -“the good kingdom" and is populated by deceased warriors as well as those who have lived meritorious lives. The inhabitants of Swarga live without sadness, pain or fear. The gods of the elements, celestial sages, great kings and warriors enrich Indra's court, and together they watch the ‘asparas’ - female cloud spirits and their husbands the ‘gandarvas’ - male nature spirits, dance, sing and play games.
According to Aitraiya Book of Vedas, God was alone during His creations. He created various forms of energies and made them to rest on ‘pure souls’ thus after this new combination the living entity came to know about its existence. This living entity perceived its surroundings and God Himself as pervading all forms of energy. ‘Idem’ means God and ‘Adarsham’ means perceived; thus Idem Adarsham means “This is perceived” and its abbreviation “Idem Dra” later became “Indra” – the name of God. According to the Vedas, the name Indra has two meanings. Firstly it means ‘Name of God’ and secondly it means ‘a soul surrounded by a mental body meaning surrounded by various forms of mental energy. In other words the Vedas hold that Indra as the name of God means “I perceive God as pervading all around.”
Later day mythology downplayed Indra as being subordinate to the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Vedic name of Indra in the Puranic stories exposed his human character. His powers were eclipsed by the god Vishnu who became a more powerful and popular deity in classical Hinduism. Indra, then is depicted as a dull-witted, penitent and a second fiddle.
INDRA – VARUNA:
Varuna was the earlier personification of the supreme moral order in the universe in the Vedic pantheon. However, over time it is Indra in his warrior character that rises to this supreme position as Varuna is usurped in battle by Indra's brute physical strength. Indra then has unsurpassed autonomy or ‘svaraj’. His victory over Varuna consolidated his status as a slayer of enemy deities and therefore the divine protector of the Aryan way of life, particularly the warrior class, for which Indra is the patron.
Vedic myth implies tensions between the Brahmin and the warrior Kshatrya castes held in great esteem within Aryan society. Indra's rise to the top of the Vedic pantheon may mark the veneration of the militaristic principle over and above that of the life of the Brahmins. Varuna is a king by divine right, Indra is a king by conquest. Scriptures refer to Indra with titles such as Mahavendra, Purendra, Vasava, and Vaka-shana. The Rig-Veda frequently refers to Indra as Sakra meaning the mighty-one. Paradoxically ‘Indra’ came to be suffixed to other Gods. Thus Manavendra meant Lord of Men. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was referred to as Raghavendra being Indra of the clan of Raghu. Indra himself was also referred to as Devendra -Indra of the Devas. However, the titles Sakra and Vasava were used exclusively for the original Indra.
The Vedas make it clear that Indra delights in drinking soma, an energizing and possibly hallucinogenic beverage of ritual importance. It is said that his immense cosmic power is attributed to the copious quantities of soma that he consumes. Indra was not the only god or mortal that consumed soma. It was thought that the intoxicating power of soma provided both gods and mortals with such attributes as immortality and invincibility. Soma played an indispensable role in Vedic sacrifices. The beverage was offered to the gods by humans so they might maintain their transcendent qualities. While the gods moderated soma consumption offered at Vedic ceremonies, Indra was said to consume uncontrollably to increase his already immense strength, and therefore rendered him the most powerful god. Soma ritual is thus attributed to Indra. Soma is also connected to his boastfulness, lust, extra-marital affairs, adultery and murders.
Queen Kuntidevi, who could call for any one of the demigods, called for Indra and Arjuna was born of him. Arjuna is therefore a plenary part of the heavenly King Indra. Indra wanted Arjuna to come to the heavenly kingdom, the Indraloka planet beyond the moon planet. In that planet he was cordially received by the local residents, and he was awarded reception in the heavenly parliament of Indradeva. Then he met Indradeva, who not only presented him with his vajra weapon, but also taught him the military and musical science as used in the heavenly planet. Later in the Mahabaratha war, Indra tricks Karna to surrender the kundala and chest kavasa to help his offspiring.
Later mythology shows that Indra was demoted from his position at the top of the Vedic hierarchy by the Hindu Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He was relegated to the second level of minor Vedic deities. However he still maintained supremacy over these older gods. He is shown to be adversarial to various avatars of the Trinity. He is also shown more as an earthly man with frailties as opposed to Godly characteristics.
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi