Indra Goes Out

I don’t think I’ve yet devoted a post to Indra, the Hindu storm god and warrior. He was the leader of the gods and a great hero in the Rigvedas, but once the worship of the Trimurti came to dominate in India, the guy received some bad press. Indra is often used as a title rather than the name of an individual, but one particular deity who had that name seems to be common across the myths. Born fully grown and armed from the mouth of the earth goddess Prthivi, he ruled over the devas and spent much of his time fighting demons.

His most celebrated victory was that over Vritra, a demon who took the form of an enormous dragon, hoarding all the water in the world for himself.

I’ve come across a few different versions of this myth, some of which make it a creation story about separating land from water, and others having it take place after humans are already present on Earth.

Like Zeus and some other storm gods, his main weapon was the lightning bolt, but he also carried a bow and arrows, a hook, and a net.

Indra often rides in a golden chariot, but also has a flying white horse named Uchchihshravas with eight heads that came into being during the churning of the Milky Way, and a white elephant named Airavata with ten tusks and five trunks who is the lord of his kind.

The god himself is often portrayed as golden in color, and sometimes has four arms.

While Hinduism as it developed with Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu as the main gods kept Indra as part of its mythology, his position was no longer quite so important. Instead of ruling over all the gods, he was merely the leader of Svargaloka, the heavenly plane that’s higher than Earth but not as high as Vishnu’s abode. He is also often portrayed as a buffoon, drinking the intoxicating elixir known as soma to excess, having frequent affairs, and sometimes killing on a whim.

Even his slaying of Vritra was presented in a more ambiguous light, with the demon being created specifically to avenge the death of a Brahmin murdered by Indra, and the storm god needing Vishnu’s help to succeed in killing the creature. When Krishna drove the people of Gokul away from the worship of Indra, the god sent a constant torrent of rain to that area, but Krishna protected the people by lifting a mountain over the place to serve as an umbrella of sorts.

Indra was defeated and captured by Ravana, and had to be rescued by other gods. This page includes an Indra story likely inspired by that of Osiris, in which he’s cut into pieces and reassembled, but his penis has to be replaced by that of a ram.

At another time, he raped the beautiful Ahalya by disguising himself as her husband Gautama, and was punished by the husband by having what appeared to be 1000 vaginas appear on his body. Later, Gautama relented and changed the vaginas into eyes.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect depictions of Indra with a whole bunch of eyes on his body (sort of like Argus from Greek mythology) already existed, and this was a story to explain these features, as well as once again embarrass the deity. Indra does play a significant part in the Mahabharata as the father of the hero Arjuna, as well as the one who provides his son with the armor of invincibility; but even here he’s unable to stop his brother Agni from burning a forest. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

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4 Responses to Indra Goes Out

  1. Pingback: I Want to Ragnarok All Night | VoVatia

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  4. Pingback: Pandering to Pandavas | VoVatia

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