My final post on this subject is of a more mundane nature than the spiritual speculations of the last post – just a few thoughts regarding worship at the New Moon, and how the sānnāyya story might be useful on a practical level, with perhaps a few thoughts even for those who are not devotees.
Monthly Archives: Aug 2011
I am saddened sometimes, to feel such for a God whose worship is dying out.
Without a teacher in the Vedas or fellow worshippers to guide me on this path, I pray, chant, and research the best that I can. I read anything I can find which mentions Indra in any way, and I take from any text what lessons I may.
From the story I posted earlier, here are some thoughts, and why this tale is dear to me.
Based on instructions in the Brāhmaṇa texts – which were intended for the instruction of Vedic priests, and not for random schlubs like me, but such is the wonder of the Internet that I get to read them despite my schlubbiness – I keep fast at both Amāvasyā (New Moon) and Pūrṇimā (Full Moon) each month. However, it’s Amāvasyā that has my heart. It’s my favourite day of every month.
Most Hindus would not consider this day so special. The darkness of the moon is not considered auspicious for anything except the practice of austerities. But it’s sacred to Indra as slayer of Vṛtra. Its significance ties deeply into the triumph over evil, the defeat of enemies (including the aspirant’s inner enemies, like despair and selfishness), and the value of sacrifice, “giving back” to the Devas what they give to us. The text, to me, suggests that it is also the one day each month when anyone might, in a sense, “offer Soma.”
In the Vedic worldview, Man has an essential place in the right order of the universe. And during the vulnerable times of transformation, the junctions – such as Amāvasyā, a time between one moon and the next, poised between darkness and light – people have specific actions to perform. Even though most of us today do not, and cannot, perform the full lunar sacrifices enjoined in the traditional texts, knowing and contemplating these duties may teach much about the right order of the universe, the Ṛta.
But why is Amāvasyā so vital? What has Indra – known best to modern Hindus as the god of war and rain – to do with the Moon?
To get some ideas, we turn to the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, specifically section I.6.4, which gives a very interesting description and explanation of certain sacrificial rites to be performed at the New Moon (Amāvasyā). I’ve provided a translated excerpt beneath the cut.
It’s not crucial to read the entire thing – it’s long and can be a little confusing – but I will be mentioning some parts of the story in my next post. So if you want to know what the heck I’m talking about, the relevant excerpts are given in bold print.
Knowledge is a good foundation from which to raise oneself in life.
So is a pile of bricks.
I post sometimes on a Hindu forum online, and one recent question raised there asked members – particularly Hindu converts – to share false assumptions about India, Hindus, and Hinduism that they’d held when first starting on their path. The original poster explained that knowing about common misconceptions might help guide others away from making the same mistakes. It was an excellent point, and I’ve decided to give excerpts from my own reply here.
Lord Indra will give a bride to a groom who is ready to marry, and He is also the protector of the unborn and of children. Even those who barely know his qualities or stories will sometimes listen to his mantras during pregnancy, or ask his strength and wisdom for a specific purpose. For Indra is life, with all of its verdant insistence, and so is invoked to spark the processes that unite and continue life – both the creation and survival of the individual person, and the sustenance of the society in which s/he lives.
Instead of writing about worship, or other topics that I have wanted to address for a while, I started thinking tonight about Indra as life, and specifically, in one of his more beautiful and unusual forms: Mother.
Below the cut, I’ve posted (and will continue to update) names of Indra that are not included in his sahasranāma. These are epithets used in the Brāhmaṇas, Itihāsas, and Purāṇas and, for the most part, are not found in the Veda Saṃhitās.
Last update 17 July 2012.
The wisdom and beauty of the Vedas are pervasive, and seem persuasive even to those who want to remain skeptical. The author of this particular book from 1895 views Varuṇa as a just, dignified, ethical God – who was unfortunately displaced by the decadent, passionate, immoral Indra – and writes quite a bit about how the “ascension” of Indra represents a fall of Aryan spirituality. But Phillips also, almost grudgingly, follows that assertion with this rather astonishing paragraph:
“In their efforts to find suitable epithets to celebrate the greatness of Indra, the old Rishis exhaust the language of the Vedas. He is the Supreme God, the architect of all things, surpassing in power all former generations of gods and creatures, daring in spirit, deriving his power from himself; the creator of the earth, the sky, the sun, moon and stars; the ruler of all things movable and immovable; the leader of gods; the lord of the lofty sky, the lord of the sacred assembly, the lord of the joy-inspiring Soma-juice, the lord of horses, of cattle, and of mansions. He is the primeval, most resplendent divinity; mighty, wise, true, holy, everlasting, swift, joyful, void of fear, loving glory, skilled in all science, shepherd of men, performer of a hundred sacrifices; the awful god, whose counsels not all the gods are able to frustrate. He is the cow that produces the water of life, the great bull in the air, the being that stops the breath of life, that drives away disease and all hurtful and malicious foes. He is omniscient and omnipresent. He hears and sees all things (visvam srinoti pasyati). ‘He is both just and merciful’; ‘he punishes and pardons. He hears prayer, and through faith in him the strong acquire spoils in the day of battle.’ He surpasses heroes in his greatness; the earth and heaven suffice not for his girdle. He orders the earth to be his garment, and god-like, wears the heaven as it were a gauntlet.”
I wonder what sort of utopia Mr. Phillips believed the Vedic world to be, with Varuṇa as Supreme, if the above passage describes the God who represents a “decline” of Vedic virtue!
I am reminded of God in words and songs of love, for indeed who else indeed would be the end result of all of love’s longings?
Today on Rakṣa Bandhan, I think about how the ultimate thread of love and protection is the one that binds us to God. Here are some poems that brought Him to my thoughts today.
Ecstasy (Sarojini Naidu)
Cover mine eyes, O my Love!
Mine eyes that are weary of bliss
As of light that is poignant and strong
O silence my lips with a kiss,
My lips that are weary of song!
Shelter my soul, O my love!
My soul is bent low with the pain
And the burden of love, like the grace
Of a flower that is smitten with rain:
O shelter my soul from thy face!
Oh Love (Rumi)
O Love, O pure deep Love, be here, be now,
Be all – worlds dissolve into your
stainless endless radiance,
Frail living leaves burn with your brighter
than cold stares –
Make me your servant, your breath, your core.
The Poet’s Love-Song (Sarojini Naidu)
In noon-tide hours, O Love, secure and strong,
I need thee not; mad dreams are mine to bind
The world to my desire, and hold the wind
A voiceless captive to my conquering song.
I need thee not, I am content with these:
Keep silence in thy soul, beyond the seas!
But in the desolate hour of midnight, when
An ecstasy of starry silence sleeps
And my soul hungers for thy voice, O then,
Love, like the magic of wild melodies,
Let thy soul answer mine across the seas.
I am beginning to think that the Holi festival may be like the Christian Easter, in the sense of a very ancient celebration that gradually had layers of significance and symbolism added to it. The Moon times have always carried a special weight vis-à-vis Indra, but the Full Moon of Phālguna month, in particular, seems important, and I think that this time may have other, forgotten meaning. There are three stories associated with Holi, and – not surprisingly, because I’m incredibly biased – I consider all three to link to Indra in some fashion.
“Smite not asunder my desire, O Maghavan, thou art he that commands it and thou art he that giveth.”
I remember this thought tonight with a smile and a sigh; it is, I think, one of the most wonderful verses in the ṚV. How magnificent, that the fulfilment of all desire is also desire’s source, that the longing we feel to reach Him is the very longing He placed within us.
Such a marvelous and passionate universe which moves upon this desire, such a gift of boundless love.
Can even a single second of such life be dull, in the quiet moments of such realisations?
Occasionally I will post beautiful quotations, inspiring links, and other excellent reads as I come across them…
…and Hymns from the Vedas is a marvelous read! Bose writes such loving, poetic words about not only the Vedic hymns, but the Vedic religion and the Devas. If you seek to understand the Vedas as a comprehensive vision of the cosmos, this book is a must-read. If, like me, you have a soft spot for Indra, it will break your heart with happiness.
Bose’s description of Indra’s epithets and qualities – my favourite passage in the entire book – is quoted below the cut.
(I’ve reproduced Bose’s transliteration scheme for the Sanskrit words as it appears in the book.)