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.)
“He has been spoken of as the strongest (ojishtha), mightiest (sushmintama), most vigorous (inatama), most powerful (savishṭha), most potent (sahishṭha), most heroic (nṛitama), greatest among chariot-borne warriors (rathitama), and the conqueror (jetṛi). He differs from the primitive hero in that he is the Champion of Ṛta, and is undaunted and unwearied in his fight against Vṛitra, the enemy of Ṛta: so he is the supreme Vṛitra-slayer (vṛitrahantama). He is the ideal Kshatriya, unbending and firm, and unfailing in his resourcefulness. The poet says of him:
He whom we worship bows not to the firm or to the stiff,
or to the challenger incited by the ruthless foe;
To Indra the lofty mountains are as plains,
and in the deeps there is a foot-hold for him.
Indra is not only the most valiant (as compared to men) but also the most liberal (maṃhisththa), the most compassionate (avṛikatama), the greatest among the good (satām jyesṭhatama), the noblest (varishṭha), the best sage (vipratama), the most beneficent (śivatama), the most beloved (preshṭha), the most fatherly of fathers (pitṛitama pitṛīnām), the nearest (antama), and the best of gladdeners (mandintama). Whenever the poet sings of Indra his heart is lifted, the spirit of courage and action fills the atmosphere, and the language brings the thrill of a new life, and the urge of an indomitable will. Hero of heroes, Indra helps man by rousing all that is heroic within him. In the exhortation of Indra to win his autonomy (by defeating Vṛitra), there is also the exhortation to man to win spiritual svarājya by fighting to victory the powers of evil. ‘Be heroic, brothers, following the example of Indra’ – imam sajātā anu vīrayadhvam – is the call of the sage. Indra has eternal youth in him – ‘Years do not age him, nor do months and days wear out Indra’, and they are brave fighters and faithful worshippers ‘who have Indra as their youthful friend’. Indra is the Saviour (tātṛi), the Protector (avitṛi), and sages pray to him for bliss (svasti). The poet goes into lyrical ecstasies singing and praying to him.
Mighty Indra, with the sweetest of songs
I catch thy garment’s hem as a child the father’s.
The worshipper of Indra has the loyalty of the soldier to his leader: ‘I will not sell thee, Thunder-wielder, for the highest price, – not for a thousand, nor for ten thousand, nor for an infinite sum, O Lord of countless wealth.’ With his heroism, which sometimes overawes us by its fury and terror, there also goes another aspect of Ṛta – beauty and glory – and these receive the poet’s ardent admiration. ‘He moves with steeds yoked to Ṛta, making men happy by the chariot-nave that finds the light.’ Indra’s glory manifests his transcendental nature. Not even a hundred heavens or a hundred earths, or even a thousand suns could match his being. He is the Model (pratimāna) for all the world. He ‘is clad in a vesture beautiful as heaven to look on’ and (like Śiva of later literature) ‘has been an active dancer (nṛitu).’ He is also pratirūpa, the Prototype, of all forms of beauty:
For each and every form he is the Model,
it is his form that is to be seen everywhere;
Indra by his charm (māyā) moves in many forms,
truly, his bay steeds are yoked a thousand times.
In Indra we find not only the poet’s mythopoeic imagination surrendering itself to his transcendental vision, as in the case of other Devas, but a near approach to the human personality through a fairly detailed working of the former. And, what is of greater consequence, Indra’s personality is shown in two distinct aspects, the heroic and the beautiful. In the transcendental sense, Indra is the One (ekaḥ), the Single (kevalaḥ), the Ultimate (paraḥ), the Supreme (paramaḥ), the Primal (prathamaḥ), the Great (mahān). As a Deva (manifested Divinity), he is coexistent with Ṛta and Satya, and is the Saviour (trātā), the Rescuer (pātā), the Purifier (pāvaka), and the Leader through the path of goodness (sunitiḥ). As Hero (śūraḥ) Indra is the Destroyer of wicked powers (vṛitrahā, ghnan vṛitrāṅi), the Conqueror unconquered (jetā aparājitaḥ), Lord (patiḥ), and King and Ruler over his own divine dominion, made free from Vṛitra’s or the enemy’s aggression (svarāt), and the Lord of the people (ganapatiḥ). But he is also the beautiful (cāruḥ), the most wonderful (citratamaḥ), the marvellous (daṃsanā), beauty itself (vapuḥ), clad in loveliness (śriyam vasānā), the Lovely One (Venaḥ). And he is a Lover (jāraḥ), longing in love (uśanā), a friend (sakhā), a household friend (damunā), ‘the bountiful One’ (maghavā), a Poet (kaviḥ), a Dancer (nṛituḥ), joyous (mandraḥ), and gladdening (maṇḍamānaḥ). He is graceful through strength (savasā dakshiṇāvān). In spite of the rudeness that has sometimes gone with his heroism, Indra is most wonderful as a person and illustrates on a grand scale the combination of valour and tenderness as well as of majesty and beauty in the ideal hero. It is not without significance that he has been addressed as both Father and Mother and worshipped with deep longings of love through ecstatic songs.”