Monthly Archives: June 2012

A banner day.

In 1905, an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda – christened Margaret Noble, but renamed Niveditā by Vivekananda – suggested a national flag for independent India. Hers was a lovely and carefully-considered design: a square scarlet banner, and in gold, a border of 108 lamps – with the Vajra, between Bengali “Bonde Mataram,” at centre. Sister Niveditā included Vajra as an emblem of divine power, to symbolise India’s endurance and strength; on an esoteric level, she correctly viewed Vajra as a representation of sacrifice and, appropriately, the destruction of illusion.

Niveditā revised the flag several times before having a prototype crafted:

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On strike! Wait, no, on fire.

In thinking about the thunder god’s different forms, I see a common thread: these deity-forms tend to be the volatile, charismatic, colourful “characters” of their pantheons, with lusty appetites and vivid tales spun round them.

Certainly I can understand the tempestuous traits, the storm naturally manifesting its presiding god, but how did lightning get paired with vivacity? In literature we sometimes read of attraction feeling like a jolt, but this is a modern simile: we know the “buzz” of a sudden shock because we have electricity. In ancient times, the vast majority of the people who experienced that electric flash, had about a millisecond to process how it felt, before getting a serious case of dead. The bolt lights the sky, makes day of night, and in an indirect way heralds life because it foreshadows the vital rain. But that’s rather like honouring rocks as life-bringers because they eventually erode into soil in which things grow – not inaccurate, but a bit of a stretch.

In 1952, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey decided to wake up, have some cookies, and get working on how life originated on planet Earth*. So they rigged up a primordial soup of chemicals, exposed it to the conditions of the ancient world’s atmosphere in microcosm, and shocked it to simulate lightning. Within a few weeks they had amino acids – the building blocks of proteins, which are essential to all overpriced health foods and/or life as we know it. The Miller-Urey experiment is still considered one of the niftiest uses of science ever.

Of course, being that Veda records all knowledge, this “discovery” was already given to the ṛṣis long ago, in the life-giving character of the God who frees the waters and wields the bolt, the primordial ocean awakened to life by the touch of lightning. Whether it happens in the spiritual realm or in laboratory flasks, it’s genesis, magic.

Other aspects of the Devas are also illumined by envisioning the pre-recorded past. For example, consider that in Vedas Indra and Agni are sometimes hymned together; in later writing they are even said to be twins. The first flame known to mankind was likely the wildfire of the lightning-strike, and those echoes seem to resound in the Devas’ hymns: Indra, the most ancient and ever-active, and Agni, the youngest and ever new-born.

In exploring lightning further, we find Indra’s bolt represented as the Vajra – :points to her user icon: THAT – a curious double-edged thing that looks like two forks stuck together by the handles. This spiky lightning was also depicted in the hands of other ancient thunder-wielders, like Marduk. But since Vedic religion wasn’t pictorial, we don’t know when or how this image got associated with Indra.

And the image itself seems strange, doesn’t it? A later Purāṇic story tells that a great sage gave up his life to help the Devas, and that his spine was used to make Vajra. It’s a beautiful tale with a great teaching, but not helpful for explaining how Vajra looks, because anyone with a vertebral column shaped like that, needs to see a chiropractor, stat. And if you consider Vajra as a weapon, then it still makes no sense: almost any way you hold it, the projectile lash would strike you as well as everyone else.

However – for those of us who are not poet-seers and don’t receive our answers directly from the Source – we have SCIENCE, which clarifies the mirror-image Vajra wonderfully. We now know that lightning is more of an ionic exchange between earth and sky, and that the most visibly luminous part of the flash is actually the “return stroke” that travels from earth skyward. Energy travels downward, energy travels upward; the process is hard to see with the naked eye, but Vajra is a simple artistic representation of how lightning actually works. Incidentally, the average lightning bolt can be positively- or negatively-charged; the negative has an average current of 30 kA (kiloamperes) the positive 300 kA. The average stroke lasts for 30 msec, and a typical strike is made of 3 strokes. That blood-stirring, ‘charged’ scent of lightning air – ozone – is O3. And Vajra has three prongs on each side.

Anyhow, nothing earth-shattering (lightning! earth-shattering! ha!), just a few random thoughts from today. And as the strike of lightning is often sudden and unexpected, so is the conclusion of blog posts.

*I admit to some shoddy research here. There may or may not have been cookies involved.

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lord Indra…lllllladies.

From the beginning to the end of this existence, Indra is there.

Before the child’s first breath, Indra protects the unborn one in the womb. He helps both mother and child both through the difficult and painful separation and birth into this world. For long has he been sung petitions of growth, strength, and health.

He is the guardian of youth, particularly young girls. Once in Cambodia maidens were called the brides of Indra, held in Indra’s trust until they married young mortal men. It is from Indra’s curse, and blessing, that blood comes to women. Men bleed for war, and death; women bleed for life, my once-teacher told me, and Indra is battle and life both.

He too is the wife-giver; he guides the young woman as bride to the one who seeks her, and is called to the marriage-fire to bless and give increase. Though divider he is also the joiner of two into one; it is known that Indra and Indrāṇī are two halves of each other: Śakra and Śacī, the primordial Śiva-Śakti.

To the wedded wife then he comes: to heal the rejected one, to make the barren flow with milk, to bring children to the childless, to grant release from despair. Because he respects no ties, he destroys all bonds, and so exposes the truth of love.

And it is Indra in the end who hears the mumblings of an old woman on the indifference of immortal to mortal, and rights her wrongs, and it is Indra’s heaven – not a place, but light and boundless freedom – to which he as psychopomp may bring the weary spirit.

Indra is so much a part of a woman’s life unseen, his only friends I have known have been female, and of course this would be so; He is intimate to women, binding and freeing, accepting alike prayers for delight in this world and austerities for knowledge beyond. He is tender strength and lightning joy and a thousand eyes that see what others do not, and how could a woman not love?

Kind God to those who sing thy praise,
O Soma-drinker, Thunder-armed, Friend of our lovely-featured dames…
What mortal, O immortal Dawn, enjoyeth thee? Where lovest thou? To whom, O radiant, dost thou go?
For we have had thee in our thoughts whether anear or far away.

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A bunch of bull?

I used to own a book called Images from Vedic Hymns and Rituals, and in a spirit of moronic generosity, I took copious notes on the volume and then passed it on to a religious scholar. Now all I have remaining are my notes, which I’m going to attempt to use in presenting one of author Sadashiv Dange’s really interesting points. All mistakes are mine.

In chapter 18, the names Śipiviṣṭa and Śiprin, Vedic names of Indra, are introduced, and analysed as relating to fertility. (The chapter gives more information in support of this: a) other epithets, like Sthavira, and b) aspects of Indra’s worship related to vitality – like Indra’s flagstaff, in which he rightly sees the prototypical liṅgaṃ. For this post, I’m just using the linguistic links.)

The word-root Dange offers for both names is śas – meaning to jump or be active, and also holding a sexual double-entendre. Such a reading would tie nicely to Indra’s nature as the active, aggressive, fertilising principle, as essentially Tejas personified.

Śipi is currently translated as the sacrificial flames, and Śipiviṣṭa therefore as “effulgent” or “surrounded by rays of light.” In modern times, the name is Viṣṇu’s, and its concept is beautifully displayed in representations of Śiva Nāṭaraja, as well.
Dange purports that the original Śipiviṣṭa refers to the one who has entered as lord – which I read as the life-giving essence – and also interprets śipi as a piercing horn or digging tool with, again, a reference to the male principle.

Śiprin (and Śipriṇī-vān) is a name that has rather stumped scholars. The problem is that the words śipra (singular) and śipre (plural) relate to the sacrifice somehow, but have never been satisfactorily translated, being alternately suggested as “jaw” or “ladle.” This one is sometimes translated as “having capacious jaws,” as Indra’s capacity for Soma is vast.

Dange points out that epithets are usually uttered in praise or increase of the God, and that “having a face” or “using jaws” doesn’t add much to Indra’s characterisation. He suggests a different idea: śipra as an animal horn or horn-shaped receptacle, proposing that the śipra was a Soma-vessel, the original drinking-horn. This would make Śipriṇī-vān the lord of the horned beings and – by extension – Śiprin the wearer or bearer of the horn-vessels. This, again, relates to vigour and fecundity (as do the myriad Vedic references to Indra as Ram and Bull).

What makes me grin is the implication: that – besides possibly wearing the prototype of the horned helmet that we usually associate with Vikings, Wagner operas, and Marvel Comics – Indra may also have been the original Horned God. Which means I’ve technically been worshipping him for fifteen years now. Which amuses me, and thus is the entire reason for this post.

“If you wake to the sound of a hunting horn, dance a ring in the gathering storm,
revel in the chase and let your heartbeat run, but you’d best be ready, little one,
You’d best be ready when the Horned One comes.
He will call you out, make you sweat, give you a blessing that you’ll never forget.
So revel in the chase and let your heartbeat run: Blessed are the children of the Horned One!”
-S.J. Tucker, from “Hymn to Herne,” which is a great song.

My Current Music, Which Has Nothing to Do With Anything: :Wumpscut:, “Evoke”

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© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ṛgveda X.54.

From January to March, I took Oxford’s Vedas and Upanishads introduction online, and wrote the final essay: a 2,000-word paper, exploring any selected Vedic or Upanishadic excerpt in depth, relating the text to the other literature we had studied and to Hindu thought overall. The instructor’s corrections were helpful, and my final grade was a (British) 69, equivalent in the American/Canadian system to an 89/B+; I’m not disappointed, given six years since my last university coursework and an amateur attempt besides.

Since it is relevant to the content of this blog – a brief explanation and interpretation of one of my favourite Vedic hymns, Ṛgveda X.54, to Indra – I’m posting it here, without edits. Anything inspired is Indra’s; anything facile, dumb, or just plain wrong, I take full credit!

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