It happens sooner or later, that if you are searching information on Indra, some innocuous phrasing on Google guides you to some fact you’d rather not know. You discover that the Nazi SS modeled their logo from the thunderbolt, or that some members of Stormfront idolise Indra as the great Aryan hero, or that someone out there actually perceives Hitler as some sort of Indra-avatara on Earth – and if it’s possible to experience the spiritual equivalent of your jaw dropping to the ground in horror, there it is.
I write routinely on a Hindu forum online, and some months ago, someone asked “if there really are blonde gods in the Vedas or if it’s just made up.” I didn’t see – or perhaps chose not to see, in the egoistic/enthusiastic fervour of answering OHMYGOSH A QUESTION I ACTUALLY KNEW – the warning signs. I wrote a direct response, and later he revealed his true – dare I say colours, as someone hoping for a white supremacist reading of humanity’s most sacred words.
I took my post down, but saved the original text, as I thought there was truth in it, truth I didn’t want twisted and perverted as part of some racist diatribe in a hateful little corner of the Internet somewhere.
But I’m posting it here, now, for three reasons:
1. It would be nice to have some of these searches turn up actual information instead of mentally-ill bigotry.
2. Laziness. I already wrote this, so some revision and clarification gave me a blog update without much effort.
3. Indra’s transformations was a topic I meant to discuss anyway.
I am no scholar, but this “blond/white” idea of “Aryan gods” is definitely an invention with political motives.
Gold/yellow (I will address the matter of “blond” later) is the colour of the sun and the bright fire. It is the manifest hue of light, power, protection, and wealth, and in later texts, is associated with the direction East (the sunrise) and with the heavens (the sun’s abode). Many of the Vedic Devas are identified with this colour to show their glory; a deity depicted as “golden” of flesh and tresses is symbolically shown as radiating supreme splendour. It has nothing to do with racial characteristics. Colour has deeply-rooted symbolism in Hinduism, particularly in art, where different colours give us clear visual cues about a deity’s spiritual qualities.
Because Indra is the usual Vedic deity of choice for white supremacist arguments, much to my grief, I will write a few words about him in particular.
Śrī Indra is praised in Ṛgveda thus:
“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.”
The author who cites this translation also writes of him: “He is the Model (pratimāna) for all the world…He is also pratirūpa, the Prototype, of all forms of beauty.” Scripture reveals that Indra manifests in countless forms. Yet, especially in later texts, he also hides in endless illusions; he is a magic-worker and shapeshifter, whose deeds are usually wrought in disguise. Many stories exist of Indra taking surprising forms, for various reasons.
He appears as a caṇḍāla (to Utaṇka in Mahābhārata) and a Brāhmaṇa (to Yavakri in the same text), as ṛṣi Vāsiṣṭha (to Śruvāvatī in Mahābhārata) and ṛṣi Gautama (to Ahalyā in Rāmāyaṇa), as the wanderer Śunaḥsakha to test the Saptarṣi-s (Mahābhārata again). He thwarted the Asuras’ plans to reach the heavenly realms by taking the form of a wandering ascetic (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa). He is the father of Arjuna, yet fed the child Māndhātṛ from his body as a “mother” (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) and is summoned by the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka‘s words as the “wife of Vṛṣaṇaśva.”
His forms are not always human, either. He shows himself with a “dog-face” (Śunomukha) in Skanda Purāṇa. He tests King Śibi as a hawk (Rāmāyaṇa), is called to the Soma-sacrifice as the “ram of Medhātithi” and the “white deer” (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa), carried Śrī Ayyappa from the forest as a leopard, and serves as Devi Lakṣmī’s vehicle in the form of owl, Ulūka.
Even this golden colour is not constant. In Veda he is often associated with the golden hue, yet in the Hindu canon of sculpture, he is supposed to be depicted in murti form as red. To the Buddhists and Jains he is green.
These are only a few examples; I could cite many more.
So, we may see from all of these transformations that the assignment of a consistent, blond-haired, fair-skinned “body” to Indra is ridiculous. Can anyone decide which of his forms is his true appearance?
Indeed, to reduce Him to nothing more than a pale man is ignorant and woefully limited. Indra is not a glorified racial hero. He is the active, catalyzing, inspiring, relentless force of the Divine. The Vedic scholar David Frawley writes, “Indra is the seer of whom all the seers partake, the Bull of the heights whose roar is creation, the great seed syllable or original mantra OM…The supreme incarnation of the Divine Word, OM, itself is Indra.”
Unfortunately, the Westerners who first translated Vedas and made them available, did so during the era of British colonial rule. These outdated translations, because they are old and the authors are dead, are now in the public domain and are widely and freely available, so they continue to be extensively used regardless of accuracy.
And whether because of deeply-held religious convictions against the Hindu way, or because of prejudicial beliefs that Indians couldn’t possibly have produced anything intelligent, or even from a deliberate attempt to undermine Hindu faith and unity (see Max Müller as a quintessential example), most translators had many reasons to twist their words. They also lacked a grounding in Hindu theology and history, and were completely out of their depth in trying to grasp, or even approach, the profundity of Vedic thought and religion.
You can guess, then, some reasons why a Deva might have been described as “fair and blond” instead of “pure and radiant”: in the worst cases, it’s a particularly insidious piece of propaganda masked as translation. So a great and beautiful form of the Supreme was reduced to just a pale heroic guy, the hero of an epic fictional story with whom a white reader might identify, and putting a “white” king at the head of the pantheon became another “fact” to support the flat-out-wrong Aryan Invasion Theory.
Such ideas may seem credible to white supremacists and/or non-Hindus, who do not believe in the Vedic Devas as manifestations of the Absolute, and so view our Vedas as only interesting historical texts with clues about racial origins.
But no Hindu should believe such nonsense for a moment.
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