“Here in the garden, fountain of life
Here in the garden, arcane delights
Are born from the womb.
Down here the seed will rise,
from dark earth to the light,
to kiss the sun again.”
–Brendan Perry, Crescent
Sometimes the Devas’ gifts are inadvertent, or at least made to seem so. I begin this section with five plants created by “clumsiness.”
Without temple worship or other devotees to guide me, I had no idea how to please Lord Indra, no knowledge of what specific offerings were His and what He might like best. Of course the Lord of Life sanctifies all beings; on a higher level, we know that there is no-one with whom He is not associated, no life where He is not. But on the earthly plane, this knowledge of special gifts is like the wish to prepare the favourite foods of a visiting family member – something one discovers with anticipation and delight – and is also essential information, both for understanding a God’s essence and for avoiding inadvertent ineptitude (for there are some items which are specifically not given to certain Hindu Gods). While I have not found any “taboos” regarding Indra, there are some growing things which possess qualities that resemble His deeds, attributes, or names, and these gifts of the Earth are especially sacred to Him.
While the imbibing of intoxicants (pāna) is a relatively minor “crime” in Hindu śāstra, the texts mostly agree in recommending that a spiritual seeker avoid alcohol. The substance is considered to derange the senses, damage the body, and promote negative actions by weakening self-control. From what I have read, also, Hindu culture looks down upon the drinking of alcohol, and especially drunkenness, as a decadent and dirty Western deed.
In Ayurvedic medicine no substance is outright rejected. Rather, the truth of the Guṇas (qualities or principles) is taught, with all manifest conditions being Sattvik (pure, clear), Rajasik (aggressive, active), or Tamasik (inert, ignorant); the practitioner is taught to understand these properties and then select treatments according to desired effects. Alcohol is classified as a Tamasik beverage, promoting darkness in the mind and wreaking damage upon the channel-systems (srotamsi) within the body. Yet alcohol also has a medicinal utility, because it possesses a subtle, penetrating effect that can carry healing herbal essences to the deepest tissues, and an herbal tincture or medicinal wine (called drakṣa) may be administered to alleviate certain conditions. However, even Ayurveda’s approach to liquor as a double-edged sword never extends to a tolerance of dissipation.
Personally, I love the translation of somarasa as “Soma-wine,” the word “wine” bringing to my mind such delightful associations as the sacred frenzy of Bacchantes, the sharing of the ritual-cup, and the pouring of libations. But others understand Soma as mere liquor, and translate Vedic hymns to describe the Devas – Indra chief among them – as besotted with booze.
I try not to talk about myself or my personal journey on this blog, because there’s so much ego on the Internet, and too little Indra. However, my personal life explains my blog’s long gaps between posts: I’ve been working 80 hours a week since April, and I am tired, y’all.
There are tons of lengthy posts I have on the back-burner, but I’m flagging in energy and willpower to write my lengthy monologues. Since I do my best and most enthusiastic work when someone else requests it, I’m asking for help with motivation.
Do you have a question, thought, or idea about Indra? Do you want to know something about me, my religious past or my present as a Western Hindu? Did you come to this site with a question that hasn’t yet been answered by the blog?
Please ask, in the comments. I’ll try to answer anything I can. Thanks in advance – I hope!
© 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.
“The diet of the owl is not
For delicate digestions.
He goes out on a limb to hoot
And just because he winks like men
Who utter sage advice,
We think him full of wisdom when
He’s only full of mice.”
He is the ruler of the secretive night, mystical and wise; he is an ill-omened sight, foolish and ignorant. These are opposing perceptions of both Indra and the Owl, and in this post I want to discuss the god’s appearance as the avian.
A vāhana is an animal who bears a deity in travel between the worlds. Each Deva is borne by a vāhana who suits his nature and power; bright Kalki brandishes a sword from atop a pure white horse, ego-destroying Kārtikeya is master of the vain peacock, and much-feared Śani rides upon a baleful crow. Husbands and wives do share a vāhana sometimes – so that we see both Brahmā and Sarasvatī depicted with a swan, or Indra and Śacī sitting together upon the royal elephant – but each deity also possesses his own vehicle. (1)
The vāhana is not usually worshipped as a separate deity, but commands the respect due a great devotee and is sometimes worshipped with the attendant Deva. There are two exceptions to that semi-divinity: Ayyappa’s leopard (or tiger) and Lakṣmī’s owl are both forms of beloved Indra. Indra is the lone Deva who bears other Devas in this way. (2)
As Lakṣmī’s bearer, Indra is named Ulūka and depicted as the “barn” or “ghost” owl found throughout north India:
I talk with the moon, said the owl, while she lingers over my tree.
I talk with the moon, said the owl, and the night belongs to me.