The Vedic religion of the fourfold godhead – Agni, Soma, Sūrya, Indra – embodies the understanding of everything as yajña; the outer ritual, of offering substances into the sacred fire, is the material form of a process which occurs at every level of existence. A human birth gives a tremendous opportunity to awaken the soul’s inner fire and to aspire to bliss, light, and truth, to walk among Devas as equal and to realise the underlying Godhead, Brahman, beyond all.
Each person can “become Indra,” not through the literal action of undertaking a set number of ceremonies and earning a heavenly crown, but through the understanding of every breath, moment, and action as sacrifice of one into the next, and through the awakening of that wild, noble, heroic spirit within, which seeks for Truth alone.
The Vedic yajña-rite is rarely performed now, but the ideal of life-as-sacrifice continues:
“Every single act of one who would lead a life of purity should be in the nature of yajña. Yajña having come to us with our birth, we are debtors all our lives, and thus for ever bound to serve the universe. And even as a bond slave receives food, clothing and so on from the master whom he serves, so should we gratefully accept such gifts as may be assigned to us by the Lord of the universe. What we receive must be called a gift; for as debtors we are entitled to no consideration for the discharge of our obligations. Therefore, we may not blame the Master, if we fail to get it. Our body is His to be cherished or cast away according to His will.”
This is what we praise of that Indra called Śatayajña: not one who has earned a position by pouring substances into a hundred fires, but one who, as an embodied Deva, shines with the merit of immeasurable generosity, one whose very being is sacrifice and who, thus, is able to rightly say of Himself that He is Truth, Life, and Light.
When I write here about offering to Indra, I write not with the thought of the complex Vedic rituals, rites from which I am excluded anyway, but with the thought of yajña in my mind, and of feeding the fire of my own yearning for Him.
“Invoking him, the more recent ones
Have reached out to your former ancient deeds of fame, Indra.
Just in as much as we understand,
So do we praise you, hero brought by prayer, mighty one.”
Sometimes I start to think of offerings to God as foolish – as juvenile, wishful, or useless – asking myself what Lord could possibly need or want from any person, much less me. But to think this way is to forget the omnipresence of yajña and to encourage the lower self – with all of its cynical, jaded, fearful thoughts – instead of engaging the higher awareness. It is to treat Lord like an imaginary friend instead of a genuine, vital consciousness, and perform only mechanical actions without the deeper wisdom. (1)
And when such thoughts arise, I remember this verse:
“He reflected (upon it): ‘Should I offer? Should I not offer?’ His own greatness said to him: ‘Offer!’ Then Prajāpati realized: ‘My own (svā) greatness has spoken (āha) it to me.’ So he offered it saying svāhā.”
—Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa II.2.4.6.
The verse continues, explaining how this sacrifice of Prajāpati’s is the first agnihotra, but this one portion suffices for me. I love it. This is what acts when true offering is given: the greatness, the longing luminous spirit, within each of us.
For it is ātma-yajña, the sacrifice of self into Self, that is the real fruit, the inner meaning, of all Vedic worship. It is our privilege, not only duty, to banish egotistical thoughts, and honour the Self instead of hoarding things for solitary, selfish enjoyment. It is Lord’s generosity to accept what we give and guide us to greater heights – not out of need for the objects we give, but from recognising and responding to our need for Him.
I write as a lover of Indra, but with the hope that these words might serve others, regardless of path or particular devotion.
I have already written about many plants and substances that are sacred to Indra. Of course, each worshipper will find their own meaningful offerings, as communion grows between God and devotee over time. To the “official” list I add my own, herbs that say Indra to me, though I can’t offer any references in support:
Aśvagandhā (Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera):
This versatile herb reduces Vāta and Kapha doshas, is strengthening and warming, and serves as a rejuvenative (rasayana) in Ayurvedic medicine. Śatāvarī (Asparagus racemosus) herb has a similar utility for women, but I personally prefer the strong-smelling aśvagandhā.
(Interestingly, aśvagandhā is a nightshade; it shares a family with the deadly henbane, whose illustration I included in the last post just for amusement.)
Bhiṇḍa (Bhindi, Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus):
Okra has an aphrodisiac value in the herbal correspondences of several cultures, and a mucilaginous property that alludes to Indra’s connections with water. (And because okra is included in the cuisine of both India and Louisiana, It marks a rare intersection between my Southern upbringing and my Hindu way of life.)
Finally, okra is the most delicious vegetable ever.
Elā: (Elaichi, Cardamom, Elettaria genus):
Aromatic, intriguing, incomparable, cardamom is both soothing and refreshing, like a sudden summer rain; it is a very precious spice.
Meḍhī (Methi, Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum):
The local market here has just made fresh methi leaves available in the last year; they are quite surprising, with a piquant, peppery flavour. Fenugreek tea stimulates milk in lactating mothers, and also increases libido, among other medicinal uses.
One of the most heart-warming parts of Hindu worship is when food cooked for the Deva’s pleasure is offered during pūjā. This blessing is a part of every Hindu’s life, whether accepting prasād from the temple or making naivedyaṁ at home. There are many recipes available that incorporate the plants sacred to Indra, which I mentioned in earlier posts; these are only a few.
- Banh Bo Nuong: This pandan and coconut cake recipe is a rather entertaining read and includes lots of pictures (and even suggests a brand of tapioca starch with the logo of a three-headed elephant, i.e. Indra’s mount Airāvata).
- Ragi Kuzhi Appam: Remember that delightful story about ragi from the last post? This is where it came from, along with a good recipe that uses ragi, rice, and cardamom to create sweet dumplings.
- Mor Kozhambu: This recipe incorporates turmeric, coconut, curd, methi, and rice and is made and served for Bhogi (13 January) – the first day of Pongal festival in which Indra is honoured.
- ‘Indrabhog’: Saffron, sweet milk, and decadence go into this well-named sweet dish. Another rich recipe is the “Decadent Kheer” described here, which incorporates elaichi, milk, rice, and ghee.
Thick, soft rice dishes are a fine sattvik offering and may be made from countless recipes worldwide. (Two tasty forms are the ojiya of Japan and the Spanish beverage orchata.) I use red rice in making these.
Fruits are an excellent offering in pūjā, and in researching these essays, I discovered that every fruit traditionally associated with Indra is a stone-fruit or drupe. Some of the most nutritious, strengthening, and delicious foods known to man fall into this category. (Even coffee beans are technically drupes.) So it would seem that any edible fruit which grows in this way would be a suitable offering to Indra, especially the ones that are aphrodisiac and fortifying, like avocado and almond.
Nearly all of Indra’s plants have similar medicinal uses:
- the relief of inflammation and pain,
- the soothing of gastrointestinal sicknesseses (like diarrhea and dysentery),
- the support of fertility and pregnancy,
- the restoration of health, vigour, and vitality, and/or
- the treatment of diabetes and other endocrine conditions.
His medicines tend to be tridoshic, Pitta-reducing (soothing), or Kapha-reducing (invigorating). These qualities may help someone in the West choose equivalent medicinal plants, where the Indian herbs can’t be had.
To keep sickness at bay, and promote overall well-being and fortitude, brew a kashayam (like this one), freshly each day for eleven days. Offer to Him each day with prayers, then take as a blessing and an elixir. Any medicinal tea becomes a true panacea when crafted with devotion for Him. (In fact, Ayurveda teaches that the Supreme is the great Healer, and that ending our separation from the Divine is the ultimate cure for all sickness.)
Incense is both medicinal and fragrant, carrying devotion in air and ether, and is found in many different varieties. As this beautiful offering is used in pūjā anyway, it makes sense for me to choose what aligns with Him; this lively olfactory world is a delight to explore.
Flowers, too, may be offered – by the bud, handful, or garland – in worship, but the beautiful tropical florals of India are rarer in most Western places. (Indeed, as I write this, the earth outside my window is a pale expanse of snow and glassy ice; for much of the year, nothing at all blooms in central Canada.)
Every plant of Indra’s produces a fragrant red-orange, yellow, or white flower, showing the luminous shadings of the Sun and the Heavens. So I suggest that any flower of these colours may be offered to Him, particularly if it has a sweet aroma.
In lieu of flowers that are unavailable – by season, climate, or both – a worshipper may find inexpensive floral waters, which are very good to use for abhisheka of images or poured out as fluid offerings. (Of Indra’s plants, rose, kewra, neem, saffron, and sandalwood waters are all available.) Essential oils, perfumes, or attars may also be used, in abhisheka (by adding a few drops to water) or as a pure scent-offering.
The Suprabhedāgama tells us that the tips of flowers are the Lokapālas, the petal-centers are the Maruts, and the flower bases are the Vasus. Yet Indra encompasses all of these as leader and foremost; He is the very fullness of the opened flower.
Time, too, is an offering, each moment devouring the last.
Indra’s particular days, besides the occasions covered in the ‘calendar’ here, are the tithis of Pūrṇimā (Full Moon), Amāvasyā (New Moon), Saptamī (the seventh of the waxing and waning moon), and Trayodaśī (the thirteenth). As Lord of Indrāṇī and Śrī, He also is connected to the Aṣṭamī (eighth). And if one considers his connections to other deities, like the Hindu Skanda and the Egyptian Ra, the Ṣaṣṭhī (sixth) day is also appropriate.
Monday (the Somvar or Moon-day) relates to Him as Lord of Bliss, of meditation and realisation. Thursday is also His as Lord of justice, the demon-slayer, and the wielder of Vajra.
His sacred numbers seem to be 7, 11, and 13; I also feel that 5 is important to Him, though I cannot give any source justifying that impression.
Even the body itself may be an offering to God, so that every deed – from the unconscious details of daily dress and adornment, to more complex and deliberate actions undertaken – becomes worship.
Indra’s colours are the purity of white, the black of the rain-cloud and the night-sky, the warm sun-hues of dawn, noon, and dusk, and the radiant blue of the sapphire (indra-nīla) and the day-sky. Of course, as the wielder of the rain-bow, He is ornamented by all colours.
I will not recommend gemstones for wearing, as that subject should properly be addressed through one’s individual astrological chart. However, an 11- or 13-mukhi rudrākṣa bead may be worn against the skin as the very form of Indra, with worship offered to it and all of the appropriate rules for wearing this sacred seed observed. (2) The eleven invokes Hanuman with Indra; it is best worn by a brahmacari and to support endeavours involving discipline and endurance. The thirteen is sacred to Kāma and Indra, and grants worldly desires, romantic success, and personal charisma. (The rudrākṣa mālā called Indra is, unfortunately, extraordinarily rare and very, very expensive.)
One may wish to keep a mālā for japa, and if chanting to Indra, I suggest that appropriate stones for this might be those with solar energy or colours (like carnelian, yellow agate, or amber), lunar or water associations (moonstone, pearl, or blue quartz), anything medicinal or strengthening (lapis lazuli, red coral), or the seeds of vaijayantī (hanjeli/Job’s tears, Coix lacryma-jobi) to evoke Indra as both lover and victorious warrior. A mālā may also be worn, if not used for chanting.
Forms of tapasya may be offered to Him, as well. I believe that fasting for Him is best undertaken not for self-mortification or any thought of personal ‘atonement,’ but for purity, strength, and joy, in diverting energy from bodily to spiritual needs. One could take either spiced buttermilk (takra), or else fruits, for a short period of time.
Even the ordinary routine may bring Lord to mind, if one is so inclined. Neem is antiseptic, used in soaps, tooth-powders and toothpastes, and facial creams; shikakai is an excellent hair-wash; rose and chandana make a cleansing and softening face-pack, and so on; it is possible to perform head-to-toe ablutions with plants that are His.
Indra is widely known as Lord of Wealth; one who wishes to offer to Him, might do well to consider personal wealth (and time, which is in a sense money) in this light. A few ideas:
- Sponsor a temple homa, where He will be honoured with offerings, and others may hear His name and give offering as well. Or do a homa of your own; one guide is available here, with the instruction to use Indra’s names and epithets in place of Śiva’s. Learning and practicing the ritual agnihotra daily is also an option.
- Donate to a gurukula or other organisation that honours Vedas.
- Give time or funding to the protection of His creatures. Every single one of Indra’s flowers and trees serves as food and shelter for butterflies and moths. The Soma-substitute karanja (Milletia pinnata) is being planted as part of environmental efforts against desertification and drought, as well as a possible source of biofuel. The plants, birds, and animals who are His are fascinating and delightful – and some, unfortunately, are threatened.
- If you have space for a garden or even a potted plant, plant and tend one (or more) of His herbs.
- Change personal habits to avoid wasting water or electricity, no matter how cheaply they are provided; both of these are His as Lord of Rivers and of Lightning.
- Indra as King is known for exceptional generosity. One of the greatest ways to honour this royal spirit is through anonymous giving, unbinding one’s own identity and recognition from the action.
I feel that honouring my Lord is not just something to be done in pūjā; it is the transformation of my life into a sacrifice well-crafted and joyously made. So with this in my heart, I would suggest to anyone who wishes to please Indra: to the Dancer offer the movements of your body, no matter how awkward or imperfect. To the Lord of the Flood give the tears of joys and sorrows and the sweat of your exertions; to the Demon-Slayer, give your imperfections, to be annihilated. To the Life-Force sanctify your song and chant and very breath.
Understand that your senses, too, your indriyas, are your offering to their Master. Taste the exquisite wonder of nourishment instead of bolting down fuel; hear the magic of sacred sound and let it transform you; most of all, offer the very Soma of your being, your joy in every miraculous moment, to the Lord who transubstantiates earthly pleasure into the nectar-wine of limitless Bliss.
Hail to the Beloved One, who speaks in deep thunder and severs the fetters of darkness, and upon whose glance moves every flicker of light and each endless instant of time.
“Indra is Sovran Lord of Earth and Heaven, Indra is Lord of waters and of mountains.
Indra is Lord of prosperers and sages; Indra must be invoked in rest and effort.
Vaster than days and nights, Giver of increase, vaster than firmament and flood of ocean,
Vaster than bounds of earth and wind’s extension, vaster than rivers and our lands is Indra.
Forward, as herald of refulgent Morning, let thine insatiate arrow fly, O Indra.
And pierce, as ’twere a stone launched forth from heaven, with hottest blaze the folk who love deception.
Him, verily, the moons, the mountains followed, the tall trees followed and the plants and herbage.
Yearning with love both Worlds approached, the Waters waited on Indra when he first had being.”
(1) This is a criticism much hurled at the Vedic rituals – that they were elabourate and formal, but required no devotion at all – and yet many sacred texts argued against empty practices, admonishing all ritual participants to understand what they were doing and why.
(2) These include abstinence from sexual activity, alcohol, and non-vegetarian food while wearing the bead(s); women should also avoid wearing them during menses.
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