How does this deity stand in terms of gender and sexuality? (historical and/or UPG)
Monthly Archives: November 2013
How does this deity relate to other gods and other pantheons?
I wish I could say “they have high tea every Monday; the finger sandwiches are particularly superb” and have done with it, but this is another complex question that will take a long essay to answer, and I’ll have to rehash and expand upon points already made in other posts.
(Fortunately, today’s and tomorrow’s entries are the last questions of this type remaining, and the rest focus upon personal experiences, opinions, and other “non-scholastic” topics. I truly apologise if my posts have come to equate “devotion” with “dullness”; the questions asked by this project are good ones, but in Indra’s case, they’re resulting in a lot of overlapping answers – and rambly ones, because I lack sufficient time to clean up the writing. ARGH!)
How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?
I’m skipping ahead in this project; today’s intended topic is a complex subject and a question I’m not yet prepared to answer. But the topic for Day 23 – your own composition: a piece of writing about or for this deity – made me giggle. A piece of writing for Indra? Really? As opposed to, oh, I don’t know…this entire blog?
But in all seriousness, and reverence, I do have some unposted work lingering around my computer. Here’s one poem, an untitled, unpolished verse.
Any mundane practices that are associated with this deity?
“Mundane” is not the easiest word to assign in the Hindu way of life, but I’ll use it here to refer to any activity that isn’t a home or temple worship service. And today’s question is an interesting one, because it touches on changing ideas about the arts over time; you see, Indra is an artist par excellence. The later Indra is the Lord of a light-filled Heaven, which resonates day and night with music and displays dance of the highest order. It is said that, on the occasion of the very first pradoṣa – a twice-monthly day of Śiva’s worship – Indra Himself played the flute for the celebration. In Veda, Indra is hymned still more beautifully, as the Singer of the holy chants and the transcendent Dancer. So you might guess that the arts would be associated with Indra, and they certainly are.
Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?
I’m tired, y’all, and it’s been a long day; you don’t know how tempted I was to type “Yes” and provide several appropriate links. But that isn’t much keeping with the spirit of the project, as it’s Thirty Days of Devotion and not Thirty Days of Lazy Snark. Fortunately, I found some old notes (2011-2012) on the subject of Indra’s worship over time – specifically, its decline, and some thoughts about why such a thing might have happened. They’re a little more slapdash and generalised than I’d prefer, but I hope my thoughts will be pretty simple to follow, and help tie together some points I’ve made in past entries.
What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?
I need to be very, very careful with this question, particularly because Indra has few modern-day worshippers; there’s the potential, with this question, to frame myself as some sort of mouthpiece for Him. This seems a question based entirely on UPG, so I want to emphasise that these are my opinions only, and that Indra Himself has not made known to me any sort of agenda.
Vedic religion seems to have been mobile, or at least lacking in lasting monuments and mausoleums, and because Veda doesn’t make explicit statements regarding religious pilgrimage, it’s hard to say whether Indra had any cult centres in the Vedic lands. That doesn’t mean that nowhere was sacred to Him; it’s just a little harder to find those places than with sites like Delphi, whose history is intimately intertwined with a particular God. So let’s do a little virtual traveling and see what we find, hmm?
Today, I’m enjoined to discuss celebrations and times sacred to Śrī Indra.
Indra once had several great festivals – Indra Vizha and Indra Mahotsava prime among them – which were observed with ardent pageantry and delight; sadly, these grand occasions are no longer celebrated, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when they took place. I do intend to eventually write an essay on these ancient rites, but have nowhere near enough data to tackle that project yet.
Fortunately, I’ve already done some work regarding Indra and Time, so this post will provide relevant links to answer the above request.
In previous entries, I’ve briefly summarised two major celebrations for Indra that take place outside of India: the Indra Jātrā of Nepal (here, in the sections marked “Lingaṃ/Yoshin” and “Pārijāta”) and the Perang Pandan of Bali (here, under “Ketaki”).
Underneath the gardenia flower, in this post, I’ve listed and explained the calendar days that belong to Him. I’ve previously mentioned that high noon is an important time for Indra – as the mid-day Soma offering was His alone – and now add that the moments of day/night transition have significance as well: dawn (when Indra was the lover of Ahalyā) and twilight (when He killed, through trickery, the demon Namuci).
Finally, I compiled the “Indra calendar” here after exhaustive inquiry into Hindu festivals. It’s my best attempt to offer a modern “liturgical calendar” for Lord Indra’s worship, and I hope it proves useful to other devotees, or at least provides a new way of thinking about familiar festivals.
© 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.
As I wrote in the previous entry, historical offerings for Indra were placed into the fire as a sacrifice (yajña). These oblations included clarified butter (ghee), the purified elixir Soma, and several varieties of grains, both raw and cooked into cakes and porridges. The Vedic literature describes about four hundred types of yajñas, of which twenty-one were considered mandatory; as the hymned Lord of Sacrifice, Indra was invoked throughout these rituals and played a central role in some of them, like the royal rites of the Rajasuya and Sautrāmaṇi. (1) Besides the more generic preparations listed above, He also received offerings specific to Himself, including the mixture of old and new milks called Sānnāyya, the third pressing of the Soma-plant, and among animals, the ram and the bull; the mid-day Soma pressing was devoted solely to Him, as well. Yet Veda tells us that these gifts do not please Indra unless sanctified with prayers, hinting that the most essential “ingredient” is devotion.
Nowadays it’s not possible for most people to worship Indra in a historically accurate manner, as the yajña ritual is a complex undertaking and restricted in performance to trained Brāhmaṇa priests; it’s unfortunate that a modern-day lover of Vedic Indra can’t honour Him in a purely Vedic way. So, since an extensive discussion of historical offerings would have little practical utility, I’d like to talk instead about modern Hindu rituals that any worshipper may perform.
Hooooo, boy. :pinches forehead: I’m going to refrain from swearing up a storm (storm, haha) in this post, out of consideration for my readers, though the issues I’m about to describe can really work on my nerves. To be fair, I don’t have all of the answers – or even some of the answers – about Indra, and I don’t claim to be the guardian of some special truth of His; I can’t well point fingers and yell “You’re wrong WROOOOONG I SAAAAAY!”
Also, I acknowledge that not all errors are deliberately made. For example, it was believed for a long time that one of the five shore temples of Mahabalipuram was dedicated to Indra, but further exploration and assessment suggests that the site was actually sacred to the Deva Skanda. Other “mistakes” are really just differences of opinion; there are some, for instance, who believe that there was a historical Indra, a great commander and ruler who was deified after his death. While I disagree with this notion, it can’t really be proven either way, and certainly those who think of Indra as “the Indian Herakles” provide some interesting comparisons to back that claim.
However, there are two particular notions that I find pervasive and harmful, mistakes that could be prevented by applying common sense and humility, and these will be the focus of this post.
Today I’m supposed to address Indra’s aspects, regional forms, and other variations. What follows is a mixture of superficial scholarship and personal opinion, which I’m hoping makes some semblance of sense!
Today’s subject is a matter about which I’ve already posted quite a bit. So this entry will be a jumble of thoughts and links; there’s ample reading material here to keep everyone busy well into tomorrow!
This excerpt from Jeanine Miller’s work discusses some of Indra’s epithets in the Veda, while making the case that bhakti – loving adoration and a personal, longing devotion – most definitely does appear in the Ṛgveda; this passage, from the writings of Abinash Chandra Bose, explores the God’s many names and qualities in more extensive detail.
Names are vital to those who adore the Hindu Devas, for a God’s epithets are educational and inspirational. Both the epic Rāmāyaṇa and the later text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa instruct the devotee in loving service, and hearing and singing the names of God are among the practices advised. Fortunately, this is simple to do, as most of the major deities have what’s known as a sahasranāma: a group of one thousand epithets that describe the deity’s attributes, power, and nature. Sometimes these names appear also in a stotram – a hymn that uses these names to sound effusive praise – and a worshipper may recite or chant these wonderful paeans.
Indra has both names and verses, not by popular tradition, but because His devotee – Vedic scholar Śrī Gaṇapati Muni (aka Kāvyakaṇṭha, “one who has poetry in his throat”) – compiled and composed them for Him, beginning that great work in April 1931. I’ve already placed the names on this blog, both without translation, and with translation. (Please note that the latter is incomplete, and it’s also a very rudimentary English translation that I gleaned mostly by searching dictionaries. It’s not meant to be a discourse upon these Divine Names, just a general idea of their superficial meaning, to help out those who – like me – have almost no knowledge of Sanskrit at all.) Wisdom may be gained experientially by praying Indra with these names, an oṃ before and a namaḥ after, i.e. oṃ devatamāya namaḥ, etc.
I’ve also kept a small personal list of Indra’s names that appear in later literature, i.e. sources outside of the Vedic hymns. That post is located here.
In Veda, Indra is most commonly called Maghavan (:points to blog URL:) and Śakra, which translate roughly to ‘the bountiful one’ and ‘the mighty one,’ respectively. Of course, more common still is the name which begins the sahasranāma and by which he is most well-known, and thus some small speculation about the name Indra is offered beneath the cut.
Today’s post is intended to cover “other related deities and entities associated with this deity.” I am mentally rolling my eyes, because when your deity has creator and destroyer functions that basically associate him with “everything involving space, time, and matter,” it can be hard to narrow down “His associates”! What follows beneath the cut is – good grief, yet another list; in fact, the next three posts are unfortunately going to involve lists. I hate lists. But since I love Indra, it’s time to quit whining and start ennumerating.
Do you remember what I wrote earlier, that Veda has much meaning embedded within it, and should not be limited to a literal interpretation? Indra’s “family tree” is really an excellent example of this, and since today’s topic asks about the deity’s family and genealogical connections, let’s begin.
This one’s a free day for me: “A favourite myth or myths of this deity.”
I’ve already covered not just one, but two lovely stories – in this post about the son of King Yuvanāśva, and this book excerpt about the maiden Śruvāvatī who fell in love with Indra (and which contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read).
I’m not very good at telling stories, y’all; others do it far better. So beneath the cut is one more tale, which teaches a great deal about Indra for all of its brevity. You see, Indra is very good at stripping away illusions from sanctimonious people, and in this excerpt, from a retold version of the great epic Mahābhārata, He shows the devout renunciate Uttaṅka that wandering in the desert will indeed make you thirsty, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee being holy.
In the beginning, Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is Uttaṅka’s friend, has given the hard-living ascetic a boon: when he thirsts in the desert, he is to think of Kṛṣṇa, and he shall receive water. And then:
Today’s topic asks me to describe symbols and icons of Indra, and this was a more difficult subject to address than I initially believed it would be. Hindu deities have elaborate iconographies that are incorporated into their temple statues, a full and rich language of expression, gesture, raiment, and implements. Because each God’s representation is such a complex affair, many Hindu Devas don’t have a particular, clear-cut symbol that represents Him or Her. There are several tools that are sacred to Indra, but because His character and stories have changed so much over time, some of these icons are now sanctified to other Devas.
Well, I did the best I could. Here’s a short list of symbols to represent Indra’s qualities, in accordance with His “official” depictions, along with one personal suggestion offered at the end.
In 1997 I was slogging through my first year of university, running around like a frantic idiot, Coke or a coffee always in hand and rarely able to relax. One day I started browsing the leisure class listings and noticed that a beginning yoga course was offered at a time when my schedule was free; it seemed very fortuitous, since I’d heard that yoga practice could improve stamina and reduce stress. I enjoyed the class very much and, on discovering that I couldn’t repeat the course the following semester, I asked my instructor for suggestions on keeping up my practice alone. She recommended the book that she used as an adjunct to her teaching: The Śivānanda Guide to Yoga.
Over the last few days, I’ve tried to dust away the cobwebs from this blog – approving and responding to comments, deleting most of my posts from 2013 and thus removing the baggage of a failed project, and now, undertaking 30 Days of Devotion for Indra. I’m hoping to move past the massive mounds of self-recrimination and ease back into writing by following a structured project, which offers clear, interesting questions for me to answer.
Day 1 of the project asks the writer to provide “A basic introduction of the deity.”
…boy, you’d think I would have told you that by now, but it turns out I’ve never written such a thing. So let’s make that happen: