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:
“–it was not long before Uttanka was very thirsty and thought of Krishna. As soon as he did that, he saw approaching him a hunter dressed in rags, filthy and nearly naked, surrounding by snarling dogs, armed with a slaughtering knife clotted with blood. His tangled hair and beard were matted with animal fat and his eyes were bloodshot and wild; he came humping and stumping across the sand, gleefully smacking his lips, and courteously bowed to Uttanka.
The hunter held out a dirty waterskin. “Ascetic, shake off all inaction! Drink, I have been sent to you.”
Uttanka wrinkled his nose and turned down the corners of his mouth. “It smells like it’s full of urine.”
“There is no help for it,” said the hunter. “In the name of God, let the scales fall from your eyes. From compassion have I come to you. Drink it and live forever.”
“Mock a holy man, will you!” Uttanka struck the skin from the hunter’s hand. As it fell it vanished, and the man and the dogs vanished with it. Then Uttanka saw Krishna, walking by the way the hunter had come, carrying a bowl of water.
Uttanka drank. “Was that kind? What were you thinking of, to send an outcast with untouchable water?”
“But he was not what he seemed,” said Krishna, “nor was the water; yet you sent him away from disregard. He loves distraction and disguise, but he is honest. We made a bet and struck a bargain together, and I have lost.”
“Indra!” Uttanka looked down at his bare feet. “You thought me wiser than I am, that was your only fault. The nectar of immortality…”
–from William Buck, Mahabharata, pp.403-404.
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