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.
Father: Indra’s father is named as Dyauṣ or Dyauṣpitṛ, translated literally as “sky-father” (and, interestingly, considered cognate to Zeus Pater). He appears thus in one verse of Ṛgveda – IV.17.4, where he is called “Indra’s Maker” and specifically addressed as Indra’s parent – and is occasionally referenced as Indra’s father in modern culture, as well (in that Thundergod novel I reviewed a while back, for example).
The other name given to Indra’s father is Tvaṣṭṛ, a maker/shaper/craftsman God who’s mentioned dozens of times in Ṛgveda; in later stories, he’s credited as a heavenly builder, who makes Indra’s Vajra, guards the vital Soma, and even creates the demon Vṛtra to take revenge on Indra.
Either way, Indra slew His father in order to obtain Soma, which seems horrific save for the yogic/spiritual meaning of the deed – especially the breaking of ties, the deepest bonds of family and society.
Mother: Various sources depict an unnatural birth of some kind for Indra; “from his mother’s side” is a frequent translation, though not quite accurate. His mother is called in several different ways; she is Niṣṭigrī, or Śavasī (“the strong”). She is also named as the Goddess Aditi, which would make Indra foremost of the eight protective Devas called collectively Ādityas; Aditi is the name commonly given for Indra’s mother in the present day.
In another verse, she is named as Ekāṣṭakā, daughter of Prajāpati, the latter of whom is another creator deity specifically associated with fecundity and the guardianship of life (and whose name now is most often associated with Lord Brahmā).
There is value in contemplating the meaning of Indra’s mother; Ekāṣṭakā, for instance, is the day that marks the end of the preceding year and the beginning of the new year, which hints that her son Indra stands at the boundaries or “joints” of time and is ever-renewed Himself. And the name Aditi means “the limitless”; her son is thus born unfettered.
Children: In later stories, Indra has fathered many children. Several of His sons – Purnavijara, Nilambara, Khamla, Ṛṣabha, and Mīḍhuṣa (“bountiful”) – I know only as names, without any stories to tell. One, Chitragupta, was born of the divine cow-mother Kāmadhenu, after Indra’s wife was cursed with infertility.
Another of Indra’s sons, Jayanta, played a role in the epic Rāmāyaṇa; he transformed himself into a crow, to approach the beautiful Devī Sītā, and was then humbled by Lord Rāma. Jayanta also gave heart to the Devas by fighting a fearsome opponent – Ravaṇa’s son Meghanāda – and was finally spirited away from the battle, saved by his grandfather Puloma.
The best-known of Indra’s sons is Arjuna. The epic Mahābhārata tells us how Queen Kuntī, as a young girl, received a magical mantra, which could summon any Deva she chose and compel Him to give her a child. It was a boon that she later used to fortuitous advantage, since her husband King Pāṇḍu was cursed to lifelong celibacy, and thus she became the mother of Indra’s son. The fame of Arjuna, the prince, warrior, archer, and eternal friend of Lord Kṛṣṇa, endures, and it is said that one who recites Arjuna’s ten names will please his proud father Indra. (Those epithets are listed under the “Protection from nightmare” section of the Indra mantra page, in case you were curious.)
Indra has two daughters, as well. One was Jayantī, who was sent to Earth to spoil the meditation of the asuras’ teacher Śukracharya, but instead fell in love and married him. The other was a foster-daughter named Devasenā, who wedded Lord Kārtikeya:
Spouses: Most intriguing to me are Indra’s wives – yes, wives, plural, though by far His most well-known spouse is Śacī (also known as Indrāṇī, Aindrī, Vajri, and Paulomī). She is the Seer of at least one of the Ṛgvedic hymns, a strong, commanding, but benevolent Queen. In later stories she is a loyal partner who assists Indra in difficult situations; as one of the fierce Seven Mothers (Saptamātṝkās), she is a thousand-eyed Goddess who destroys jealousy. (It has also been suggested by some, such as the writer of this essay, that Śacī incarnated on Earth as the Mahābhārata heroine Draupadī, and that Arjuna was not only Indra’s son, but His avatar.)
Again, there is a complex symbolism here, deeper than the literal meaning of Indra’s relationships; Śacī is one form of the word Śakti, which is primordial cosmic energy and creative power. This is the same feminine Śakti which is the Supreme to those who follow the Śakta path of Hinduism; the female partners/consorts/wives of the major male Devas are also known as their Śaktis. The word is most commonly known in the West as one-half of Śiva and Śakti.
In Ṛgveda, the Goddess of Divine Speech, Vāc, is named as Indra’s wife. The ṚV’s Aitareya Brāhmaṇa also tells us that, “The army (Senā) is Indra’s beloved wife, Vāvātā [chief or favoured wife], Prāsahā by name.” Prāsahā means “the enduring one,” and even that single sentence offers much worthy wisdom to contemplate.
There is another Vedic verse that describes Indra in the company of Chāyā. In the book Images From Vedic Hymns and Rituals, the scholar S.A. Dange suggests that the Veda depicts two śaktis of Indra: benevolent and bounteous (Indrāṇī) and fierce and terrible (Chāyā), the latter of whom was a deity similar in character to Kālī.
Indeed, there is another fearsome Goddess who is known, in some sources, as Indra’s wife/śakti: Chinnamastā Devī, who severs her own head to drink her own blood, who embodies sacrifice and lightning-swift ferocious illumination.
And in modern times, Śrī is known as another name of Lakṣmī, but in Veda, she is named as still another wife of Indra, beautiful and bountiful, radiant diffusing light.
Finally, in yesterday’s story, taken from Mahābhārata, we learned that the devout mortal woman Śruvāvatī became the wife of Indra through her own resolute austerities. It seems an exquisite love story on the surface, and that’s before considering the tale’s significance; one of the main tools of the fire-sacrifice is called the śruva, you see, and the word vatī can signify one who possesses (or, in my opinion, one who embodies).
So it goes, and thus any discussion of Indra’s family tree is a complicated and scattered affair. Could Indra’s many wives be one female Power with many names – and with some of His spouses later named as wives of other Devas, are they distinct beings at all, or perhaps specific powers or attributes, or something in between? Did Indra truly father His own incarnation, or tear away from His mother before He could be born, or slay His father right after birth? If looking at only the surface, Indra appears as a bizarre, confusing disaster of a divinity.
The solution is only to dive deeper, and allow the wondrous Devas and Devīs of Indra’s line to make His nature known.
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Tagged: 30 Days of Devotion