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.
In the “deities” camp, of course we have Indra’s various family members from the last post. Aside from these, here are the Devas whom I believe to be His five most important associates:
Varuṇa: Guardian of the Divine Order (Ṛta), Ṛgvedic Varuṇa is a beautiful and fearsome Devatā who wields a snake-form noose (pāśa), by which He ensnares all who violate that Order. When Indra’s Soma is offered in the yajña ritual, people are released from Varuṇa’s snare, emphasizing the importance of the fire-sacrifice in upholding Ṛta itself; as well, the girdle that the sacrificer’s wife wears is considered to be the earthly form of Varuṇa’s noose and binds her – as well as the rite – to truth. Varuṇa appears in relatively little of the Veda Saṁhitā, but his role is vital; he is even praised with some of Indra’s more famous epithets, like “Seer” and “Thousand-Eyed.” He is stillness and being to Indra’s action and becoming, night to Indra’s blazing day, the quiet deep sea to Indra’s rushing Waters (1); the two form a complementary duality, and there are Vedic hymns dedicated to Indra-Varuṇa, though the pairing of Mitra-Varuṇa is far more common. (Interestingly, this latter duo may be the source of the Zoroastrians’ high God, Ahura-Mazda. Varuṇa is also cognate to Greek Ouranos.)
Agni: The “oldest and youngest” among the Vedic Devatās, the seven-tongued Agni is literal fire, but much more importantly, the myriad numinous meanings of the flame; he is also the connection between Devas and humans that is maintained and nourished by the yajña fires, hence that he is the divine messenger as well. Quite a few Vedic hymns praise Indra-Agni, for they, too, are a duality: the soul and the means of the sacrifice. In modern times Agni and Indra are considered brothers, and Agni, too, has something of a personality and some colourful stories in the later epics and histories. His presence is considered necessary to important Hindu ceremonies, particularly marriage. In Ayurvedic medicine – brought to humanity by Indra’s intervention – Agni is also essential, as the fire of digestion, who must be well and carefully fed. And just as Varuṇa’s noose can be beneficent or malevolent, and Indra’s power joyous or terrible, Agni’s fire can help or harm. In my opinion, the most important story of his, vis-à-vis Indra, is told in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, when Indra lay alone and exhausted after the great battle with Vṛtra; the loyal, brave Agni approached and nourished Him, staying with Him through the long night. This is explained as the reason for the New Moon night’s name – Amāvasyā, or “dwelling together.”
Soma: The spiritually intoxicating, ecstatic elixir Soma is hymned in the entire ninth book of the Ṛgveda, and he and Indra are often praised together. Soma is not given a distinct personality, nor are there any stories about him. Yet it is his pure clarified essence, the flow of his energy that fills and fulfils the divine longing of Indra, which makes the Hero’s deeds possible, and also suggests to humankind how we ought to prepare ourselves for the divine vision. The Brāhmaṇa literature reveals to us that Soma’s power is reflected in the Moon, and so the astronomical cycle of Full to New Moon thus plays an integral part in Indra’s defeat of Vṛtra; even today, the times of New Moon (Amāvasyā, as above) and Full Moon (Pūrṇimā) have spiritual significance to Hindus.
Lakṣmī: I’ve written in this post and this one about two ways in which Goddess Lakṣmī and God Indra are associated, as well as mentioning in the last post Śrī, wife of Lord Indra in the Veda. These two are both givers of wealth, material as well as spiritual, and it was – indirectly – Indra’s foolhardiness that brought Devī Lakṣmī into the world. The two are worshipped together once yearly at Ṣarada Pūrṇimā (the Full Moon of the month Āśvin, which falls around September-October in the Western calendar); also, the beautiful prayers/praises of the Mahālakṣmī Aṣṭakam and the Lakṣmī Stuti were both composed by Śrī Indra.
This excerpt, from David Frawley’s Arise Arjuna, explains the matter so much better than I ever could; if you ignore the rest of this post, at least read the relevant pages of his wonderful writing, here. It compares Indra and Śiva wonderfully, pointing out the many similarities in both letter and spirit between the two. My favourite excerpts are these:
1. “Indra like Shiva is a fierce God who transcends good and evil, including all social customs, and does what is forbidden. Indra does things like eating meat and drinking Soma (in enormous quantities), and goes into various states of intoxication and ecstasy. Indra is born as an outcast and in some hymns in the Vedas grants favour to outcasts. Shiva similarly is a deity of ecstasy (Soma) and transcends all social customs, often going against caste and custom.”
2. “Indra and Shiva are both called the dancer and are associated with music and song. The letter of the Sanskrit alphabet come forth from Shiva’s drum. Indra in the Vedas is called the bull of the chants, and all songs go to him like rivers to the sea. Shiva is identified in Tantric thought with the vowels of the alphabet. Indra in the Chandogya Upanishad is identified with the vowels among the letters of the alphabet. Shiva is identified with the mantra OM. Indra in the Vedas and Upanishads is also identified with the OM.”
(I LOVE THE VOWELS THING. Because Indra creates freedom by making space, which is exactly what vowels do in your mouth when you’re talking, else you’d just choke on consonants.)
Now, regarding “entities,” we have both Vedic and Purāṇic associates of Lord Indra. First and foremost, the lovely elephant Airāvata, whom I’ve mentioned in past entries–
–and who is sometimes depicted with multiple heads and/or trunks!
Marutas: Ṛgveda VI.66 describes these spirits as a celestial army and names them the sons of Rudra and Pṛśni; in VIII.96 they are counted as ‘three times sixty,’ though stories give a range of numbers for them. In later tradition they were told to have been formed when the goddess Diti intended to bear a son who would conquer Indra. Indra then used his Vajra to split the unborn infant into seven, and then that number seven times again, and his words to them, mā ruda – “don’t cry” – were the source of their name. Once born, they became Indra’s attendants and were considered storm deities, enhancing the Deva’s greatness rather than challenging it. And though I tend to disagree with the scholar Georges Dumézil in most matters, I love his idea – that the Maruts are cognate to the Wild Hunt and to the Einherjar – so much that I’m mentioning it here.
Saramā: Saramā is named in Ṛgveda as one who “Knows” and who follows Truth. When a group called the Paṇis (“misers”) steals cows (hint: not literal cows), she journeys to recover them and is considered an ally of Indra, even threatening these Paṇis with Indra’s wrath if they do not return what they’ve taken. Later stories elaborate upon this idea; in an interesting twist on the Vedic tale, Saramā becomes a dog and a messenger of Indra who is at first loyal to Him, but then betrays Him when the Paṇis offer her wealth, and she is recognised as the mother of all dogs on earth. It’s been posited, however, that Vedic Saramā represents intuition, the venturing forth of the soul’s yearning upon the path of Truth.
Uccaiḥśravas: A well-known myth tells us that the nectar of immortality was once lost beneath the ocean, and Gods and Demons grudgingly worked together, churning up the entire ocean in order to find it. As they worked, many treasures emerged, one of which was the white horse Uccaiḥśravas. King of horses, he was naturally claimed by the King of Gods and thus became Indra’s second vāhana. (2)
On a final note, Indra is also associated with two bay steeds, who draw his chariot, and as King of Heaven, he’s also the master of the Apsaras and Gandharvas, female and male spirits who are sublime dancers and musicians and who fill Svargaloka with artistry. There are many more deities and entities – as Indra seems to be involved, at least indirectly, in everything – but these are the ones I recall to have the greatest importance. Of course, feel free to drop me a comment if I’ve left anyone out!
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Tagged: 30 Days of Devotion