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.
In July 1931, Śrī Kāvyakaṇṭha wrote to his guru, “I am just now out to achieve that inner satisfaction of heart through Bhakti (devotion). There are three places for it. The first is my Master Bhagavan Maharshi; Indra the Lord of the Universe is the second; and the third is the Glorious Mother India (Bhagavati Bharata Matha).”
The commentary on this wonderful statement explains, “It is well-known to the discerning Vedic Scholars that ‘Indra’, in chief, was the term used by Rishis of Yore to denote what is conveyed by ‘Iswara’ (the Supreme Lord of the Universe) of later days.”
But why this name, Indra?
In the late 19th century, the name “Indra” was linked to “the Sanskrit root id, signifying to ‘see, discover, or discern'”; while I’m loath to mention anything from sources that also use the word “primitive,” I do find the idea interesting. The Upaniṣads tell us that Indra is greatest and foremost among the Devas because He was the first to recognise Brahman, i.e., to discern.
The Aitareya Upaniṣad tells us of this recognition thus:
“Now when He was born. He thought and spoke only of Nature and her creations; in this world of matter of what else could He speak or reason? Thereafter He beheld that Being who is the Brahman and the last Essence. He said, ‘Yea, this is He; verily, I have beheld Him (idam adarśam).’ Therefore is He Idandra (Idaṁ-dra): for Idandra is the true name of Him. But though He is Idandra, they call Him Indra because of the veil of unrevelation; for the gods love the veil of the Unrevelation, yea, verily, the gods love the Unrevelation.”
And, though the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad gives a different etymology, it confirms the divine mystery by explaining, “That person who is in the right eye, He is called Indha, and Him who is Indha they call indeed Indra mysteriously, for the gods love what is mysterious, and dislike what is evident.”
Author Prem Sabhlok suggests that, “The word Indra is derived from Indha a Ra – i.e., one who provides constant fuel in the form of strength and energy to the entire universe and even cosmos – both gross and subtle.” An acquaintance of mine, a Sanskrit student, once had this to say about ra: “Its third derivation is brightness, splendor. When used in the masculine gender it is fire, heat. Its feminine gender use is motion. This word also has a softer side, as it also can mean love, giving, and play.” And Swami Krishnananda, in writing on the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, offered this comment: “The Upaniṣads call this Puruṣa, this self which is active in the right eye in the waking state, as Indha, meaning illumined or illuminating…or radiant, or lustrous.”
Still more assertions exist, some quite startling; Dr. Liny Srinivasan, in the recent Desi Words Speak of the Past, even suggests that Indra is of Ancient Near Eastern origin, etymologically linking His name to the cedar tree (and, further, the land of the great cedar forests spoken of in other ancient texts).
The common belief about His name’s derivation is that indu signifies “a drop” and ra “possessing”; therefore, Indra is the one who possesses drops. These “drops,” to a devotee, might mean Soma, light, knowledge, or any number of flowing and desirable qualities, but is usually interpreted to mean just “rain.”
These are just some of the ideas about the origin and meaning of Indra. In truth, there is no universally-accepted interpretation, and it’s here that my ignorance of Sanskrit becomes sadly ironic; I can neither join in the debate, nor refute any notion, about the name of my own God.
But, speaking of names, I’ll mention one more, which is wonderfully relevant not only to later stories about Indra and His son, but to me personally as well. In one of the sacred texts, the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa – which is a magnificent read, by the way – the teacher is discussing the best time for a worshipper to set up his fires, according to “asterisms” (star patterns/constellations), and then just casually throws in this little tidbit like it’s no big deal:
“They, the Phālgunīs, are Indra’s asterism and even correspond to Him in name; for indeed Indra is also called Arjuna, this being His mystic name, and they (the Phālgunīs) are also called Arjunīs. Hence he overtly calls them Phālgunīs, for who dares to use His (the God’s) mystic name?”
Yeah. Who’d be foolish enough to do that? Pfft.
The Indra sahasranāma provided on this blog is written using the Roman alphabet. Those who would prefer the names and the stotram in Devanāgarī script may find both uploaded here. The stotram may also be read in the Telugu language, here.
If you’d like to acquire a small, portable copy of Indra’s thousand names for yourself, check out the small booklet Indra: Lord of Divine Mind, by Dr. R.L. Kashyap; besides being a wonderful discussion on Indra’s function and powers in the Veda, it also includes the Sanskrit sahasranāmastotram and sahasranāmāvalī at the end. The chanted indrasahasranāmastotram used to be available on a CD from the company Auro Nada; unfortunately, it was discontinued before I could buy a copy. However, I was able to save a small sample from the CD, which offered the first few verses of the stotram. I can’t upload sound files to WordPress, but if anyone would like to hear it, please message me or leave a comment.
Those who wish to further explore the life and writings of Śrī Gaṇapati Muni should check out the excellent biography written by S.R. Leela, called Glory of Vasiṣṭha Gaṇapati, or even venture into the full collection of his compositions here. Volume three is of special interest, as it contains five verse compositions in honour of Indra (including the indrasahasranāmastotram), as well as a collection praising several Vedic Devatās, called Gītamālā.
And for those who are interested in Indra’s associates and family members, I’ve decided to provide information about Their Names, as well. First, the sahasranāma verses of Devī Lakṣmī and Lord Śiva have many translations available, along with beautiful chanted renderings; they are easily found by searching online.
Chinnamastā Devī also has a sahasranāma, which may be found in the Roman alphabet here, in Devanāgarī here, and is also included (with translation) at the end of Elisabeth Anne Benard’s excellent book, Chinnamastā: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess.
Śrī Kāvyakaṇṭha also composed verses to honour Devī Indrāṇī, the foremost of which is the Indrāṇī Saptaśatī. I haven’t yet been able to find the complete text, though apparently there is a Sanskrit/Telugu copy available in the library collections at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (call number PK3799 G27 I519, for anyone nearby!).
A brief excerpt: “O Mother! I take refuge at thy feet so that my country may prosper, this country long beaten, shattered and weeping.
May the enemies of dharma perish. May friends of our land prosper. This would gladden my heart. O Divine Mother! I take refuge at thy feet.
O beloved of Indra! Spies dog the heels of our mighty men. We are afraid even to give vent to our sorrows. They bow to Thee for grace. Refuge at Thy feet.”
Finally, Lord Agni has a sahasranāma; I can’t seem to locate the text, but it’s available for purchase online in CD or mp3 format, from the album titled Agni Sahasranamam Agni Upaasana.
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