30 Days, day 15: “Mundane” Indra.

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.


Indian performance art has religious origins and depicts stories which are religious. It’s governed by a sacred text – the Nāṭyaśāstra – which explains the rules of dance, drama, and music in verse form and also describes other important aspects of the arts, like the ritual consecration of the stage. (It even declares that the pre-performance dedication, pūrvaraṅga, is a sacred act, equivalent to a sacrifice.) The text concludes with a story about the very first drama, which was staged on the occasion of a great Deva victory, as re-enactment of the battle and acclamation of the Warrior Indra’s triumph. But the demons, angered by the prospect of seeing their humiliation openly displayed, tried to infiltrate Heaven and stop the performance; Indra quickly responded to the threat, by picking up his victory banner and beating off the offenders with the flagpost! (That’s why, traditionally, a bamboo pole called jarjara is raised and worshipped before a performance begins.) Finally, the Nāṭyaśāstra text is also sometimes called “the fifth Veda,” because it was a gift given to humanity after Indra asked Brahmā to provide a Veda for all people. So you see that Indra is not only a patron of divine artists, but an artist Himself and a protector and guardian of mortal artists.

While dance and music originally had sacred significance, much of which is still maintained, there’s also an active and vibrant secular tradition of these arts in modern times, particularly through media like radio and television. (And sometimes it isn’t easy to separate spiritual from secular – as when, for example, religious subjects are performed for contests or serials.) I believe that art may be pursued as a “mundane” hobby and practiced in Indra’s honour, even by someone who lacks training in the Nāṭyaśāstra’s traditions. True, a person may certainly learn an art form particularly associated with Indra, like Indian classical dance or flute-playing. But whether a person uses the colours of Indra’s rainbow on canvas or glass, or decides to dance Bharatanatyam or ballet, or sings bhajans or ballads, accompaniments or arias, I hope that He is pleased by creative, expressive activity, which naturally elevates both entertainer and entertained and makes the world a little more beautiful for its existence.

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