30 Days, day 17: “Values.”

How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?

So far, I’ve been asked to discuss Indra, describe the history and practices associated with Him, share my own ideas and experiences. I found this particular question very discomfiting, though, and I wasn’t sure I should even address it. I may be Hindu, but I’m not a very good one; I’ve visited India once and made a lot of ignorant cultural mistakes while there; I’ve studied much about the Devas but only come from three years’ experience in Their worship. It’s one thing to write about my own inner devotion to a God, but it seems disingenuous to drag the rest of the culture and pantheon into the discussion and then talk about how the God “represents” values that I, as an outsider, barely understand myself. It brings to mind the appropriation and steamrolling of Indian culture that I condemned in writings about 19th and early 20th century translations of Vedic literature.

So I don’t think I can answer how Indra relates to the modern Hindu pantheon, and especially to current Indian cultural values. I will say that, within my own personal experience, the prevalent attitudes towards Him I’ve encountered have been indifference and scorn. Most Hindus whose writings I’ve read condemn His character and mention moments in His stories where He behaves with lust, selfishness, greed, pettiness, or cruelty; few have seemed interested in Him, and He is frequently paired with the word “demi-god” as if to underscore his unimportance. This all suggests to me that the modern Indra doesn’t reflect values important to Hinduism or to Indian people; that’s the best guess I can offer on the subject, based on the observation of one Westerner, which hardly reflects an entire country’s culture.

However, Vedic Indra is part of a very different tradition, one whose representatives I can hardly interview now, and I do feel that He was far more integral to that particular culture. There is much love shown for Him and His fellow Devas in the Vedic hymns; He is considered brother and beloved Friend to many of the Gods. He is praised as robust, vigorous, courageous, and strong; He is also tender, graceful, loving, and compassionate. He displays a very beautiful balance of wonderful qualities, and because of these attributes, He is prayed by the Seers to serve as a guide and leader for the higher journey. This tells me that Indra not only reflected the values of His pantheon – one that was based upon accord and mutual elevation – but that He was considered, not only of cultural importance, but the very expression and embodiment of some of the highest and most desirable virtues.

I’ll end with a little bit of UPG; in some sources, it’s been suggested that Indra’s origins may be even earlier than “Vedic.” There’s a vague feeling that He is somewhat unlike the other Devas in the hymns, his domain more nebulous than that of the other Gods, that He doesn’t seem to entirely “fit” somehow. I do feel that there is something “different” about Indra, though what exactly I’ve never been able to pinpoint. I’ve read essays and articles that describe possible links for Him to the cultures of the Hittites, Mitanni, Babylonians, and Egyptians. The other reason that the above question bothered me so much – enough that I postponed answering it for a day – is because there are times where I wonder about that matter of “cultural origin,” and this doubt undermines my ability to answer today’s question even about the ancient Indra.

I feel a little discouraged, to have written such a glib, useless, and un-devotional essay for a project about devotion, but it is honest, at least. And I do hope that the upcoming questions will provoke some better responses.

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