30 Days, day 18: Indra and other Gods.

How does this deity relate to other gods and other pantheons?

I wish I could say “they have high tea every Monday; the finger sandwiches are particularly superb” and have done with it, but this is another complex question that will take a long essay to answer, and I’ll have to rehash and expand upon points already made in other posts.

(Fortunately, today’s and tomorrow’s entries are the last questions of this type remaining, and the rest focus upon personal experiences, opinions, and other “non-scholastic” topics. I truly apologise if my posts have come to equate “devotion” with “dullness”; the questions asked by this project are good ones, but in Indra’s case, they’re resulting in a lot of overlapping answers – and rambly ones, because I lack sufficient time to clean up the writing. ARGH!)

According to some sources, Indra is the “prototype” for similar Gods in other pantheons, or else one of the earliest examples of a “thundering God” or “second-function” (warrior-leader) God. I don’t agree with these ideas, but I can understand why they came about. Some scholars strive to trace the evolution of deities over time, or else understand and delineate the branchings of different pantheons; they want to discover how (the quite specific and somewhat insular) Vedas fit into an unfamiliar ancient world, and explain the similarities and connections between deities who sound or seem the same.

A worshipper, however, may not make the same distinctions. That is, a person who focuses upon one God will likely see many, if not all, “functions” within that particular Godhead. And someone who worships Indra – instead of Thor, Tarhunt, or other “similar” deities – will probably have specific reasons for worshipping this God instead of that one, and would not see all of these beings as the same.

As a devotee I feel that Indra isn’t so easily correlated with other deities, though I know that others find many parallels between the ancient pantheons, and certainly “translating” the Devas into more familiar forms would make aspects of Hinduism easier to explain. Hinduism is a hard religion to grasp from the outside, not because ZOMG IT IS SOOOO DEEEP YOU COULD NOT POSSIBLY UNDERSTAAAAND THE PROFUNDITY, but because there’s much of orthopraxy, rather than orthodoxy, in it; its rituals and practices are intended to evoke experiential, intuitive knowledge that can’t be read in the texts and which are valued as legitimate experiences of God. With the ancient Indra specifically, it’s difficult to grok Him when His practices are nearly extinct and have been neither witnessed nor performed by most people. But judging Him only as a thunder or rain god creates false equivalency and, I feel, reduces, not only Him but every other God who’s his supposed “equivalent.” Some would argue that it creates a tradition of continuous worship, but I feel it isn’t right to dismiss Thor, for example, as the “Norse Indra,” as though His personality and tales are only a later Scandinavian variant upon an older mythos. And I don’t believe that sharing a function or even a common etymology means that these deities also share character, temperament, teachings, and ideals. (I imagine that the Hellenismos and Religio Romana folks run into this a lot, with assertions like “Juno is just Hera” and so forth.)

Indra is a multilayered deity; He’s been known to humanity for thousands of years, and the popular image, traditional teachings, and folk stories all reveal different facets of Him. As such, He’s really hard to relate to deities from other pantheons – again, not because ZOMG SO DEEP Y’ALL, YOUR PALTRY GODS CANNOT COMPETE – but more because He’s like a glommy mess of traits. I’ve blogged before about the parallels to Him I find, not only in Zeus (with whom He’s often equated), but with Apollon and Dionysos as well, to give one example from Hellenismos. Really, He vaguely overlaps enough other deities and pantheons that I don’t draw clear lines between any of them; I see at least parts of Him in just about any God who is a Seeker/Seer, Teacher, Artist, or King. And when Indra does appear among other cultures’ Gods, it’s hard to draw specific conclusions from that; folks like the Mitanni have left us artifacts, but their references to gods like “Indara” still don’t tell us how He was viewed or worshipped – if at all – in their society. (1)

I do have UPG on this subject to share, because there is one God whom I consider an exception to all of the above, and to whom I relate Indra quite closely. But there’s actually a query requesting “unusual or interesting UPG” near the end of this project, so I’ll save it for then.

Meanwhile, the tl;dr: answer to the above question: I think that Indra doesn’t really relate (or correlate) to non-Vedic deities or pantheons. He’s an outlier within Hinduism itself and, not surprisingly, doesn’t easily “translate” to other cultures either. Of course, your mileage/experience/interpretation/opinion may vary!

(1) His presence in official documents doesn’t even mean that He was considered all that important; His name could have been part of a typical closing salutation or habitual oath, or He could have been seen as one of many minor demi-god who protected peace negotiations. (People do this sort of “customary invocation” even in modern times; while “In God We Trust” is printed on American bills, the motto doesn’t signify that everyone who carries money is a theist, or that someone using currency is actively engaging in worship!)

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