Category Archives: Attributes

30 Days, day 20: Indra admirably, Indra disturbingly.

What quality or qualities of this god do you most admire? What quality or qualities of them do you find the most troubling?

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30 Days, day 19: Gender and sexuality.

How does this deity stand in terms of gender and sexuality? (historical and/or UPG)

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30 Days, day 13: Indra and issues.

What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?

I need to be very, very careful with this question, particularly because Indra has few modern-day worshippers; there’s the potential, with this question, to frame myself as some sort of mouthpiece for Him. This seems a question based entirely on UPG, so I want to emphasise that these are my opinions only, and that Indra Himself has not made known to me any sort of agenda.

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30 Days, day 6: Other associates.

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.

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30 Days, day 5: Indra’s family.

Do you remember what I wrote earlier, that Veda has much meaning embedded within it, and should not be limited to a literal interpretation? Indra’s “family tree” is really an excellent example of this, and since today’s topic asks about the deity’s family and genealogical connections, let’s begin.

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30 Days, day 3: Symbols of Indra.

Today’s topic asks me to describe symbols and icons of Indra, and this was a more difficult subject to address than I initially believed it would be. Hindu deities have elaborate iconographies that are incorporated into their temple statues, a full and rich language of expression, gesture, raiment, and implements. Because each God’s representation is such a complex affair, many Hindu Devas don’t have a particular, clear-cut symbol that represents Him or Her. There are several tools that are sacred to Indra, but because His character and stories have changed so much over time, some of these icons are now sanctified to other Devas.

Well, I did the best I could. Here’s a short list of symbols to represent Indra’s qualities, in accordance with His “official” depictions, along with one personal suggestion offered at the end.

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30 Days, day 1: Intro to Indra.

Over the last few days, I’ve tried to dust away the cobwebs from this blog – approving and responding to comments, deleting most of my posts from 2013 and thus removing the baggage of a failed project, and now, undertaking 30 Days of Devotion for Indra. I’m hoping to move past the massive mounds of self-recrimination and ease back into writing by following a structured project, which offers clear, interesting questions for me to answer.

Day 1 of the project asks the writer to provide “A basic introduction of the deity.”

…boy, you’d think I would have told you that by now, but it turns out I’ve never written such a thing. So let’s make that happen:

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Offerings to Indra (part 4 of 4).

The Vedic religion of the fourfold godhead – Agni, Soma, Sūrya, Indra – embodies the understanding of everything as yajña; the outer ritual, of offering substances into the sacred fire, is the material form of a process which occurs at every level of existence. A human birth gives a tremendous opportunity to awaken the soul’s inner fire and to aspire to bliss, light, and truth, to walk among Devas as equal and to realise the underlying Godhead, Brahman, beyond all.

Each person can “become Indra,” not through the literal action of undertaking a set number of ceremonies and earning a heavenly crown, but through the understanding of every breath, moment, and action as sacrifice of one into the next, and through the awakening of that wild, noble, heroic spirit within, which seeks for Truth alone.

The Vedic yajña-rite is rarely performed now, but the ideal of life-as-sacrifice continues:

“Every single act of one who would lead a life of purity should be in the nature of yajña. Yajña having come to us with our birth, we are debtors all our lives, and thus for ever bound to serve the universe. And even as a bond slave receives food, clothing and so on from the master whom he serves, so should we gratefully accept such gifts as may be assigned to us by the Lord of the universe. What we receive must be called a gift; for as debtors we are entitled to no consideration for the discharge of our obligations. Therefore, we may not blame the Master, if we fail to get it. Our body is His to be cherished or cast away according to His will.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

This is what we praise of that Indra called Śatayajña: not one who has earned a position by pouring substances into a hundred fires, but one who, as an embodied Deva, shines with the merit of immeasurable generosity, one whose very being is sacrifice and who, thus, is able to rightly say of Himself that He is Truth, Life, and Light.

When I write here about offering to Indra, I write not with the thought of the complex Vedic rituals, rites from which I am excluded anyway, but with the thought of yajña in my mind, and of feeding the fire of my own yearning for Him.

“Invoking him, the more recent ones
Have reached out to your former ancient deeds of fame, Indra.
Just in as much as we understand,
So do we praise you, hero brought by prayer, mighty one.”
Ṛgveda VI.21.6.

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Offerings to Indra (part 3 of 4).

“Lay on the yokes, and fasten well the traces: formed is the furrow, sow the seed within it.
Through song may we find bearing fraught with plenty: near to the ripened grain approach the sickle.”
Ṛgveda X.101.3

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Offerings to Indra (part 2 of 4).

“Here in the garden, fountain of life
Here in the garden, arcane delights
Are born from the womb.
Down here the seed will rise,
from dark earth to the light,
to kiss the sun again.”
–Brendan Perry, Crescent

Sometimes the Devas’ gifts are inadvertent, or at least made to seem so. I begin this section with five plants created by “clumsiness.”

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Offenses of Indra: Pāna and Soma, inebriation and intoxication.

While the imbibing of intoxicants (pāna) is a relatively minor “crime” in Hindu śāstra, the texts mostly agree in recommending that a spiritual seeker avoid alcohol. The substance is considered to derange the senses, damage the body, and promote negative actions by weakening self-control. From what I have read, also, Hindu culture looks down upon the drinking of alcohol, and especially drunkenness, as a decadent and dirty Western deed.

In Ayurvedic medicine no substance is outright rejected. Rather, the truth of the Guṇas (qualities or principles) is taught, with all manifest conditions being Sattvik (pure, clear), Rajasik (aggressive, active), or Tamasik (inert, ignorant); the practitioner is taught to understand these properties and then select treatments according to desired effects. Alcohol is classified as a Tamasik beverage, promoting darkness in the mind and wreaking damage upon the channel-systems (srotamsi) within the body. Yet alcohol also has a medicinal utility, because it possesses a subtle, penetrating effect that can carry healing herbal essences to the deepest tissues, and an herbal tincture or medicinal wine (called drakṣa) may be administered to alleviate certain conditions. However, even Ayurveda’s approach to liquor as a double-edged sword never extends to a tolerance of dissipation.

Personally, I love the translation of somarasa as “Soma-wine,” the word “wine” bringing to my mind such delightful associations as the sacred frenzy of Bacchantes, the sharing of the ritual-cup, and the pouring of libations. But others understand Soma as mere liquor, and translate Vedic hymns to describe the Devas – Indra chief among them – as besotted with booze.

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The shining rain.

Yajña. Japa. Judicial summons, even.(1) When the rain is scarce and predictions bleak, Indra is again remembered, and petitioned in many ways, to fulfill his duty and end the blight of drought.

Yet, though Indra is a god of rain, he is not only – or even primarily – the rain-god.

In Veda Indra is sung as protective strength and triumphant power; he is the flash and force of the storm, less often its bounteous result. He is part of the rains, but natural processes – which, in the Vedic view, are gross manifestations of subtle, universal phenomena – are not simple and clearly-delineated. Ṛgveda hymned no single “rain god,” but recognised and honoured the interplays by which life was nourished and maintained.

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Offenses of Indra: Lim(b)ited time (dis)membership.

In my last post I mentioned one of Indra’s greatest enemies – that demon called pride – and the god’s rather spectacular, even horrific, battles against the same. This terribly glorious nature appears all through Veda: when Indra encounters any demonic power, he doesn’t only oppose it; he wounds, dissects, and dismembers it, only then releasing it through ultimate destruction. Killing in general is abhorrent to the Western mind, and especially any sort of piecemeal vivisection, which we mostly associate with indifference (as in laboratories) or cruelty (as with animals who taunt their prey). Yet there is this impulsive, violent slaughter in Indra’s wake.

The word “sin” is the English term usually chosen to describe the misdeeds of Indra, but I want to avoid this word “sin” because it carries heavy baggage of Christian morality with it, and also implies a crime committed with evil intentions rather than an action taken for the greater good. (Cue black-robed figures encircling a stone table: “The greater good.”) I think the term “offenses” is better, for he offends much against prevailing conventionality, violates social contracts, and displays neither shame nor doubt in his acts. To understand these offenses, we must examine them closely, facing these “evil” actions head-on.

Or head-off, as the case very frequently is.

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The sublime, the terrible.

This Deva of such intense personality, this Indra possesses so many attractive qualities, such brilliance, benificence, and boldness, as to entangle the worshipper in thoughts of beauty that exclude the horrific and shadowy. An indispensible, unforgettable part of Indra is his contradictory nature, the simultaneous expression of sharp contrasts. The rider of the thought-controlled chariot, master of the senses, brave warrior, elephant-tamer, strength and truth, wielder of the lightning striking solid blows against ignorance, demon-slayer – is also a thief, defiler of marriage vows, leader of faithful worshippers away from devotion and into blindness, impulsive, fearful, overbearingly proud, filled with sensuous weakness, delighting in confusion and destruction, killer of the holy. He leads the way to truth with clear light; he assumes disguises, sets traps, and blocks all ways to the truth. He is a father to some who praise him. Others he gives up to be devoured by wolves, and he brags about their slaughter. He is magnificent. He is horrible. That horrible God is the greatest and most infuriating friend to the ignorant.

But even when described with such unflattering words, Indra still reads like some sort of sympathetically conflicted superhero, yes? Poetic language gives a compelling drama to ideas like “darkness” and “terror” and “destruction” – like the entire preceding paragraph should have been read aloud by James Earl Jones – so let me give an example of how non-awesome those concepts can be, when they play out in real life.

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Not-so-common sense.

A spiritual aspirant works to transcend the illusions that the sense-organs perceive, to move from seductive sense-impressions into a more incorruptible truth-full state, like diving below ocean waves into calmer depths. Aside from desire and illusion, the senses or indriyas are Indra’s powers in another sense: they are protective of life.

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Racism (NOT) in Veda.

It happens sooner or later, that if you are searching information on Indra, some innocuous phrasing on Google guides you to some fact you’d rather not know. You discover that the Nazi SS modeled their logo from the thunderbolt, or that some members of Stormfront idolise Indra as the great Aryan hero, or that someone out there actually perceives Hitler as some sort of Indra-avatara on Earth – and if it’s possible to experience the spiritual equivalent of your jaw dropping to the ground in horror, there it is.

I write routinely on a Hindu forum online, and some months ago, someone asked “if there really are blonde gods in the Vedas or if it’s just made up.” I didn’t see – or perhaps chose not to see, in the egoistic/enthusiastic fervour of answering OHMYGOSH A QUESTION I ACTUALLY KNEW – the warning signs. I wrote a direct response, and later he revealed his true – dare I say colours, as someone hoping for a white supremacist reading of humanity’s most sacred words.

I took my post down, but saved the original text, as I thought there was truth in it, truth I didn’t want twisted and perverted as part of some racist diatribe in a hateful little corner of the Internet somewhere.

But I’m posting it here, now, for three reasons:
1. It would be nice to have some of these searches turn up actual information instead of mentally-ill bigotry.
2. Laziness. I already wrote this, so some revision and clarification gave me a blog update without much effort.
3. Indra’s transformations was a topic I meant to discuss anyway.

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On strike! Wait, no, on fire.

In thinking about the thunder god’s different forms, I see a common thread: these deity-forms tend to be the volatile, charismatic, colourful “characters” of their pantheons, with lusty appetites and vivid tales spun round them.

Certainly I can understand the tempestuous traits, the storm naturally manifesting its presiding god, but how did lightning get paired with vivacity? In literature we sometimes read of attraction feeling like a jolt, but this is a modern simile: we know the “buzz” of a sudden shock because we have electricity. In ancient times, the vast majority of the people who experienced that electric flash, had about a millisecond to process how it felt, before getting a serious case of dead. The bolt lights the sky, makes day of night, and in an indirect way heralds life because it foreshadows the vital rain. But that’s rather like honouring rocks as life-bringers because they eventually erode into soil in which things grow – not inaccurate, but a bit of a stretch.

In 1952, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey decided to wake up, have some cookies, and get working on how life originated on planet Earth*. So they rigged up a primordial soup of chemicals, exposed it to the conditions of the ancient world’s atmosphere in microcosm, and shocked it to simulate lightning. Within a few weeks they had amino acids – the building blocks of proteins, which are essential to all overpriced health foods and/or life as we know it. The Miller-Urey experiment is still considered one of the niftiest uses of science ever.

Of course, being that Veda records all knowledge, this “discovery” was already given to the ṛṣis long ago, in the life-giving character of the God who frees the waters and wields the bolt, the primordial ocean awakened to life by the touch of lightning. Whether it happens in the spiritual realm or in laboratory flasks, it’s genesis, magic.

Other aspects of the Devas are also illumined by envisioning the pre-recorded past. For example, consider that in Vedas Indra and Agni are sometimes hymned together; in later writing they are even said to be twins. The first flame known to mankind was likely the wildfire of the lightning-strike, and those echoes seem to resound in the Devas’ hymns: Indra, the most ancient and ever-active, and Agni, the youngest and ever new-born.

In exploring lightning further, we find Indra’s bolt represented as the Vajra – :points to her user icon: THAT – a curious double-edged thing that looks like two forks stuck together by the handles. This spiky lightning was also depicted in the hands of other ancient thunder-wielders, like Marduk. But since Vedic religion wasn’t pictorial, we don’t know when or how this image got associated with Indra.

And the image itself seems strange, doesn’t it? A later Purāṇic story tells that a great sage gave up his life to help the Devas, and that his spine was used to make Vajra. It’s a beautiful tale with a great teaching, but not helpful for explaining how Vajra looks, because anyone with a vertebral column shaped like that, needs to see a chiropractor, stat. And if you consider Vajra as a weapon, then it still makes no sense: almost any way you hold it, the projectile lash would strike you as well as everyone else.

However – for those of us who are not poet-seers and don’t receive our answers directly from the Source – we have SCIENCE, which clarifies the mirror-image Vajra wonderfully. We now know that lightning is more of an ionic exchange between earth and sky, and that the most visibly luminous part of the flash is actually the “return stroke” that travels from earth skyward. Energy travels downward, energy travels upward; the process is hard to see with the naked eye, but Vajra is a simple artistic representation of how lightning actually works. Incidentally, the average lightning bolt can be positively- or negatively-charged; the negative has an average current of 30 kA (kiloamperes) the positive 300 kA. The average stroke lasts for 30 msec, and a typical strike is made of 3 strokes. That blood-stirring, ‘charged’ scent of lightning air – ozone – is O3. And Vajra has three prongs on each side.

Anyhow, nothing earth-shattering (lightning! earth-shattering! ha!), just a few random thoughts from today. And as the strike of lightning is often sudden and unexpected, so is the conclusion of blog posts.

*I admit to some shoddy research here. There may or may not have been cookies involved.

© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A bunch of bull?

I used to own a book called Images from Vedic Hymns and Rituals, and in a spirit of moronic generosity, I took copious notes on the volume and then passed it on to a religious scholar. Now all I have remaining are my notes, which I’m going to attempt to use in presenting one of author Sadashiv Dange’s really interesting points. All mistakes are mine.

In chapter 18, the names Śipiviṣṭa and Śiprin, Vedic names of Indra, are introduced, and analysed as relating to fertility. (The chapter gives more information in support of this: a) other epithets, like Sthavira, and b) aspects of Indra’s worship related to vitality – like Indra’s flagstaff, in which he rightly sees the prototypical liṅgaṃ. For this post, I’m just using the linguistic links.)

The word-root Dange offers for both names is śas – meaning to jump or be active, and also holding a sexual double-entendre. Such a reading would tie nicely to Indra’s nature as the active, aggressive, fertilising principle, as essentially Tejas personified.

Śipi is currently translated as the sacrificial flames, and Śipiviṣṭa therefore as “effulgent” or “surrounded by rays of light.” In modern times, the name is Viṣṇu’s, and its concept is beautifully displayed in representations of Śiva Nāṭaraja, as well.
Dange purports that the original Śipiviṣṭa refers to the one who has entered as lord – which I read as the life-giving essence – and also interprets śipi as a piercing horn or digging tool with, again, a reference to the male principle.

Śiprin (and Śipriṇī-vān) is a name that has rather stumped scholars. The problem is that the words śipra (singular) and śipre (plural) relate to the sacrifice somehow, but have never been satisfactorily translated, being alternately suggested as “jaw” or “ladle.” This one is sometimes translated as “having capacious jaws,” as Indra’s capacity for Soma is vast.

Dange points out that epithets are usually uttered in praise or increase of the God, and that “having a face” or “using jaws” doesn’t add much to Indra’s characterisation. He suggests a different idea: śipra as an animal horn or horn-shaped receptacle, proposing that the śipra was a Soma-vessel, the original drinking-horn. This would make Śipriṇī-vān the lord of the horned beings and – by extension – Śiprin the wearer or bearer of the horn-vessels. This, again, relates to vigour and fecundity (as do the myriad Vedic references to Indra as Ram and Bull).

What makes me grin is the implication: that – besides possibly wearing the prototype of the horned helmet that we usually associate with Vikings, Wagner operas, and Marvel Comics – Indra may also have been the original Horned God. Which means I’ve technically been worshipping him for fifteen years now. Which amuses me, and thus is the entire reason for this post.

“If you wake to the sound of a hunting horn, dance a ring in the gathering storm,
revel in the chase and let your heartbeat run, but you’d best be ready, little one,
You’d best be ready when the Horned One comes.
He will call you out, make you sweat, give you a blessing that you’ll never forget.
So revel in the chase and let your heartbeat run: Blessed are the children of the Horned One!”
-S.J. Tucker, from “Hymn to Herne,” which is a great song.

My Current Music, Which Has Nothing to Do With Anything: :Wumpscut:, “Evoke”

© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Orientation, precipitation, revelation.

There are many subjects flitting through my thoughts lately, none coherent enough for an entire essay.

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Indra: Apollon, Dionysos, Zeus.

I love it when people ask me things that turn into posts. I adore not having to come up with my own ideas. COMMENTS YES PLEASE.

The creative spark/comment/question from a few days ago: “Out of curiosity what association do you make of Apollon and Dionysos with Indra? I know that I personally associate Apollon with Shiva (and I know others associate him with Dionysos, though I tend to associate Dionysos with Ganesh). So I am interested in your take on this, and why not Zeus?”

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