Art that reminds you of this deity.
As a consummate Artist Himself, Indra seems present in every piece of art ever made. But art that exposes absurdity or uncovers hypocrisy, art that makes the viewer think or see the world in a new way, new forms of art, fusions, inventions, improvisations, and unconventionalities all remind me of Him. Below the cut, I’ve included just a few strong, clear examples.
“The diet of the owl is not
For delicate digestions.
He goes out on a limb to hoot
And just because he winks like men
Who utter sage advice,
We think him full of wisdom when
He’s only full of mice.”
He is the ruler of the secretive night, mystical and wise; he is an ill-omened sight, foolish and ignorant. These are opposing perceptions of both Indra and the Owl, and in this post I want to discuss the god’s appearance as the avian.
A vāhana is an animal who bears a deity in travel between the worlds. Each Deva is borne by a vāhana who suits his nature and power; bright Kalki brandishes a sword from atop a pure white horse, ego-destroying Kārtikeya is master of the vain peacock, and much-feared Śani rides upon a baleful crow. Husbands and wives do share a vāhana sometimes – so that we see both Brahmā and Sarasvatī depicted with a swan, or Indra and Śacī sitting together upon the royal elephant – but each deity also possesses his own vehicle. (1)
The vāhana is not usually worshipped as a separate deity, but commands the respect due a great devotee and is sometimes worshipped with the attendant Deva. There are two exceptions to that semi-divinity: Ayyappa’s leopard (or tiger) and Lakṣmī’s owl are both forms of beloved Indra. Indra is the lone Deva who bears other Devas in this way. (2)
As Lakṣmī’s bearer, Indra is named Ulūka and depicted as the “barn” or “ghost” owl found throughout north India:
I talk with the moon, said the owl, while she lingers over my tree.
I talk with the moon, said the owl, and the night belongs to me.
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.