Category Archives: Thoughts

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 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!)

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30 Days, day 14: Change in worship.

Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?
I’m tired, y’all, and it’s been a long day; you don’t know how tempted I was to type “Yes” and provide several appropriate links. But that isn’t much keeping with the spirit of the project, as it’s Thirty Days of Devotion and not Thirty Days of Lazy Snark. Fortunately, I found some old notes (2011-2012) on the subject of Indra’s worship over time – specifically, its decline, and some thoughts about why such a thing might have happened. They’re a little more slapdash and generalised than I’d prefer, but I hope my thoughts will be pretty simple to follow, and help tie together some points I’ve made in past entries.

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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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Owl figure it out!

“The diet of the owl is not
For delicate digestions.
He goes out on a limb to hoot
Unanswerable questions,

And just because he winks like men
Who utter sage advice,
We think him full of wisdom when
He’s only full of mice.”
–X.J. Kennedy

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.

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Offenses of Indra: Rap(tur)e.

Several times I’ve been asked why Indra is no longer worshipped, why there are no temples for him. Before I can delve into this question, I want to address a prevailing myth: that Indra is forgotten either because he has lost the right to be worshipped, or because people have progressed beyond his crude divinity and realised more sophisticated ideals. There are many written sources, as well as film and television portrayals, which characterise Indra the lascivious, uncontrolled, adulterous god altogether undeserving of honour, inexplicably in charge of the heavens though lacking any real power. In the popular mind, Indra is a fading star barely holding a place among the celestials, a savage nature-force honoured by a more primitive age.

I believe that prudish ideas, and particularly (though not exclusively) English/Judeo-Christian concepts, are at least partly implicated in this widespread misconception. Though Westerners have a reputation as lustful and sex-crazed, overall the prevailing Western morality is startlingly puritanical. In terms of religion, it is ancient knowledge that the ascent to divine consciousness requires the sublimation of sexual energy, but it is a specifically Abrahamic idea to assign a moral alignment – evil, or sin – to many sex-acts and most sexual thoughts, and therefore classify much of human sexuality as direct oppostion to divinity. This bias may seem solely Western, but I have found the idea of Indra as a pimp, womanizer, or fornicator in an equal number of modern Indian sources (1).

I wrote in my prior “Offenses” post that the Purāṇic stories of Indra cannot be read without imagination and understanding, and indeed, that it’s useless to do otherwise. The Devas’ actions often make no sense when taken at flat face value. What should one learn by a superficial reading of the Samudra Manthan, to give an example – that swigging poison is dangerous, and tortoises are awesome? (Both are true, but hardly uplifting.) When Viṣṇu transforms into a woman, his deed demonstrates the ultimate genderlessness of the Supreme and also gains immortality for the Devas; when Indra takes different forms, it’s explained that he does this to hurt people because he’s a selfish jerk.

It’s hypocritical to honour the Vedas as the great knowledge founding Hinduism, yet speak of the Vedas’ great Lord with disgust. It doesn’t make sense to consider the ṛṣis as supreme seers who realised and conveyed a cosmic vision, and then denigrate that vision and their wisdom by insulting Indra, insinuating that the Sages were too foolish or short-sighted to realise his true character. And it’s ignorant to assume that the Vedic deities are just personified nature, and thus have no more far-sighted intelligence in their actions than rutting beasts. Common sense should tell us that these conclusions can’t be true – even if we do not read Veda or know much about it (2).

Sexual crime is the most frequent charge laid (laid! Ha! /twelve-year-old moment) against Indra, so it’s one I’d like to address by examining the most notorious and famous case: Indra’s liaison with Ahalyā, the wife of Gautama Ṛṣi.

The bare outline of the tale goes like this:

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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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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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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.

Lord Indra…lllllladies.

From the beginning to the end of this existence, Indra is there.

Before the child’s first breath, Indra protects the unborn one in the womb. He helps both mother and child both through the difficult and painful separation and birth into this world. For long has he been sung petitions of growth, strength, and health.

He is the guardian of youth, particularly young girls. Once in Cambodia maidens were called the brides of Indra, held in Indra’s trust until they married young mortal men. It is from Indra’s curse, and blessing, that blood comes to women. Men bleed for war, and death; women bleed for life, my once-teacher told me, and Indra is battle and life both.

He too is the wife-giver; he guides the young woman as bride to the one who seeks her, and is called to the marriage-fire to bless and give increase. Though divider he is also the joiner of two into one; it is known that Indra and Indrāṇī are two halves of each other: Śakra and Śacī, the primordial Śiva-Śakti.

To the wedded wife then he comes: to heal the rejected one, to make the barren flow with milk, to bring children to the childless, to grant release from despair. Because he respects no ties, he destroys all bonds, and so exposes the truth of love.

And it is Indra in the end who hears the mumblings of an old woman on the indifference of immortal to mortal, and rights her wrongs, and it is Indra’s heaven – not a place, but light and boundless freedom – to which he as psychopomp may bring the weary spirit.

Indra is so much a part of a woman’s life unseen, his only friends I have known have been female, and of course this would be so; He is intimate to women, binding and freeing, accepting alike prayers for delight in this world and austerities for knowledge beyond. He is tender strength and lightning joy and a thousand eyes that see what others do not, and how could a woman not love?

Kind God to those who sing thy praise,
O Soma-drinker, Thunder-armed, Friend of our lovely-featured dames…
What mortal, O immortal Dawn, enjoyeth thee? Where lovest thou? To whom, O radiant, dost thou go?
For we have had thee in our thoughts whether anear or far away.

© 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.

Ṛgveda X.54.

From January to March, I took Oxford’s Vedas and Upanishads introduction online, and wrote the final essay: a 2,000-word paper, exploring any selected Vedic or Upanishadic excerpt in depth, relating the text to the other literature we had studied and to Hindu thought overall. The instructor’s corrections were helpful, and my final grade was a (British) 69, equivalent in the American/Canadian system to an 89/B+; I’m not disappointed, given six years since my last university coursework and an amateur attempt besides.

Since it is relevant to the content of this blog – a brief explanation and interpretation of one of my favourite Vedic hymns, Ṛgveda X.54, to Indra – I’m posting it here, without edits. Anything inspired is Indra’s; anything facile, dumb, or just plain wrong, I take full credit!

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Life in the fast lane.

“In sacrifice, I am the food of kings,
And to those who sacrifice joyously, I distribute the fruits.”
–from the Bāṣkalamantra Upaniṣad

Today is Bhīma Ekādaśī, the one Ekādaśī fast that holds the merit of all twenty-four; it is a very strict fast that proscribes both food and water. Since I do have work today, I am abstaining from food only, and willing my insistent belly to quiet down for a little while.

Fasting is useful to reveal the dark smudges on the soul; it isn’t only in the cups that you can tell a person’s full measure, but after a day without food as well. And one of the reasons I don’t like to fast is because I discover what a short-tempered grouch I can be. It seems that much of my bhakti is fueled by peanut butter; I’m devout and calm when well-fed, shaky and irritable when hungry. It’s like the Cookie Monster is alive, real, and writing this blog.

Yet today has been different. Mid-day a euphoria began, as I realised a most excellent purpose of fasting: not to past a test or to cultivate endurance, but to sharpen the hunger for Lord, to turn the force of a voracious appetite to Him. How marvelous, such an opportunity, such a universe. On my lunch break, I fed devotion with dandelions and butterflies and sunlight, and chanted while walking through a park, and forgot stomach pangs.

This small realisation has not shattered the walls of ignorance, to be sure. But it is a blessing nonetheless, to tilt this jewel of existence and see a new facet revealed by illumination.

© 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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Separation, sacrifice, and other light late-night musings.

Humans are seeds of bright immortality sown in dense mortal soil. We plod through insipid routine and, through that dark window, imagine incandescence. It’s such a perfect tragedy. If humankind is indeed the vehicle through which the Puruṣa dreams, then the Absolute Consciousness is a matchless storyteller.

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Restless thoughts.

Chosen. In my culture, the word carries connotations of the shining extraordinary, of being carefully selected. Perhaps it has root in Christian tradition; a saint or mystic is chosen by God as messenger or revealer, others are not. Yet when God is revealed in a pantheon, it is common to all, to be chosen by some spirit, guardian, god-form – all are named, claimed, protected. To be chosen is bare reality.

One purpose of initiation rites in many faiths is to reveal that form, that Name: the Immortal comes to claim the mortal, or to confirm what has already been glimpsed. In other groups, worship is passed down by family or community, so that one is born into the culture of one’s God. (Of course, there is always “error” possible. Those like me, who leave their family’s and community’s choices to worship elsewhere. Those who are “diagnosed” incorrectly in initiation, or who begin with a God-form that does not remain with them.)

In drifting to my path from very different origins, I have sometimes wondered: Without community, family, or other guidance, what makes that choice? Some are drawn to fill their own hollows; the repressed person embraces the ecstatic Divine, the ill one adores the compassion of the Healer, or the child distant from family delights in the loving Parent. Others are joined like to like. The career military officer wears the sign of the Warrior, the shy homebody worships at the warming Hearth, the brilliant seeker honours the Sage.

What am I, to Indra, alike in nature or opposite? And who has chosen whom?

I like to think all such relationships are by mutual choice: the soul shaped to love its shaper.
And such a master craftsman, that the human spirit is like enough to recognise the Divine and different enough to long for it…

Current Music: Ancient Egyptian Meditation Music, which is beautiful.

© 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.

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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Petal, pistil, petrichor.

Veda is never “proven” via chemistry or physics, but scripture and science are so far apart in the popular mind, it dazzles people when a researcher objectively demonstrates a spiritual concept. Yet our science against Veda is only the echo of a strong, true word. We hear the weak and dying sound, and begin to remember, like briefly stirring from a dream. This is why I look to Veda, and let slip away the school-learning that used to shape my thoughts.

Still, once in a while some piece of knowledge surfaces, and when I caught the faint fragrance of wet earth in the afternoon, it pulled a memory. The inimitable aroma that seeps up from dry ground at the rain. Mitti is the attar of this divine scent in India. The unusually poetic technical term is petrichor, stone ichor, nectar of earth.

In drought, plants secrete oils to slow growth, self-preservation as oils that soak into the soil. At the first touch of moisture, the volatile oils are released, reborn as a sort of territorial signal; they essentially clear a no-sprout zone, keeping other plants from invading the newly-enlivened earth. Beauty in the struggle for survival, like birdsongs reverberating from nests and branches. As if the growing things whisper, Not here, elsewhere while they soak up the precious drops. Petrichor as fast and feast, and war.

No laboratory can duplicate these astonishing connections. And science cannot recreate the wonder. And nothing “rain” scented ever smells right. But the intertwining of water and earth in Veda is always magical. I search, and read; the praise is of Soma, but the scent of rain seems twined in the words: We solicit from you, O Divine Waters, that pure, faultless, rain-shedding, sweet essence of the earth…

The rain, with its dark clouds and dazzling flashes, bathes the entire earth with its splendour.

I was thinking of this today while I walked, and found it vaguely interesting to remember war and rain together in the personality of Indra, and to consider the strange poetry in the earth warming with fragrance at the rain, like a delicate shiver of delight tinged with fear.

I lay my heart before the lord praised as Ambudeśvara, yet almost never can bring myself to ask for his most obvious gift. How could I begin to comprehend even a small part of the swirling, rushing, enmeshing embraces of winds and waters and warmth on this earth, much less ask for them, as if I perfectly understood the effects of that request? When even a single hint of scent in the rain brings such astonishment to this foolish mind?

I feel that whoever interpreted this verse (quoted as originating in Ṛgveda I.6?) has either a different copy of the text than I do, or has more poetry within them than I have read in other translations. But it is beautiful, and suits my thoughts today.

“Nature’s beauty is an art of God.
Let us feel the touch of God’s invisible hands in everything beautiful.
By the first touch of His hand rivers throb and ripple.
When He smiles the sun shines, the moon glimmers, the stars twinkle, the flowers bloom.
By the first rays of the rising sun, the universe is stirred;
the shining gold is sprinkled on the smiling buds of rose;
the fragrant air is filled with sweet melodies of singing birds.”

(Updated 27 October 2012, to add an interesting article about petrichor that may be found here.)

© 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.

Saving the Earth, one blog post at a time.

There’s a lot percolating in my brain lately – but the mind-to-fingertips connection, which would normally translate my thoughts into blog posts, seems to be broken.

Before this WordPress journal, I blogged for eight years on LiveJournal and briefly kept a blog on Dreamwidth. This is a recycled entry from the latter. It was written about a year and a half ago, and discusses one of Indra’s many names/epithets, found among his thousand names (or sahasranāma).

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Breath of life.

It will be a while before the travelogue is complete, if ever; something breaks inside of me each time I try to continue. Anyway, I’m itching to write about thoughts as they happen, instead of rewinding to months ago. Today, I simply want to ramble.

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Translation – exposition, part 2 (later works).

The rest of the reviews are under the cut. All of these authors have written books which evaluate Ṛgveda and include some translated hymns as examples.

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