Category Archives: Tidbits

Constant storm.

There’s a place on Earth that receives about 1.2 million lightning strikes per year, at the mouth of the Catatumbo River in Venezuela. Near-constant lightning, lasting up to ten hours, illuminates the nights; these strikes have been observed for thousands of years.

A 16th century verse by Spanish poet Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio described the phenomenon beautifully as “flames, which the wings of night cover.”

More information, along with some astonishing photographs, may be found here.

Oṃ krīṃ indrāya namaḥ.

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En-lightning-ment.

I’ve across something amusingly and tangentially Indra-related, provided by (of all sources) the auto-fill in Google Translate. It seems that, in French, the word éclair means “lightning,” éclairé means “illuminated,” and éclairée, “informed.”

I don’t know enough linguistic particulars to state with certainty that the three are related, but nonetheless feel the sequence of words to be an “enlightening” procession.

In other news, I’m back from vacation and catching up on comments and requests. My responses should be sent in the next few days, but if I haven’t replied to you by the weekend, please give me a small nudge in the comments.

30 Days, day 30: Advice.

Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity?
I’m no authority, and this project has taught me my own ignorance more than anything.

But I believe that there are two basic ways to learn about Him: the austere path of disciplined study, and the innocent loving path of the devotee. I suck at the former, so the only suggestion I can give concerns the latter, and it’s this:

A child has a sort of surrender to the experience of living – as yet uninured to existence, treating each moment as an eternity, sensing every small detail in full. To learn of Him, beyond books or hymns, become a child, for fearless delight pleases Him as much as any physical offering. I feel that all He teaches leads back to a perfect state of Soma, and that one of the devotee’s hardest tasks is not to acquire layers of learning, but peel away layers of burdensome memory, of judgment and sorrow, and become soft, open, and wondering. This is an act of tremendous courage and trust, to know that pain will doubtless await and to choose this path anyway. This is His strength, which He proves again and again in his falls.

Be ridiculous, foolish, and gentle. Invite Him to walk with you and share in the experiences you cherish, no matter how insignificant they seem. Leave guilt, fear, and ideas of unworthiness behind, and let Him show you what He will.

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© 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.

30 Days, day 27: Misconceptions.

Worst misconception about this deity that you have encountered.

There are three misconceptions that I consider “the worst,” for different reasons.

The most shocking and horrible is the version of Ahalyā’s story in which the affair is neither seduction nor trickery, but rape. Part of Gautama’s curse upon Indra becomes that He will bear part of the sin for every rape ever committed.

The most widespread misconception I’ve yet encountered is that Indra and Kṛṣṇa are enemies. Indra and Viṣṇu are ancient Friends; they are hymned together in Ṛgveda. Their roles are different, but both always work for world-welfare, and if that work is sometimes seen through the veil of Māyā, well, then I imagine that that is as They would wish it.

And the misconception that has affected me most adversely is the idea that other religions generally, and any non-Christian God specifically, is a trap set by the Devil to ensnare the intellectual. The concept that my Gods are really demons, and that I am evil for following a different faith, has unfortunately cost me family relationships and friendships.

But Indra remains, beautiful and terrible, and true regardless of how He is seen.

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© 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.

30 Days, day 17: “Values.”

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

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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.

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© 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.

Addendum, precipitation.

I got to thinking about the “black nourishment” requirement for the Śakvarī-song’s student, and good grief, it’s not exactly a treat for the senses, is it? There are so few foods that are naturally black, and even fewer that would have grown in the relevant regions during Vedic times.

The small list of dark edibles that I was able to recall included black gram, blackberries (technically dark purple), black radish, wild rice, black quinoa, black sesame seeds, kalonji, and chyavanprash (technically dark brown, but work with me, here!). Then my thoughts become ridiculous: Oreos (minus the creme filling), papaya seeds, burnt toast, rotten plantains, anything left on the fire too long, iron filings…yikes.

In other news, it’s still drizzling out today after an entire weekend of rain. I wish I could bring my computer outside to continue working.

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© 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.

Ghosts and relics.

In linguistics, a “ghost word” is a word that comes into being not through an organic process, but simply because of a mistake – often an error in translation or transcription that becomes accepted as fact. These phantoms cause no end of linguistic malarchy, as scholars try to follow the retreating shadow to its origin.

In a shockingly interesting article from 1985 – bless you, Journal of the American Oriental Society; most of what you publish is so dry, but this essay was knowledgeable and didn’t put me to sleep – Hartmut Scharfe of UCLA argues convincingly for the existence of a ghost word dating from Vedic times: Sanskrit rāj/rāja/rājan, often translated as chieftain, ruler, or king.

Scharfe reminds us that “hierarchical order is conspicuously absent from the Vedic pantheon” – which alone is an excellent common-sense reason to reject king as the best possible rendering of rāja – and then explains how the word is used for several Devas in turn, always when each is at the height of power and achievement. Indra is rājan in killing Vṛtra; Agni, beguiling darkness, is rājan. And so forth. A better translation of the word, he suggests, is “the one of power and charisma,” or perhaps “the one who supremely protects.” Based on this, I think of rājan like the one fully engaged in helpful action, or the ever-active for the universal benefit.

The point is, the word later came to signify one who was worthy to rule by virtue of benevolent force. But in Vedic times it did not signify any sense of dominion.

This is one of the many reasons that I’ve never liked the name Devarāja, for Indra.
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Returning briefly to my meandering ramblings from yesterday: I wish that Western culture would take the same interest in the Vedics as in the ancient Egyptians. I’d love to see a professional film or project, or museum displays on par with the wonder-inspiring traveling exhibition of Tutankhamun’s death relics.

But we want to feel the past intimately present. People buy antiquities, not for the pleasure of owning run-down things, but to finger a string of faience beads that once hung from a woman’s neck thousands of years ago, or to see their reflections in peculiar, pitted bronze surfaces that once showed faces so remote. We want to trace the same fissures and folds of metal and marble that an ancient sculptor’s hands once shaped, and touch crumbling pages while feeling anew the wonder of illiteracy, or at least imagine that we could, while slyly eyeing these relics through glass cases. But so much of the material from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are either simple living items – pots, pitchers, nothing otherworldly dazzling or intriguingly exotic – or else, they are objects and inscriptions so foreign that their meaning seems lost before the effort of understanding even begins.

No, the greatest legacy of the Sarasvatī River civilisation is aural, not visual or tactile – and Vedic chanting rates a Not So Much on the scale of Hollywood marketability.
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Returning to Stargate for one moment, with a curious tie-in to the idea of “words established by mistakes”:
After reading the pretty-bad-novel-version of Stargate, I finally know what Daniel and that meddling academic type were squabbling about at his lecture. I always wondered why the academics were heckling him for no real reason.
It turns out that their argument was based upon a real debate: Colonel Vyse really did make the discovery of inscriptions – of the name of Pharoah Khufu, among others – within the Great Pyramid, a structure in which no writings had previously been found.
In the book, after the stuffy professor mentions “the quarryman’s inscription of Khufu’s name within the pyramid,” Daniel demonstrates that the inscription was a fraud. He shows that the writing contained a mistake, a misspelling in Khufu’s name – a mistake that an actual quarryman probably would have been killed for inscribing in a pharaoh’s resting-place. However, that mistake happened to match exactly the name of “Khufu” in a misprinted volume of ancient Egyptian history – a volume which Vyse was carrying on the expedition.
This may not be the same evidence that exists in reality, but nonetheless, many people do actually believe that Vyse’s “discovery” was a fake. So it was a neat tie-in of actual academia versus the cooked-up version in the movie – and at least I was rewarded, for plodding through a poorly-written novelization of a far superior film, by learning something new today. :flashes the “The More You Know” rainbow:

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© 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.

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.)

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© 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.

Presents from my presence.

Happy Holi, all!

Holi is the date that I chose/researched as “Indra Jāyantī”, and today is also my two-year “anniversary” of being Hindu. So it’s pretty much my favourite day of the year, and one of the few times you’ll find this old bat in a fairly good mood.

Hence, I have a few gifts for y’all today.

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Translation – diversion.

While working on my second post about Ṛgveda translation, I rediscovered some interesting Veda-related tidbits, and thought I’d share some stories and links while I get my research together.

Warning: Slightly fluffy post. This is more “fun with Ṛgveda” than anything.

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Elephantine assistance.

It will be Kojāgari Pūrṇimā tomorrow, and the pūjā of Devi Lakṣmī and Lord Indra together. The association of Indra with Lakṣmī is very ancient and very wonderful; so far, every story I have read of these two has delighted me.

Here is one such story!

Gajalakshmi
Have you ever wondered why Mā Lakṣmī is showered by elephants?

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The rain of nectar.

A particularly gorgeous example of Rāga Malhar. The lyrics are from Sikh scripture. How beautiful.

Baras Ghana Mera Pir Ghar Aya

“So rain down, O clouds. My Husband Lord has come home. I am a sacrifice to my Guru, who has led me to meet my Lord God. My love, my Lord and Master is forever fresh; I am embellished with devotional worship night and day…Devotional worship has made me glorious and exalted throughout the ages. I am Yours; the three worlds are Yours as well. You are mine, and I am Yours.”

And from the same text, though not part of the linked song, are these words:

“I hear the thunder in the clouds, and my mind is cooled and soothed; imbued with the Love of my Dear Beloved, I sing His Glorious Praises. The rain pours down, and my mind is drenched with His Love…She is the happy soul-bride of her Husband Lord; her mind and body are filled with joy by His Love. Discarding her demerits, she becomes detached; with the Lord as her Husband, her marriage is eternal. She never suffers separation or sorrow; her Lord God showers her with His Grace.”

Both quotes from the Gurū Granth Sāhib.

Untranslated mantras.

Unfortunately for me, my Sanskrit “knowledge” is such that I recognise many words individually, but cannot tell how they fit together grammatically and thus cannot precisely translate even a single line. This is frustrating when I find verses or mantras that seem beautiful.

Two of these are offered here. The first is from a Nepali manuscript and seems to be a Tantric invocation using bīja mantras. The second is known as the Devarāja stava (or the Devadeveṣvara stava). I only recognise four lines from Mahābhārata‘s Indra stuti (the same four lines given on the Indra mantra page of this blog). Otherwise, I have no information on the source or meaning of this verse.

I cannot offer translation for either, but perhaps others will understand them better than I do.

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Gaṇapati and Rig Veda mantra.

Gaṇeśa’s birthday – Gaṇeśa Caturti – is today, beginning the eleven-day “Ganeshotsav” festival. Appropriately, Hindu Blog this morning quoted some questions and answers about Gaṇeśa:

“What is the meaning of the name Ganapati? Where are the Ganas? What is their form? When you investigate this, you find that the five organs of perception and the five organs of action are the Ganas. The mind is the master over these ten organs. Buddhi or intellect is the discriminating faculty above the mind. The ten senses, the mind and the intellect together constitute the Ganas.”
–Sathya Sai Baba

The word gaṇa (literally, “group”) also refers to followers or devotees. In a sense, Gaṇapati means not only the lord/master/leader of his followers, but simply the Lord. We are all part of God’s gaṇa!

At the beginning of this festival, Gaṇeśa is called into an idol that is installed in the home, and he is asked to stay for the duration of the festival. (Preferably this idol for Gaṇeśa-caturti is made of natural materials, because it is immersed in water on the festival’s last day.) The ritual mantra(s), which breathe life into the idol and invite God’s presence to suffuse the image, are called prāṇa pratiṣṭha. There are two Ṛgvedic mantras that are used to do this for Gaṇeśa on this day: II.23.1 followed by X.112.9.

Ṛgvedic wisdom is expansive, timeless, and universal; the mantras carry knowledge for all time, all places, and as such, some of its mantras are precursors to the worship of later Devas, or contain hidden wisdom about a form of God not widely honoured until after the Vedic period, or even serve as direct hymns to those Devas under different names or forms.

However, each Ṛgvedic mantra does have a Devatā honoured by the hymn. And we know that Gaṇeśa was/is not the only one known as the Lord of the Senses, nor the only one to be called Gaṇapati.

Ṛgveda X.112.9 is translated for Gaṇeśa prāṇa pratiṣṭha as, “Sit down among the worshippers, O Gaṇapati, the best sage among the sages. Without You nothing can be done here or far. Accept with honor, O wealthy One, our great and variegated hymns of praise.”

But this is not the only translation possible, for the original Devatā of Ṛgveda X.112 is Indra.

ni ṣu sīda ghaṇapate ghaṇeṣu tvāmāhurvipratamaṃkavīnām |
na ṛte tvat kriyate kiṃ canāre mahāmarkaṃmaghavañcitramarca ||

“Lord of the hosts, amid our bands be seated: they call thee greatest Sage among the sages.
Nothing is done, even far away, without thee: great, wondrous, Maghavan, is the hymn I sing thee.”

I love this verse. In fact, I made it my Gmail-chat status a couple of days ago – not suspecting that I would be encountering it again, and blogging about it, so soon. I adore the knowledge that nothing is done without God, regardless of which form one honours as “thee”!

May all enjoy a blessed and delightful Gaṇeśa Caturti!

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© 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.

Building a good foundation.

Knowledge is a good foundation from which to raise oneself in life.

So is a pile of bricks.

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Who could conceive of such a thing?

Lord Indra will give a bride to a groom who is ready to marry, and He is also the protector of the unborn and of children. Even those who barely know his qualities or stories will sometimes listen to his mantras during pregnancy, or ask his strength and wisdom for a specific purpose. For Indra is life, with all of its verdant insistence, and so is invoked to spark the processes that unite and continue life – both the creation and survival of the individual person, and the sustenance of the society in which s/he lives.

Instead of writing about worship, or other topics that I have wanted to address for a while, I started thinking tonight about Indra as life, and specifically, in one of his more beautiful and unusual forms: Mother.

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