After discovering that most modern Hindus celebrate few holy days or significant festivals dedicated to Śrī Indra, I compiled a list of my own; it’s posted here for anyone else who wonders when and how Lord Indra is to be worshipped. To my best knowledge, I have included every modern Indian religious occasion that relates to Him.
Because I live in the USA, time zone CDT (11.5 hours earlier than Indian Standard Time), the timings I list are different than those in India, with the celebrations often differing by as much as one full day. If you reside anywhere outside of New Orleans, please consult your local calendar for your region’s times. I use the Vedic calendar (pañcāṅgam) available from the Himalayan Academy and have found it excellent; the website offers calendars for many other cities worldwide.
This list is organised by the Western year and includes the following information:
The holy day’s name and its date(s) in the USA (The Vedic calendar tithi/Other names for the occasion)
Significance: Stories and legends related to the festival.
Activities: How people observe the day (and/or my own worship).
Notes: Any thoughts or added information I have.
This calendar covers Western year 2018.
Full and New Moon Days
Significance: Some Hindus fast on the Full Moon (Pūrṇimā) or New Moon (Amāvasyā) day. These are the junctions of each lunar month and are sacred for many reasons, including their ancient associations with Indra.
(The Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa tells the stories of both times; you may read them here and here, respectively, or explore their mystical meanings in this essay, which discusses both tales and then carries them forward in time towards an understanding of Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa.)
Pūrṇimā (Full Moon) dates: 1 January, 31 January, 28 February, 31 March, 29 April, 29 May, 27 June, 27 July, 25 August, 24 September, 24 October, 21 November, 21 December.
Activities: One awakens early and bathes before sunrise, then observes a fast which begins at sunrise and ends after sighting the moon. Vratas (vows) are often taken at this time. Pūrṇimā is generally auspicious.
Amāvasyā (New Moon) dates: 16 January, 14 February, 17 March, 15 April, 15 May, 13 June, 12 July, 10 August, 9 September, 8 October, 6 November, 5 December.
Significance: I have written my speculations about Amāvasyā in a series of posts; these essays appear when searching the phrase Amāvasyā and the Sānnāyya on this blog.
Activities: While no new beginnings or journeys are to be undertaken on this day, it is an excellent time for fasting, meditation, and deepening sādhanā. Mauna Amāvasyā (16 January) is particularly important, a day when the devotee takes a vow of silence and devotes the time to spiritual practice.
Notes: The most important New Moon (vis-à-vis Indra) is the Śakra-devatā Amāvasyā (Āśvin Amāvasyā/8 October), which originally marked the great feast of Indra (later ended by Lord Kṛṣṇa). At the center of this festival was Indra’s victory flag, commemorating the Deva’s defeat of the covering-darkness Vṛtra: a cornerstone story of Ṛgveda.
Total lunar eclipse on 31 January
Significance: Solar and lunar eclipses show the struggles between cosmic forces, which inevitably end with the light’s triumph and re-emergence. This energy of strength and victory greatly amplifies the power of spiritual practice; an eclipse therefore gives tremendous opportunity to the sādhaka.
Activities: One should fast, do japa, and meditate for the full duration of the eclipse, or at least as long as possible while it is happening. Temples are kept closed during eclipses, as these are times of profound reflection and therefore best suited to performing worship and meditation at home. People, especially those who are pregnant, should never look directly at any eclipse.
Notes: Eclipses have significance for worship only if they are visible in one’s area of residence.
Holy Days (Indra)
Bhogi, 13 January (first day of Pongal festival, Indran/Makara Sankrānti)
Significance: Indra is the god of this day, which marks the beginning of Uttarāyaṇa (the daytime of the Devas) and also inaugurates the harvest festival of Pongal/Makara Sankrānti. The day’s name comes from the word bhogi, signifying an enjoyer or consumer; this word describes the nature of both the day and its devatā.
Activities: People take an oil bath in the early morning. Women make multicoloured kolam or rangoli designs outside of the front door, and then clean up the home, discarding useless, broken, and undesired items. Farmers consecrate their tools and harvest rice-paddy and sugarcane. There are many local customs which tie this festival to Indra:
*In some regions, young children are showered with jujube fruits, which have an ancient association with Indra.
*In others, black clothing is traditionally worn on this day; Indra is sung in Mahābhārata as the “illustrious one, who wears the black cloth.”
*Kites are flown, especially in north India; in Nepal, the kite serves as messenger to Lord Indra and is sent into the sky to carry mortal wishes and requests to the Deva.
*In Maharashtra, this festival is called Hadaga and honours Indra extensively, with songs and prayers for rain, images drawn of his white elephant Airāvata, and kite-flying.
The main activity of the evening is a huge bonfire, in which the worn-out items earlier set aside are burned.
Notes: Perhaps it matters that one meaning of the festival name Makara Sankrānti is “to change into a crocodile” (“crocodile” being a loose translation for the being makara, which has no exact English equivalent). In one story, Indra does just that, to kill demon Karambha who is standing in water while performing severe austerities. (This act sets into motion a whole chain of events, which ends with the manifestation of goddess Durgā and her defeat of demon Mahiṣāsura.)
Vasanta Pañcamī, 21 January (Māgha Śukla Pañcamī)
Significance: This day heralds the arrival of spring and is a day dedicated to love. Lord Kāma – known as the one “obedient to Indra” – is worshipped, along with his wife Rati Devī.
Activities: This day is not sacred to Indra as such, but I feel that any day devoted to affection naturally calls to Indra’s worship.
Holi, 1 March (full moon of Phālguna month/Phālguna Pūrṇimā)
Significance: I believe that if an Indra Jāyantī exists, then Holi is the day.
Activities: See this post for details.
Phālguna Pūrṇimā is also known as Śacindra Pūjā, for Lord Indra and his wife Śacī Devī are worshipped together on this day.
Ugadi, 18 March (New Year/Caitra Śukla Pratipadā)
Activities: In some areas of India, indra-dhvaja pūjā – the worship of Indra’s victory banner – is performed at the new year. A 4- to 5-foot long stick is decorated with sunna (slaked lime), haldi (turmeric), and kuṅkumam, and a silver vessel, inverted, is placed at the top. Just below this vessel, flowers and a blouse piece (angavastram) are tied to the stick. The staff is then made to stand and is worshipped with the mantra:
indra-dhvaja namaste’stu sarvābhīśṭa phala pradā |
praptesmin sanvatsare nityaṃ madgrahe mangalaṃ kuru ||
(I bow to the supreme Indra in the form of this flag; may all our desires be fulfilled.
I pray that in this New Year, all holy and pious things come to my home.)
Caitra Pūrṇimā, 31 March (full moon of Caitra month)
Significance: The tale is told that Indra once offended and drove away his guru Bṛhaspati, and in his guru’s absence Indra committed many wrong deeds. When Bṛhaspati at last returned, Indra asked how he might put his transgressions to rights. Bṛhaspati advised him to wander the earth in penance. Indra went on pilgrimage for a long time and at last felt suddenly that his burden had lifted. Then he discovered a Śiva-liṅgaṃ near his resting-place and realised that Lord Śiva’s power had delivered him. Indra gratefully worshipped Śiva with golden lotuses and then had a temple constructed on the site. This place was at Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
Caitra Pūrṇimā is also the time when Indra’s son/incarnation, Arjuna, was transformed into the gopi Arjunī, so as to experience the ultimate mystery of Śrī Kṛṣṇa; this story is given in Padma Purāṇa (5.74.60-198) and is also recounted beautifully in this essay.
Activities: Devendra pūjā is performed once a year at Mīnākṣi temple in Madurai, to remember Indra’s role in the temple’s founding. Caitra Full Moon is also celebrated in the Koothandavar temple of Koovagam (near Villupuram), particularly by transgender and bisexual people, who honour Arjuna’s transformation.
Swami Śivananda teaches that this day is excellent for bountiful charitable works, as well as meditation upon devotion and redemption, as exemplified by the story of Indra.
Akṣaya Tritīyā, 18 April (Vaiśāka Śukla Tritīyā)
Significance: Akṣaya Tritīyā was the first day of Satya Yuga; the Devas came to earth and began the sowing of seeds on this day, and it was Indra who first ploughed the earth. In some regions, farmers still perform rituals in the fields and begin ploughing on this day.
This is also the day when holy mother Gaṅgā came to earth, through a series of events that began with Indra stealing the horse intended for King Sagara’s sacrifice.
Activities: This day is most auspicious for increase and best for investment in any item, project, or deed that one wishes to grow and appreciate over time. Akṣaya Tritīyā is widely known as the best time to buy gold and make investments, but it is also ideal for performing acts of charitable donation and loving-kindness. Wheat dānam on Akṣaya Tritīyā is sacred to Indra, to thank him for the rains that make the crops grow, and the mantra to be chanted when giving wheat is Ṛgveda II.21.6:
indra śreṣṭhāni draviṇāni dhehi cittiṃ dakṣasya subhaghatvaṃ asme |
poṣaṃ rayīṇāmariṣṭiṃ tanūnāṃ svādmānaṃ vācaḥ sudinatvamahnām ||
Two translations are:
“Oh Lord, grant us of boons the best: a mind to think and a smiling love, increase of wealth, a healthy body, speech that is winsome and days that are fair.” (Raimon Panikkar)
“Indra, bestow on us the best of treasures, the spirit of ability and fortune; increase of riches, safety of our bodies, charm of sweet speech, and days of pleasant weather.” (Ralph T.H. Griffith)
Chinnamastā Jāyantī, 28 April (Vaiśāka Śukla Caturdaśī)
Significance: This marks the day when Devī Chinnamastā appeared on earth, to protect her devotees and Dharma itself. Chinnamastā is the severed-headed one who feeds creation from her own blood; she is a terrifying and also supremely compassionate Goddess. In some texts she is associated with Lord Narasiṃha, but in others, she is considered the lightning-power or Vidyut-Śakti, the fierce consort of Lord Indra (in contrast to his benign consort, Śacī/Indrāṇī).
Activities: Devotees who already worship the ferocious Chinnamastā perform special services for her today and do japa of her twelve (or thousand) names. An activity appropriate for everyone – according to one’s ability, that is – would be to give food to others, especially those in need.
Notes: This information is provided for interest and record-keeping, and for a general remembrance of this Devī on that day, not as a suggestion that anyone worship Chinnamastā without a guru’s guidance.
Indrāṇī Pūjā, (20 July OR 6 August) (Āṣādha Śukla Aṣṭamī OR Āṣādha Kṛṣṇa Navamī)
Significance: Among communities that celebrate the Āṣādha Navarātri festival this month, Indrāṇī Devī is worshipped on the eighth day of the waxing moon, while in some areas of north India, she has her own celebration on the ninth day of the waning moon. (This latter is the date I have preferred to use.)
Activities: Indrāṇī is worshipped as one of the Seven Mothers (Saptamātṝkās) and is petitioned for peace, prosperity, and a fruitful harvest.
Rakṣa Bandhan, 25 August (Śrāvaṇa Pūrṇimā/Rakhi)
Significance: In western India, this moon is known as Nariyal Pūrṇimā and is sacred to Indra (as rain) and Varuṇa (as the sea). Coconuts are offered to both Devatās, especially by fisher-folk in coastal regions.
In the South, the day is called Avani Avittam and is the traditional time to begin (or conclude) Vedic studies.
At the heart of Rakṣa Bandhan is the protective power of a sacred thread. One of the oldest and best-known tales of this day is that when the Devas faced defeat by the demon Vṛtra, Indra sought advice from his guru Bṛhaspati and was advised to wear a special thread as protection. Śacī accordingly followed Bṛhaspati’s instructions to weave and consecrate this thread and tie it to her husband’s wrist; Indra then led the Devas to victory.
Activities: Chanting or hearing the holy Vedas is always a worthwhile activity and is especially auspicious on this day.
Rakhi celebrates the loving bonds between brothers and sisters. A sister ties a rakhi first to the tulasī plant and then another to the pīpal tree, asking for the protection of nature. She applies tilaka to her brother’s forehead, ties a rakhi to his wrist, and does āratī to him, while praying for his good health and long life. She recites this mantra when tying the rakhi:
yena baddho baliḥrājā dānavendro mahābalaḥ |
tena tvāmanubadhnāmi rakṣe mā cala mā calaḥ ||
“I am tying on your hand this rakṣa, with which the most powerful and generous King Balī himself was bound; O Rakṣa, don’t go away; don’t go away.”
The brother then gives a gift to his sister, vowing to look after her and protect her always.
Notes: Rakṣa Bandhan has become a more popular holiday in the last century, and modern people also go outside of the family to affirm bonds of friendship and devotion. Folks visit temples to have rakhis tied by priests. A wife may choose to tie a rakhi to her husband, a disciple to his/her Guru, and firm friends or neighbours may also affirm close bonds through rakhi. The reason for this may be found in Ādi Śaṅkara’s couplet:
mātā me pārvatī devī pitā devo maheśvara |
bāndhavāḥ śiva-bhaktāśca svadeśo bhuvana-trayam ||
“My mother is Devi Pārvatī, my father Lord Maheśvara, my relatives are Śiva’s devotees, and my home all the three worlds.”
Indra Pūrṇimā, 24 September (Full moon of Bhādrapada month)
Significance: The full moon of Bhādrapada month is known as Indra Pūrṇimā in some regions of India, and Indra is worshipped at this time. There also exists a “Śakra vrata,” mentioned in the Nārada Purāṇa, that may be undertaken on this day to secure prosperity.
Activities: I cannot find any exact details on the worship as performed by others, but may suggest that a devotee perform worship on this day through Indra pūjā, fasting, and meditating.
Ṣarada Pūrṇimā, 24 October (full moon of Āśvin month/Kumara Pūrṇimā/Kojāgari Pūrṇimā)
Significance: Lord Viṣṇu and Goddess Lakṣmī come to earth this night and bless those who keep awake and do Seva. In some regions, Lakṣmī is worshipped along with three other Devas: Indra, Kubera, and the Moon.
In other areas, Lakṣmī and Indra only are worshipped in Lakṣmindra pūjā, by those who believe that Lord Indra and Mahālakṣmī watch all who are awake. Observation of this Pūrṇimā worship brings wealth and safeguards the longevity of children.
On Kojāgari Pūrṇimā, the Moon’s rays shower Amrita; therefore, kheer (and/or other foods) prepared and kept under moonlight – either just during the pūjā or for the entire night – and eaten the morning of the next day, can heal many afflictions. There is also a tradition of gifting kheer in the temple on this day.
The stories (kathas) of Ṣarada Pūrṇimā and Kojāgari Pūrṇimā may be found here and here, respectively.
Activities: I have found two worship procedures, and offer both here.
This worship is to be performed specifically from midnight to 12:39 a.m., as follows:
Take a wooden seat (pāt). Keep some wheat at centre, making a circle. Keep a small copper or steel vessel filled with water on the wheat. Put a small branch of a mango tree into the water vessel; this is the symbol of Lord Indra. Keep some wheat, making two different circles side by side, on the wooden seat. Keep two betel-nuts each on the two circles; these are the symbols of Lord Kubera and Goddess Lakṣmī. Make a circle with gopi-candan or candan on the wooden seat; this is the symbol of Moon. Then, make some boiled thick sweet milk (kheer). Do all of the above-mentioned before midnight. Place the milk in the moonbeams from midnight to 12:30 a.m., and at 12:30, do pañcopacāra pūjā (offering tilaka, flowers, dhūpa, dīpa, and naivedyaṃ) of the four deities. The naivedyaṃ of milk is to be offered and to be tested before 12:39 a.m.
Then chant one mālā of Lakṣmī-gāyatrī, Viṣṇu-gāyatrī, Kubera mantra, and read Vyankateṣa stotra, Śrī sūkta, Lakṣmī kavaca, Viṣṇu sahasranāma, the 18 names of Śrīmad Gītā, and the 15th chapter of the Gītā, during the night.
This is a very important worship for propitiating Goddess Lakṣmī. The two betel-nuts of Lakṣmī and Kubera should be kept preserved. Those should be worshipped every year for Kojāgari Pūrṇimā and for Lakṣmī Pūjā on Dīpāvalī (Diwali). If a betel-nut should become infested by insects, use another one.
This vrata is undertaken chiefly by ladies. The worshipper fasts the entire day and worships the family deity. In the evening, a svastika is drawn on a wooden stool and an urn of water placed on it. A glass full of wheat is kept over it. Thirteen grains of wheat are taken in the right hand, and the story of the fast is told. The glass and money are given to the lady narrating the katha, after touching her feet.
When the Moon emerges, ardhya of water is offered to Moon. Indra on Airāvata and Lakṣmī are worshipped. Pūjā is performed by lighting lamps and incense sticks and offering flowers, etc. This day, a minimum of one hundred lamps (and maximum of one thousand!) lamps are lighted. A watermelon is cut into two halves; this, any other seasonal fruit, kheer, and other offerings are kept in the moonlight.
After worship, the worshipper breaks fast by offering coconut water and flattened rice to the Gods and Manes, then partakes of it herself. Pūjā of Moon is performed, and naivedyaṃ of condensed milk is offered.
The next day, Lord Indra is worshipped. Brahmins are offered sugar mixed with ghee and kheer, and additionally they are given clothes, lamps (of gold if possible), and donations. Also, an idol of Lakṣmī may be established, worshipped with śoḍaśopacāra pūjā during the night, and then donated the next day to an ācārya.
Notes: The above procedures are combined versions of several different documents regarding worship. The variations are extensive; to give one example, in Rajasthan ladies dress in white and wear silver ornaments for the night’s worship.
Because the worship procedure instructs an offering to “the Moon,” one might honour the Moon by the name Soma instead of Candra. One who chooses this could add, to the worship, the Pavamāna-sūkta (Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa 1.4.8) for purification, either before the pūjā or before the evening mantras/readings. Mantra or prayer to Indra-Soma would be lovely. Also, it could be a nice touch to include the Mahālakṣmī Aṣṭakam in the evening’s worship as well, as it was composed by Lord Indra.
Holy Days (Other)
Mahā Śivarātri, 13 February (Phālguna Kṛṣṇa Trayodaśī): This is the holiest night of Lord Śiva. The god’s devotees fast and keep a night-long vigil, filled with meditation, stories, japa, and other auspicious activities.
Bhīma Ekādaśī, 23 June (Nirjala Ekadashi, Jyeṣṭhā Śukla Ekādaśī): As the strong, voracious Bhīma had great difficulty fasting, the knowledge of this special Ekādaśī was granted to him: a single, strict fast, without tasting food or water from one sunrise to the next, which holds the merits of fasting for all twenty-four Ekādaśī days during the year.
Last edited 3 January 2018.
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