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.
Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?
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.
Vedic religion seems to have been mobile, or at least lacking in lasting monuments and mausoleums, and because Veda doesn’t make explicit statements regarding religious pilgrimage, it’s hard to say whether Indra had any cult centres in the Vedic lands. That doesn’t mean that nowhere was sacred to Him; it’s just a little harder to find those places than with sites like Delphi, whose history is intimately intertwined with a particular God. So let’s do a little virtual traveling and see what we find, hmm?
Today, I’m enjoined to discuss celebrations and times sacred to Śrī Indra.
Indra once had several great festivals – Indra Vizha and Indra Mahotsava prime among them – which were observed with ardent pageantry and delight; sadly, these grand occasions are no longer celebrated, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when they took place. I do intend to eventually write an essay on these ancient rites, but have nowhere near enough data to tackle that project yet.
Fortunately, I’ve already done some work regarding Indra and Time, so this post will provide relevant links to answer the above request.
In previous entries, I’ve briefly summarised two major celebrations for Indra that take place outside of India: the Indra Jātrā of Nepal (here, in the sections marked “Lingaṃ/Yoshin” and “Pārijāta”) and the Perang Pandan of Bali (here, under “Ketaki”).
Underneath the gardenia flower, in this post, I’ve listed and explained the calendar days that belong to Him. I’ve previously mentioned that high noon is an important time for Indra – as the mid-day Soma offering was His alone – and now add that the moments of day/night transition have significance as well: dawn (when Indra was the lover of Ahalyā) and twilight (when He killed, through trickery, the demon Namuci).
Finally, I compiled the “Indra calendar” here after exhaustive inquiry into Hindu festivals. It’s my best attempt to offer a modern “liturgical calendar” for Lord Indra’s worship, and I hope it proves useful to other devotees, or at least provides a new way of thinking about familiar festivals.
© 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.
As I wrote in the previous entry, historical offerings for Indra were placed into the fire as a sacrifice (yajña). These oblations included clarified butter (ghee), the purified elixir Soma, and several varieties of grains, both raw and cooked into cakes and porridges. The Vedic literature describes about four hundred types of yajñas, of which twenty-one were considered mandatory; as the hymned Lord of Sacrifice, Indra was invoked throughout these rituals and played a central role in some of them, like the royal rites of the Rajasuya and Sautrāmaṇi. (1) Besides the more generic preparations listed above, He also received offerings specific to Himself, including the mixture of old and new milks called Sānnāyya, the third pressing of the Soma-plant, and among animals, the ram and the bull; the mid-day Soma pressing was devoted solely to Him, as well. Yet Veda tells us that these gifts do not please Indra unless sanctified with prayers, hinting that the most essential “ingredient” is devotion.
Nowadays it’s not possible for most people to worship Indra in a historically accurate manner, as the yajña ritual is a complex undertaking and restricted in performance to trained Brāhmaṇa priests; it’s unfortunate that a modern-day lover of Vedic Indra can’t honour Him in a purely Vedic way. So, since an extensive discussion of historical offerings would have little practical utility, I’d like to talk instead about modern Hindu rituals that any worshipper may perform.
Hooooo, boy. :pinches forehead: I’m going to refrain from swearing up a storm (storm, haha) in this post, out of consideration for my readers, though the issues I’m about to describe can really work on my nerves. To be fair, I don’t have all of the answers – or even some of the answers – about Indra, and I don’t claim to be the guardian of some special truth of His; I can’t well point fingers and yell “You’re wrong WROOOOONG I SAAAAAY!”
Also, I acknowledge that not all errors are deliberately made. For example, it was believed for a long time that one of the five shore temples of Mahabalipuram was dedicated to Indra, but further exploration and assessment suggests that the site was actually sacred to the Deva Skanda. Other “mistakes” are really just differences of opinion; there are some, for instance, who believe that there was a historical Indra, a great commander and ruler who was deified after his death. While I disagree with this notion, it can’t really be proven either way, and certainly those who think of Indra as “the Indian Herakles” provide some interesting comparisons to back that claim.
However, there are two particular notions that I find pervasive and harmful, mistakes that could be prevented by applying common sense and humility, and these will be the focus of this post.
Today I’m supposed to address Indra’s aspects, regional forms, and other variations. What follows is a mixture of superficial scholarship and personal opinion, which I’m hoping makes some semblance of sense!
Today’s subject is a matter about which I’ve already posted quite a bit. So this entry will be a jumble of thoughts and links; there’s ample reading material here to keep everyone busy well into tomorrow!
This excerpt from Jeanine Miller’s work discusses some of Indra’s epithets in the Veda, while making the case that bhakti – loving adoration and a personal, longing devotion – most definitely does appear in the Ṛgveda; this passage, from the writings of Abinash Chandra Bose, explores the God’s many names and qualities in more extensive detail.
Names are vital to those who adore the Hindu Devas, for a God’s epithets are educational and inspirational. Both the epic Rāmāyaṇa and the later text of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa instruct the devotee in loving service, and hearing and singing the names of God are among the practices advised. Fortunately, this is simple to do, as most of the major deities have what’s known as a sahasranāma: a group of one thousand epithets that describe the deity’s attributes, power, and nature. Sometimes these names appear also in a stotram – a hymn that uses these names to sound effusive praise – and a worshipper may recite or chant these wonderful paeans.
Indra has both names and verses, not by popular tradition, but because His devotee – Vedic scholar Śrī Gaṇapati Muni (aka Kāvyakaṇṭha, “one who has poetry in his throat”) – compiled and composed them for Him, beginning that great work in April 1931. I’ve already placed the names on this blog, both without translation, and with translation. (Please note that the latter is incomplete, and it’s also a very rudimentary English translation that I gleaned mostly by searching dictionaries. It’s not meant to be a discourse upon these Divine Names, just a general idea of their superficial meaning, to help out those who – like me – have almost no knowledge of Sanskrit at all.) Wisdom may be gained experientially by praying Indra with these names, an oṃ before and a namaḥ after, i.e. oṃ devatamāya namaḥ, etc.
I’ve also kept a small personal list of Indra’s names that appear in later literature, i.e. sources outside of the Vedic hymns. That post is located here.
In Veda, Indra is most commonly called Maghavan (:points to blog URL:) and Śakra, which translate roughly to ‘the bountiful one’ and ‘the mighty one,’ respectively. Of course, more common still is the name which begins the sahasranāma and by which he is most well-known, and thus some small speculation about the name Indra is offered beneath the cut.
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.
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.
This one’s a free day for me: “A favourite myth or myths of this deity.”
I’ve already covered not just one, but two lovely stories – in this post about the son of King Yuvanāśva, and this book excerpt about the maiden Śruvāvatī who fell in love with Indra (and which contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read).
I’m not very good at telling stories, y’all; others do it far better. So beneath the cut is one more tale, which teaches a great deal about Indra for all of its brevity. You see, Indra is very good at stripping away illusions from sanctimonious people, and in this excerpt, from a retold version of the great epic Mahābhārata, He shows the devout renunciate Uttaṅka that wandering in the desert will indeed make you thirsty, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee being holy.
In the beginning, Lord Kṛṣṇa, who is Uttaṅka’s friend, has given the hard-living ascetic a boon: when he thirsts in the desert, he is to think of Kṛṣṇa, and he shall receive water. And then:
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.
In 1997 I was slogging through my first year of university, running around like a frantic idiot, Coke or a coffee always in hand and rarely able to relax. One day I started browsing the leisure class listings and noticed that a beginning yoga course was offered at a time when my schedule was free; it seemed very fortuitous, since I’d heard that yoga practice could improve stamina and reduce stress. I enjoyed the class very much and, on discovering that I couldn’t repeat the course the following semester, I asked my instructor for suggestions on keeping up my practice alone. She recommended the book that she used as an adjunct to her teaching: The Śivānanda Guide to Yoga.
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:
I’ve held onto these intensely inspiring quotes for a while and decided to share them today. They are from Śivananda’s Practice of Yoga:
pp. 64-65: “‘As water from a tank may flow through a channel into a plot of land and assume its shape (square, triangular or any other form), so the radiant mind (Taijasa Antahkarana) goes out through the eye or any other sense-organ to the place where an object is and becomes transformed into the shape of that object. This modification of the Antahkarana-stuff is called Vritti.’ Professor P.N. Mukopadhyaya observes: ‘Western psychology gives us a one-sided view of perception: an external stimulus acting upon a sense-organ, e.g. an ether-wave acting on the retina. The mind goes out as a radiant energy and takes the shape of the object. The Antahkarana is believed to be a stuff that being Sattvic (consciousness-revealing) and Taijasa (radiant) can go out and invade the Tamasic (veiling crust of consciousness in the form of object, Vishaya Chaitanya), envelope and infuse it by its own luminosity (somewhat like the X-rays which are themselves ordinarily invisible, but make opaque things transparent) and thereby discover the essential identity between itself and the object; it is finding out of this essential identity between consciousness as knower (Pramatri Chaitanya) and consciousness as the known (Vishaya Chaitanya) and that between consciousness as knowing (Pramana Chaitanya) and consciousness as object (Vishaya Chaitanya) which makes the substance of perception according to Vedanta.'”
pp. 65-66: “Just as camphor in the presence of fire is turned into fire and absorbed in fire when burnt, so also a mind when purified becomes of the nature of Brahman. Just as water in the presence of salt, when a lump is placed in a basin of water, becomes saltish, so also mind in the presence of Brahman, when purified, becomes of the nature of Brahman.
Mind, when purified by the removal of six passions, becomes your Guru. There is a voice from the mind for every doubt that occurs in your Buddhi. Train yourself to hear minutely with care the subtle, silent voice. All knowledge comes from within.”
pp. 66: “…[the mind, which] constantly meditates on this picture and becomes that picture, Brahman, according to this analogy. As he thinks, so he becomes. The mind becomes that on which it intensely meditates. It infinitely expands and merges in Brahman.”
“When, with flame all around him aspirant,
Stood flushed, as a harp-player stands,
The implacable beautiful tyrant,
Rose-crowned, having death in his hands;
And a sound as the sound of loud water
Smote far through the flight of the fires,
And mixed with the lightning of slaughter
A thunder of lyres.”
“Veis-tu l’s écllaers, os-tu l’tounère?
Lé vent érage et la née a tché!
Les douits saont g’laïs, la gnièt est nère –
Ah, s’tu m’ôimes ouvre l’hus – ch’est mé!”
Do you see the lightning, do you hear the thunder?
The wind is raging and the snow has fallen!
The brooks are frozen, the night is dark –
Ah, if you love me open the door – it’s me!
I admit, I was starting to feel left out by the mass media’s modern massacre of mythology. Worshippers of Greek gods have Xena: Warrior Princess to hate. Kemetians probably loathe Stargate SG-1, and Odinists can weep into their hands (albeit peeking between their fingers) while watching Thor. But there wasn’t really anything Indra-centric in the entertainment world, so there was nothing to put me into a grumpy rotten temper and cause me to get annoyed and flail about in irritation–
Until now. Readers, I present to you Thundergod: The Ascendance of Indra (ISBN 9381626979).
From the jacket blurb:
“One day a prince from one of the four great tribes will unite the sons of Aditi and he will sow the seeds of an empire that will rule the world. Born of a prophetic union between the Earth Goddess Gaia and Daeyus, chief of the Devas, comes the story of a child recounted by history to have become a king and retold by legend to have transcended into a god. Indra, destiny’s orphan, finds himself growing up in a vortex of treachery and tribal incumbency. Shielded from the usurpers of his birthright only by the watchful eye of the warrior sage Mitra, he first sets out to conquer the hearts of his tribesmen, and then the kingdoms of the unmapped world. Aligning forces with his brothers by blood oath and divine intervention Agni, Vayu, Varuna and Soma, Indra embarks on a military campaign of epic proportions, stretching from the Euphrates in Asia Minor to Harappa on the Indian subcontinent, encountering formidable armies, demonic beings and powerful goddesses, and losing the only woman he really loves. Will he get her to love him again? Will he avenge the death of his father? Will he assume his place in the pantheon of the gods? In a compelling saga, blended by history, spiced by legend and mutated by myth, Rajiv G. Menon transforms ten years of research into a lightning rod of an action adventure that streaks into your consciousness with the speed of Indra’s thunderbolt.”
If you’re thinking, “well, that sounds ridiculous,” then here’s some sparkly CGI to hypnotise you into forgetting what you just read:
THE TRAILER, unlike the world has ever seen!
Of course, this is a novel about Indra, so the publishers had me by the proverbial balls from the moment they announced the title. I bought the book, I suffered through it, and now I’m going to review it as a public service.
The short version:
Meet Indra, the child of a prophecy so weighty that he’s one manger short of his own religion.
He’s got mad Deva skillz and is just so gosh-darned handsome…laaaaadies.
His muscles are many, his thoughts few.
Then he does some “love” things:
And some imbibing things:
And WAY TOO MANY murder things:
And transforms into a megalomaniacal psychotic man-god who’s very, very angry.
The really, really, really short version:
When you combine:
then you get:
Want to read a slightly longer recap? Just click the part with the clickie.
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.”
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.”