questions?

In November 2012 I asked readers to provide questions and commentary, to help inspire new posts.
The responses were so helpful and interesting that I’ve decided to keep a permanent page for this purpose.

Do you have a question, thought, or idea about Indra?
Did you come to this site with a question that hasn’t yet been answered?
Please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to provide a useful reply!

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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.

10 thoughts on “questions?

  1. Hello, my name is Jagannath. I was not given that name as much as when I was a small baby at my namkarana I said “Call me Jagannath.” My parents are devotees of ISKCON and I suppose I have known and loved Indra since a small baby. I was not so popular and for all practical purposes thought crazy because I loved Indra and the cult is one of Krishna. (I use this term in the sense that what I have observed in Vedic culture is there is a number of cults or sects for the different deities.)

    The Indra cult is small but I have a real theory for why. It may not be as small we might think also. You have inspired me. I will create a way to gather us all together. I have actually been wanting to build a temple to Indra for such a purpose but realize the Internet is a powerful tool for this purpose.

    I make no boast when I say I have read and reread all the Chaturvedas and Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana. If I had the time I could go for 24 hours on Mahabharata alone simply from memory. I have not read the Upanishads and have not read the Devi Bhagavata, but that is what I have not read of the Shastras.

    I have been studying these shastras and Indian religious history for perhaps 13 years now and I want to share something I noticed about the ancient Vedas as compared to modern Hindusim. I think it may be an answer to the question of why Indra is so downplayed. I see the history of India as a series of cultural and political invasions followed by cultural reactions of the people. What I read from something like Rig Veda or Yajur Veda or Mahabharata is an idea in which Dharma is something you do naturally. It’s your work, and work is worship. I honestly think Agnihotra is one of the oldest forms of religion and I think people of all kinds have done it. I honestly think all varnas got to do it in the far-off times. It would seem from descriptions of Satyayuga and such, everyone is said to be a rishi or forest dweller. I can see ancient people sitting around the nightly fire and being thankful for what they had and some people making songs for the various forces of nature. I think this is the seed of the Rig Veda. I also think Indra and Swarga are a real person and a real place, but not perhaps in the limited way we might think, but that these gods let themselves be known to the ancient people. I think as people became more “civilized” class division and the new god of nation and state emerged. King and Brahmin. The ancient hymns of the rishis stay but the new and more ritualistic and more and more ritualistic Vedic society emerges. Then we got Buddhism. It’s a Hindu reform movement at first in all senses of what we can say. If you study the Buddha I think he was really just trying to get back to the good old days…

    Major problem, though, that he totally threw out fire yajna. Indra stays as an important figure. In fact if you look all over the world there was religious reform movements at this time. But what did we really lose? If you ask an early Hindu, what was Dharma, it was his work. if you ask a Buddhist, what is Dharma, it is a long list of dos and donts. You don’t get to choose your Dharma based on necessity of work, it’s based on rules and regulations. This was a new thing then, and suppose people thought it was cool because the Hindus imitated them in so many ways. If you look before Buddhism there were rishis who lived in the forest, and a Yati or Swami is the same thing. What we get after that are men in saffron with shaved heads. This is a Buddhist monk, a new face. Before Buddhism, a plurality of gods and religions and every one just as true and good as the other.

    After life? I don’t even really find any solid mention in Vedas of reincarnation. There is a kind of reference in Book I of Rig Veda in which it says those who worship Indra are given wings. I wonder if that means Swarga? But I think people were so damned happy with life itself they didn’t care about an afterlife…After Buddhism the wheel of Samsara and a need to strive for some invisible realm, and as far as Devas, well, kind of the same thing as before but ultimately it’s all an illusion, and those gods were just ways to get you back to the one. So I basically see Shankaracharya and Vedanta as a Kind of reaction movement and the Puranic stories focusing more on gods like Shiva and Vishnu, and moksha, because Swarga is not the place for a yogi. Then came Islam which the reaction was Bhakti cults in abundance. It’s not that they were not there, but they took on a whole new fanatical meaning after the arrival of Islam. Then the British with Christianity and the reactionary movement was one which had to match wits in a doctoral way, this I see as Swami Narayana, Swami Vivekananda, and Thajur Bhaktivinode, but I am certain there were many others. But the gist I get from the writings is a kind of logical theological defence against the British intellectuals.

    So this is my understanding of India’s religious history. What do we do now? Well, I plan to still do my work as worship and do agnihotra to Indra and say thank you and pray we don’t all kill ourselves in WW3.

  2. Hi Arjuni,

    Am working on a ‘rig-vedic’ trilogy myself, and I would love to get your utterly critical feedback on this short section: (it appears somewhat as a prologue- real story begins some 2 generations after this)-

    Havishmana Surya was dead and his tribe was in mourning, as were hundreds of tribes aligned to him- for the name of Surya bore supreme command among these nomads. His was the nomadic clan that protected the entire pan-tribal alliance, ensuring their safety even as they were spread across yojanas and yojanas of grasslands, mountains, rivers and basins. There was no name for the place they gathered at, for it was no permanent settlement or even a place of significance. It was simply the best place they found, close to water yet dry enough to find wood and spark a fire. Some were with Havishmana when he passed away, uttering the last of his commandments and prayers. Most had travelled months to be here, and only Havishmana’s brothers knew the pains taken to preserve his body for close to half a year. But the alliance would not have had it any other way. The passing of Surya into Agni was an event all had equal right to witness.

    They were close to the river Vakshu, though to them it was simply the Water- life giver to them and their enemies alike. Some among them had even been to its end, where it met the great Sea- Samudra. There were those who came from the high mountain ranges, nomads more of ice and snow than grass and river. Still others were from closer to the east- land of the great Sindhu river and its many tributaries. That was their homeland once, or at least of their ancestors. None alive among them had ever set foot there though, and even Havishmana Surya could never bathe in Sindhu- for when does the Sun ever travel east?

    Also present at the mournful gathering was Mantradruma. That was his given name, a title conferred by the elders of his tribe when they realised that he had outmatched them in power and knowledge of sacred Mantras. They named him Mantra Druma- a veritable Tree of Mantras. His full name of course, was Indra Mantradruma Aapyas. And with the death of Havishmana Surya, he was now last Deva of the Sixth Manvantara. As he watched Havishmana’s brothers light the funeral pyre, Mantradruma wondered to his own future.

    His was the advanced age of seventy three- not close to death but far enough from the age at which men are still men, not weakened shadows of the legends they once were. Havishmana was fortunate for being saved from that fate, die as he did at the age of forty nine. And so Mantradruma was faced with a tribal alliance that would grow fragile without its Surya. Once, his own name would have commanded authority. But Indra Mantradruma Aapyas was now known more as raider and pillager of cities than Deva. Havishmana had cleverly maintained that mirage, playing the role of Surya to its best. Mantradruma on the other hand had acquired the title of Purandara- Destroyer of Cities. But then, it was that grey collusion of Devas that the alliance needed most; and so Surya, Varuna, Mitra and Indra continued to play their respective roles- just like generations of their forefathers. Only he was left now, and Mantradruma suddenly found himself old, clueless and alone.

    Havishmana Surya’s pyre burnt long into the evening, and the sun had set by the time it reduced to smouldering embers and ash. Rshi Angirasa walked up to him then, his eyes glistening with moisture dedicated to Surya. “Havishmana was the last Saptarshi,” Angirasa said without preamble. “And you are the last Deva. Our time is at a close.”

    Indra smiled without humour. “There is no our time and their time,” he said. “Only Time, and we are but pieces of wood afloat.” It gave him some satisfaction to match Angirasa at matters mystic.

    Angirasa nodded, apparently in agreement. “Yet this Manvantara will not last for long, and with it ends the era of those that belong to it. Which includes you and I, great Deva.”

    Deva. The title sounded hollow to him now, a mere relic of the prestige and wonder it once carried. Indra Mantradruma had seen enough of the world to be a sceptic at best, and an outright disbeliever at worst. He did not deny, even to himself, that the Great and Original Devas did once inhabit the earth, walking its lands and eking their existence here as poems sang. But his pragmatic self was dryly aware that his title no longer had any ties to that presence of Divinity. The honourable label of a Deva had not been sustained all these generations- it had simply passed on ritually. But in that very mechanism for continuity lay the unravelling of Angirasa’s concern.

    “The end of one Manvantara ushers in the beginning of another,” Indra said to his ascetic tribe-mate. “New Saptarshis will rise to replace the old, and so might men climb to the title of Devas. It may happen a day after our deaths, or a thousand years after even our descendants are no more. But Time goes on, as it always must. Our lament is only that we may not be there to witness its entire journey.”

    Angirasa found no response to that, but he said at length- “Then we must do nothing? There is no calling upon us to preserve our ways, our traditions? How will our inaction be nothing but a failure to our forefathers?”

    Again Indra smiled, and again the twitch of lips was without humour. “I do not see worry and anxiety as worthy substitutes to action, dear Rshi,” he said, not caring to keep the taunt out of his tone. “So our traditions face extinction. Do you propose a solution, or is sanctimony your only escape?”

    Angirasa ignored the insult. “We must chronicle a new Manvantara immediately, and cast new Saptarshis. New Devas will come too, in time. But we must wrest control over our spiritual space- or we will lose it to the wild and divergent ways of our nomadism.”

    Indra Mantradruma shook his head in refusal. “I too am versed in prayer poems,” he said. “There can be no new Manvantara without the emergence of a new way to code knowledge. Do you claim to be this innovator, rshi?”

    Angirasa replied with his silence, and Indra continued, his tone softer now. “I implore you to take a step back. Observe this from afar, if you can. Nothing has changed. A mortal is dead, one that we attached great significance to. He even wielded influence in the same measure, and that loss will need some repairing. But ritualistic reaction is not the answer to every event. Some demand a measured response, one that gives suitable tribute to our faculties of reasoning and foresight.”

    Angirasa sighed wearily. “You are known to be a verbose man, Indra Deva,” he said, minding to use Mantradruma’s official title at all times. Indra may have discarded venerations to his title, but as a rshi it was Angirasa’s duty to maintain them. This coexistence of devotion and disdain was typical to their ways, but Angirasa did not have the stomach to counter with it anymore. For years he had done so with Havishmana Surya, a man who was as disillusioned as Indra Mantradruma, if not more. He continued- “Reason and Foresight, great words that are often wielded by men in power. But mighty little it has given us, great Deva. We are but still nomads- people without a home. And this is the very state we were in, when our ancestors were led west by the Great and Original Devas. Every passing generation witnesses another layer of our tradition and culture erode, and if it ever was an animal with four limbs it would long have been devoid of them.”

    Mantradruma found himself admiring Angirasa’s persistence. The rshi knew well how to play with words, dancing around the bush much like Mantradruma himself. But he had finally spoken too much, giving Indra exactly the ammunition he needed to push his agenda. “We are still nomads,” he repeated, “On that I must agree with you, Angirasa. Nothing indeed has changed since our forefathers left lands that lie in the shadow of Himalaya. And therefore, nothing calls us to action more. Let us leave matters such as chronicling of a Manvantara, or casting of new Saptarshis, to men better than us. Ours is the world of deed, of toil and sweat. Fourteen nights past this funeral, I will call a gathering of the tribes, and I wish for your voice to be one with mine, Angirasa.”

    Rshi Angirasa eyed the last Deva shrewdly. “What is your plan, great Indra?”

    “Let us return,” Indra said simply. “Our mighty migration experiment has failed, Angirasa. Surely you see that too. Our ancestors once fought and defeated Asuras, laying claim to all the forests, lakes and rivers that lie between Himalaya and Sindhu. But something called upon them to forsake that and head for the west. We know not what that calling was, but we do know that it was only a mirage.”

    “You but echo what I am trying to say,” Angirasa interjected.

    “Yes, but not to the same end,” Indra replied quickly, careful not to let Angirasa take over the discussion now that it was within his grip. “I say that time has come for us to return to the land of our forefathers- to the soil and air that Havishmana himself coined Aryavarta.”

    Angirasa’s eyes widened in alarm. “Return to Sindhu,” he repeated, “to Aryavarta? That is impossible.”

    Indra scoffed at his tribe-mate’s dogma. “There is nothing impossible about it. In the time since our forefathers migrated, we have discovered the art of taming metal. We now possess the ability to clear forests, to yoke river banks and erect cities- should we so choose. What better place to do so, than the one where Asuras were defeated?”

    “This is what you intend to propose to the alliance?” Angirasa asked, opposition clear in his tone.

    “Yes, and I have even laid out plans for the same. It was a previous Surya who once led the tribes west, away from Sindhu. And so it must be for our return as well. Havishmana’s grandson is but a boy now, but if we lay this out well, he could one day lead the charge. The son of Surya leading our tribes home, can you imagine that sight, Angirasa?”

    “That boy, Marici?” Angirasa said dismissively, speaking of Havishmana’s grandson. “I respect your intent, great Deva, and a rshi such as me is forever subordinate to your wisdom. But none would give credence to the dream of Marici leading our diverse tribes back into Aryavarta.”

    “And yet it must be so,” Indra Mantradruma Aapyas said with determination. “This is the last dream of your last Deva, Angirasa. And I will have you see it fulfilled.”

    • Please forgive me for not answering your post earlier; I was on vacation when you made this comment and unable to read the excerpt you provided.

      This is beautiful. It is well-written and interesting and, I think, captures the clever, elusive, wise Indra well. In fact, I enjoyed this brief excerpt much more than the published novel reviewed earlier on this blog! I am curious to discover what happens next and hope you continue writing so that I can find out. :)

  3. Hi Arjuni,

    Thank you for your response, I was beginning to get worried! Full disclosure- Indra is but a cameo in the novel, but it is great to get positive and critical feedback :)

    I must share that prior to reading your blog I was unaware of the word Maghavan and its meaning. I looked it up after coming across the blog, and have since then incorporated it in my novel. A few generations before Mantradruma Indra featured in the excerpt above, I’ve taken the liberty of mentioning a Maghavan Indra. Thus credit is due to you there.

    The good news- a young, fiery publisher called Pirates has picked up my manuscript for publication. The deal is for one book, but I assure you that I have much planned in the way of sequels and prequels (the latter where our friends Maghavan and Mantradruma will feature).

    Once again- thank you for your response, and hope you like the book when it’s out.

    -Amrit

    • It is wonderful to learn that this blog has helped your work in some small way. Many congratulations to you for finding a publisher for your work, and please do let me know when it is released! A question: would you like for me to edit your above comment to remove the prologue, so that there are no excerpts of your (soon-to-be-)copyrighted work online?

  4. Thanks for that offer, but I don’t mind at all if the excerpt stays where it is. I’ll surely let you know when the book is out, probably sometime in the next few months.

  5. As a devotee of Indra, what do you think about the fact that a great many Post-Vedic ‘Hindu’ texts are Hell bent on polemics against the worship of him? Sakra-Indra is the Zeus in Aryan mythology, but he’s a rejected butt of jokes in most modern Hinduism. In fact, modern Hinduism takes so little from the RgVeda, how is it even related? It’s like Islam looking back on Judaism and claiming, ‘Abraham was a Muslim!’
    It’s been pointed out before that Hinduism isn’t a religion, it’s a thousand religions, but I have to wonder if it makes any sense to even connect RgVedic religion to Hinduism, as it was separate for the vast majority of its history and gets little notice from modern Hindus. Plus, it’s obviously not Hinduism, i.e. the RgVedas believe in Indo-Iranian Daiva worship not…whatever the Hell Hinduism is.

    • I’m sorry that it took me so long to read and respond to your comment. I’ll try to answer your questions now, though a little late!

      As a devotee of Indra, what do you think about the fact that a great many Post-Vedic ‘Hindu’ texts are Hell bent on polemics against the worship of him?
      In the epics and Purāṇas, Indra often appears as representative of materialism, earthly existence, wealth, and other worldly things, and the warnings against His worship are similarly symbolic, instructing people to honour and strive towards higher spiritual forces instead of focusing upon earthly forms or material gain. While it’s a much simpler characterization of Indra than appears in the Vedas, it’s not wrong, just of limited utility for anyone who wants to know the Vedic Indra in all of His complex glory.

      As for modern writings – books and articles and such – I find that Indra-bashing is often done by those who either have little knowledge of Vedas (and Indra’s vital role in Vedic religion), or who aim to glorify their own favourite Deva by denigrating the “fallen” Indra. So I think those insults must not be taken too seriously – not only because the act of denouncing a Deva is a symptom of sad ignorance, but because this very scorn seems to support Indra’s nature as divine outcast.

      That is, His actions are sometimes outrageous and unpardonable by human standards, and His stories often show Him being driven out of power, cursed, or otherwise harmed. Yet His actions, if followed far enough forward in time, nearly always lead to some wondrous and universe-altering result. (For example, at least two of Viṣṇu’s avataras – Vāmana and Kūrma – manifested because of a sequence of events that began with Indra.) Whenever Indra appears in a tale, He catalyzes an event of surprising and lasting significance. But it’s easier to focus on His antisocial and/or amoral acts and not consider their deeper meaning; remember the cruel words that Dakṣa spoke against Śiva, before learning of Śiva’s true nature?

      My belief is that the “thousand-eyed” Indra is greatly far-seeing, that He knows what the long-term effects of His deeds will be and so does what must be done, even if it violates all standards of “acceptable” behaviour. Part of His warrior courage is to willingly take the fall Himself, placing the general welfare above His own reputation. His negative actions are part of His māyā, and if that’s so, then perhaps all of the scorn heaped upon Him is part of that same illusion. Those who believe only insults will turn away from Him, but the Vedas remain, and they offer a more profound understanding of His nature to those who would examine them.

      Sakra-Indra is the Zeus in Aryan mythology, but he’s a rejected butt of jokes in most modern Hinduism. In fact, modern Hinduism takes so little from the RgVeda, how is it even related?…I have to wonder if it makes any sense to even connect RgVedic religion to Hinduism.
      There are connections between them, if you look beyond the outward forms of Vedic religious practice and instead examine its spiritual ideals and higher purpose; in this sense, modern Hinduism seems to me a quite natural evolution of Vedic religion. On this blog, I’ve got two posts that discuss points of continuity between the two traditions, by quoting authors Jeanine Miller on Vedic bhakti and William Mahony on the Vedic religious imagination, respectively. David Frawley’s essay on The Unity of the Vedic and Shaivite Religion is also wonderful!

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