Indra | Indra Deva | II


1. Indra

Indra (Sanskrit: इन्द्र) is an ancient Vedic deity, a deity in Hinduism, a guardian deity in Buddhism, and the king of the highest heaven called Saudharmakalpa in Jainism.

In the Vedas, Indra is the king of Svarga (Heaven) and the Devas. He is the god of the heavens, lightning, thunder, storms, rains, river flows, and war.

Indra is the most mentioned deity in the Ṛg Veda:

He is celebrated for his powers, and the one who kills the great symbolic evil (malevolent type of Asura) named Vṛtra who obstructs human prosperity and happiness.

Indra destroys Vṛtra and his "deceiving forces", and thereby brings rains and the sunshine as the friend of mankind.

His importance diminishes in the post-Vedic Indian literature where he is depicted as a powerful hero but one who constantly gets into trouble with his drunken, hedonistic and adulterous ways,

and the god who disturbs Hindu ascetics as they meditate because he fears self-realized human beings may become more powerful than him.

Indra rules over the much-sought Devas realm of rebirth within the Saṁsāra doctrine of Buddhist traditions:

However, like the Hindu texts, Indra also is a subject of ridicule and reduced to a figurehead status in Buddhist texts, shown as a god that suffers rebirth and re-death.

In the Jainism traditions, unlike Buddhism and Hinduism, Indra is not the king of Gods - the enlightened leaders (called Tīrthaṅkaras or Jinas), but King of superhumans residing in Svarga-Loka, and very much a part of Jain rebirth cosmology.

He is also the one who appears with his wife Indrānī to celebrate the auspicious moments in the life of a Jain Tīrthaṅkara, an iconography that suggests the king and queen of superhumans residing in heaven - Svarga reverentially marking the spiritual journey of a Jina.

Indra's iconography shows him wielding a lightning thunderbolt known as Vajra, riding on a white elephant known as Airāvata.

In Buddhist iconography the elephant sometimes features 3 heads, while Jaina icons sometimes show the elephant with 5 heads. Sometimes a single elephant is shown with 4 symbolic tusks.

Indra's heavenly home is on or near Mount Meru (also called Sumeru).

2. Vedic texts

Over a quarter of the 1 028 hymns of the Ṛg Veda mention Indra, making him the most referred to deity than any other. These hymns present a complex picture of Indra, but some aspects of Indra are oft repeated:

Of these, the most common theme is where he as the god with thunderbolt kills the evil serpent Vṛtra that held back rains, and thus released rains and land nourishing rivers.

For example, the Ṛg Vedic hymn 1.32 dedicated to Indra reads:

Let me tell you the manly deeds of Indra, which he first accomplished, bolt-weaponed,
He slew the serpent, opened up waters, cleft in twain the belly of mountains, ॥1।।
He slew the serpent on the mountain, with heavenly bolt made by Tvaṣṭṛ,
Like lowing cattle downward sped the waters, then flowed to the ocean. ॥2।।
Ṛg Veda, 1.32.1–2

The hymns of Ṛg Veda declare him to be the "king that moves and moves not", the friend of mankind who holds the different tribes on earth together.

In one interpretation, the hymns are referring to the snaking thunderstorm clouds that gather with bellowing winds (Vṛtra),

Indra is then seen as the storm god who intervenes in these clouds with his thunderbolts, which then release the rains nourishing the parched land, crops and thus humanity.

Even though Indra is declared as the king of gods in some verses, there is no consistent subordination of other gods to Indra:

In Vedic thought, all gods and goddesses are equivalent and aspects of the same eternal abstract Brahman, none consistently superior, none consistently inferior.

All gods obey Indra, but all gods also obey Varuṇa, Viṣṇu, Rudra and others when the situation arises. Further, Indra also accepts and follows the instructions of Savitṛi (solar deity). Indra, like all Vedic deities, is a part of henotheistic theology of ancient India.

Indra is not a visible object of nature in the Vedic texts, nor is he a personification of any object, but that agent which causes the lightning, the rains and the rivers to flow.

His myths and adventures in the Vedic literature are numerous, ranging from harnessing the rains, cutting through mountains to help rivers flow, helping land becoming fertile,

unleashing sun by defeating the clouds, warming the land by overcoming the winter forces, winning the light and dawn for mankind, putting milk in the cows,

rejuvenating the immobile into something mobile and prosperous, and in general, he is depicted as removing any and all sorts of obstacles to human progress.

Indra is often presented as the twin brother of Agṇi (fire) – another major Vedic deity. Yet, he is also presented to be the same, as in Ṛg Vedic hymn 2.1.3, which states,

"Thou Agṇi, art Indra, a bull among all beings;
thou art the wide-ruling Viṣṇu, worthy of adoration.
Thou art the Brahman, (...)."

He is also part of one of many Vedic trinities as "Agni, Indra and Surya", representing the "creator-maintainer-destroyer" aspects of existence in Hindu thought.[note

3. Upanishads

The ancient Aitareya Upanishad equates Indra, along with other deities, with Ātman (soul, self) in the Vedanta's spirit of internalization of rituals and gods:

It begins with its cosmological theory in verse 1.1.1 by stating that,

"in the beginning, Ātman, verily one only, was here
- no other blinking thing whatever;
he bethought himself: let me now create worlds".

This soul, which the text refers to as Brahman as well, then proceeds to create the worlds and beings in those worlds wherein all Vedic gods and goddesses such as Sun-god, Moon-god, Agṇi and other divinities become active cooperative organs of the body.

The Ātman thereafter creates food, and thus emerges a sustainable non-sentient universe, according to the Upaniṣad.

The eternal Ātman then enters each living being making the universe full of sentient beings, but these living beings fail to perceive their Ātman.

The first one to see the Ātman as Brahman, asserts the Upaniṣad, said, "idam adarṣa or "I have seen It".

Others then called this first seer as Idam-dra or "It-seeing", which over time came to be cryptically known as "Indra", because, claims Aitareya Upanishad, everyone including the gods like short nicknames.

The section 3.9 of the Brihadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad connects Indra to thunder, thunderbolt and release of waters.

In section 5.1 of the Avyakta Upaniad, Indra is praised as he who embodies the qualities of all gods.

4. Post-Vedic texts

In post-Vedic texts, Indra is depicted as an intoxicated hedonistic god, his importance declines, and he evolves into a minor deity in comparison to others in the Hindu pantheon, such as Śiva, Viṣṇu, or Devi.

In Hindu texts, Indra is sometimes known as an aspect (avatar) of Śiva.

He is depicted as the father of Vālī in the Rāmāyaṇa and Arjuna in the Mahābhārata.

He becomes a source of nuisance rains in the Purāṇas, out of anger and with intent to hurt mankind:

But, Kṛṣṇa as an avatar of Viṣṇu, comes to the rescue by lifting Mount Govardhana on his fingertip, and letting mankind shelter under the mountain till Indra exhausts his anger and relents.

Also, according to Mahābhārata Indra, disguised himself as a Brahmin approached Karṇa and asked for his Kavacha and kuṁḍal as a charity. Although being aware of his true identity, Karṇa peeled off his Kavacha and kuṁḍal and fulfilled the wish of Indra. Pleased by this act Indra gifted Karṇa a dart called Vasavi Śakti.

5. Relations with other gods

In the Hindu religion, he is married to Śacī, also known as Indrānī.

Indra and Śacī have 2 sons: Citragupta and Jayanta; and 2 daughters: Jayanti and Devasena. Goddess Jayanti is the spouse of Śukra, while Goddess Devasena marries the war-god Kārtikeya.

6. Purāṇas

In the Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa, Indra defeats Vṛtra and releases the waters.

Indra asks Viśvakarma to build him a palace, but ultimately decides to leave his life of luxury to become a hermit and seek wisdom.

Horrified, Indra's wife Śacī asks the priest Bṛhaspati to change her husband's mind. He teaches Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties

7. Iconography

Indra's iconography shows him holding a thunderbolt or Vajra and a sword.

In addition he is shown on top of his elephant Airāvata, which reinforces his characteristic of King of the Gods.

In Ṛg Veda, Indra is described as strong willed, armed with a thunderbolt, riding a chariot:

May the strong Heaven make thee the Strong wax stronger:
Strong, for thou art borne by thy two strong Bay Horses.
So, fair of cheek, with mighty chariot, mighty, uphold us,
strong-willed, thunder armed, in battle.
— Ṛg Veda, Book 5, Hymn XXXVI: Griffith

Indra's weapon, which he used to kill evil Vṛtra, is the Vajra or thunderbolt.

Other alternate iconographic symbolism for him includes a bow (sometimes as a colourful rainbow), a sword, a net, a noose, a hook, or a conch. The thunderbolt of Indra is called Bhaudhara.

In the post-Vedic period, he rides a large, 4-tusked white elephant called Airāvata:

In sculpture and relief artworks in temples, he typically sits on an elephant or is near one. When he is shown to have two, he holds the Vajra and a bow.

In the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and in Śaktism traditions, Indra is stated to be same as goddess oḍaśī (Tripura Sundarī), and her iconography is described similar to those of Indra.

The rainbow is called Indra's Bow (Sanskrit: Indradhanus)

8. Buddhism

The Buddhist cosmology places Indra above Mount Sumeru, in Trāyastriśa heaven (Heaven of 33 Devas). He resides and rules over one of the 6 realms of rebirth, the Devas realm of Saṁsāra, that is widely sought in the Buddhist tradition.

Rebirth in the realm of Indra is a consequence of very good Karma (Pāli: kamma) and accumulated merit during a human life.

In Buddhism, Indra is commonly called by his other name, Śakra or Sakka, ruler of the Trāyastriṁśa heaven. Śakra is sometimes referred to as Devānām Indra or "Lord of the Devas".

Buddhist texts also refer to Indra by numerous names and epithets, as is the case with Hindu and Jain texts. For example, Aśvaghoṣa's Buddhacarita in different sections refers to Indra with terms such as "the thousand eyed" and others.

These names reflect a large overlap between Hinduism and Buddhism, and the adoption of many Vedic terminology and concepts into Buddhist thought. Even the term Śakra, which means "mighty", appears in the Vedic texts such as in hymn 5.34 of the Ṛg Veda.

In Theravada Buddhism Indra is referred to as Indā in Evening Chanting such as the Udissanādiṭṭhāna gāthā.

In Buddhist art  Brahma and Indra are often shown as heavenly protectors of the historical Buddha, with Indra standing on right from Buddha and Brahma on left.

Although Indra is often depicted like a bodhisattva in the Far East, typically in Tang dynasty costume, his iconography also includes a martial aspect, wielding a thunderbolt from atop his elephant mount.

In some schools of Buddhism and in Hinduism , the image of Indra's net is a metaphor for the emptiness of all things, and at the same time a metaphor for the understanding of the universe as a web of connections and interdependences.

In Japan, Indra is one of the 12 Devas, as guardian deities, who are found in or around Buddhist temples:

He joins these other 11 Devas of Buddhism, found in Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia: Agi, Yama, Nirṛtī, Vāyu, Īśāna, Kubera, Varuṇa, Brahma, Pṛthvī, Sūrya, and Chandra.

The ceremonial name of Bangkok claims that the city was "given by Indra and built by Viśvakarma."

9. Jainism

Indra in Jain mythology always serves the Tīrthaṅkara teachers:

Indra most commonly appears in stories related to Tīrthaṅkaras, in which Indra himself manages and celebrates the 5 auspicious events in that Tīrthaṅkara’s life, such as Cyavana kalyāṇaka, Janma kalyāṇaka, Dīkṣā kalyāṇaka, Kevala Jñāna kalyāṇaka, and Nirvāṇa kalyāṇaka.

There are 64 Indras in Jaina literature, each ruling over different heavenly realms where heavenly souls who have not yet gained Kevala (mokṣa) are reborn according to Jainism.

Among these many Indras, the ruler of the 1st Kalpa heaven is the Indra who is known as Saudharma in Digambara, and Śakra in Śvetābara tradition.

He is most preferred, discussed and often depicted in Jaina caves and marble temples, often with his wife Indrānī:

They greet the devotee as he or she walks in, flank the entrance to an idol of Jina (conqueror), and lead the gods as they are shown celebrating the 5 auspicious moments in a Jina's life, including his birth.

These Indra-related stories are enacted by laypeople in Jainism tradition during special Pūjā (worship) or festive remembrances.

In south Indian Digambara Jaina community, Indra is also the title of hereditary priests who preside over Jain temple functions.