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INDRA - the King of Devas

Indra's striking personification symbolizes the powers of nature which lie behind him. But now, the great god has lost the glory which he had in Vedas.

Image Credit: Amar Chitra Katha

INDRA is the chief deity in the Rig Veda and almost a quarter of its hymns is devoted to praising him. The Rig-Veda frequently refers to Indra as Śakra, the mighty-one. He is the Indo-European cousin of the Norse Thor, Greek Zeus, Slavic Perun and Roman Jupiter. Armed with the thunderbolt and riding an elephant whose speed exceeds that of the mind, he travels everywhere. He unleashes rain which brings life with it. Some scientific studies reckon that it is lightning that sparked life on Earth [1]. Maybe for this reason he is the highest god.

His valour is awe-inspiring. His exploits are many. He clipped the wings of the mighty mountains with his sacred axe and made them behave. Scientifically also, it is rains which feeds the rivers that in turn shape the land. His mount Airavata, an elephant, represents cloud. He recovered the cows of the gods that had been abducted by the demons. Rainbow is his bow which is called as Indradhanush. He has been entrusted with supernatural weapons like Vajra, Indrastra, Vasavi Shakti, Anjalika Astra, etc. which he never misused for personal gains. Being a warlord, he became a symbol of royal power. Indra is referred to as the god of storms and war. He has the ability to control the weather, rain, thunder, and lighting. Warriors would try to please him before going into war. There are many stories of Indra’s victories over demons like the Vritra, Namuci and many more. He likes the consumption of Soma, a hallucinogenic beverage that is said to have enhanced his divine powers.

Indra was one of the most celebrated and worshipped Gods at one point in time. He was the guardian of the East, and the destroyer of asuras. Indra in an epic battle defeated Vritra who was considered to be an invincible asura. Vritra was symbolic representation of drought. By defeating him Indra sort of gave life back to earth. This was one of the most important wars which was fought for saving the human world, and it finds mention in the Vedas [2]. Slaying Vritra was Indra’s biggest achievement. This story is inspiration behind my book 'The Wielder of the Trishul'.

Indra is symbolically the defender of mankind. By defeating the demons, Indra symbolically defends us from the inner demons, temptation, greed, and egotism. Indra also blesses the soil with water, by giving us rain he protects us from drought, poverty and hunger.

The powers of Indra have a symbolic meaning. If we challenge our preconceived notion that destruction is negative we will realize that Indra is a symbol of positive, fruitful destruction. Storms are good as well as bad. As they bring rain and water, they feed the earth. Strong winds and lightning can destroy and kill life on earth. Indra represents the power to destroy for good. He is a ruthless killer but he kills asuras and protects the humans. Indra chooses to use his powers for good. He teaches us that we have the potential to create and destroy. It is up to us to use this power for good. If we keep our indriya (senses) in control, the way Indra did, we can achieve greatness.

Later, Indra was no longer as revered. As Hinduism evolved Indra’s powers were eclipsed by Lord Vishnu and Shiva who became more popular and powerful. The early humans worshipped the external world of nature and for that reason Indra occupied the highest position. As civilization developed, the human started taming the nature. We became more spiritual in approach and started concentrating on atman or inner soul. Thus, Indra’s position was taken away by Lord Shiva as the great god of yoga, meditation and spirituality. Similarly, Lord Vishnu through his most revered avatars of Rama and Krishna who focussed on how to be an ideal king, or in other words, how to live in a civilized world with changing times. Thus, Indra has become a lesser God than Shiva and Vishnu. But he still is the king of heaven and hold the highest position among devas.

Nowadays, his tales of brashness and adultery have overshadowed his achievements. His perception in our minds has become of a king drunk with power largely due to the way he is portrayed in serials, movies and novels. It must also be understood that Indra is not one particular deva, instead it is a title, a position for the king of devas. Certainly, due to the wrong deeds of one particular king, the title should not be demeaned. He is a brave king who has fought wars with asuras to defend humans. He personifies the unmatched powers of mother nature.

Indra was widely worshipped in India especially in South India, where a big festival called Indra-Vizha was celebrated in his honour. Among a few temples dedicated to him, there is a famous Indra temple situated in Waghadi at Maharashtra, and it is located on a hill [3]. Many words like indriyaan, indradhanush and indrajaal are associated with him, which are a testament of his greatness. His many names like Mahendra, Abhijit, Amarendra, Devraj, Devendra, etc. are popular for naming kids. However later, his importance seems to have declined and his worship more or less ceased. In spite of all, he very much continues to remain as an important deity in Hinduism.

Whenever we face drought, we almost instinctively look at the sky and say 'Indra have mercy'. Whenever we face excess rain, we say 'Indra have mercy'. A Bollywood movie song perfects depicts him: Woh toh hai albela, hazaron mein akela. Sada tumne aeb dekha, hunar ko na dekha.




Image Credit: Amar Chitra Katha, Wikipedia


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