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King of the Gods
God of Lightning, Thunder, Rains and River flows
King of Heaven
Painting of Indra on his elephant mount, Airavata.
Affiliation Deva (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism)
Abode Amarāvati in Svarga, Indraloka, Mount Meru
Weapon Vajra (Thunderbolt)
Symbols Vajra
Mount Airavata (White elephant), Uchchaihshravas (White horse)
Texts Vedas, Puranas, Epics
Consort Shachi (Indrani)
Greek equivalent Zeus
Roman equivalent Jupiter

Indra (/ˈɪndrə/, Sanskrit: इन्द्र) is a Vedic deity in Hinduism,[1] a guardian deity in Buddhism,[2] and the king of first heaven called Saudharmakalpa in Jainism.[3] His mythologies and powers are similar, though not identical to those of the Indo-European deities such as Zeus, Jupiter, Perun, Thor, and Odin (Wotan).[1][4][5]

In the Vedas, Indra is the king of Svarga (Heaven) and the Devas. He is the god of lightning, thunder, storms, rains and river flows.[6] Indra is the most referred to deity in the Rigveda.[7] He is celebrated for his powers, and the one who kills the great symbolic evil named Vritra who obstructs human prosperity and happiness. Indra destroys Vritra and his "deceiving forces", and thereby brings rains and the sunshine as the friend of mankind.[1][8] His importance diminishes in the post-Vedic Indian literature where he is depicted as a powerful hero but one who is getting in trouble with his drunken, hedonistic and adulterous ways, and the god who disturbs Hindu monks as they meditate because he fears self-realized human beings may become more powerful than he is.[1][9]

In Buddhism, Indra has been a popular deity, referred by many names and particularly Shakra (Pali: Sakka). He is featured in Buddhism somewhat differently than Hinduism, such as being shown as less war oriented and one paying homage to the Buddha.[10] Indra rules over the much sought Devas realm of rebirth within the Samsara doctrine of Buddhist traditions.[10] However, like the Hindu texts, Indra also is a subject of ridicule and reduced to a figurehead status in Buddhist texts,[11] shown as a god that suffers rebirth and redeath.[10] In the Jainism traditions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, Indra is the king of gods and a part of Jain rebirth cosmology.[12] He is also the god who appears with his wife Indrani to celebrate the auspicious moments in the life of a Jain Tirthankara, an iconography that suggests the king and queen of gods reverentially marking the spiritual journey of a Jina.[13][14]

Indra's iconography shows him wielding a lightning thunderbolt known as Vajra, riding on a white elephant known as Airavata.[9][15] In Buddhist iconography the elephant sometimes features three heads, while Jaina icons sometimes show the elephant with five heads. Sometimes a single elephant is shown with four symbolic tusks.[9] Indra's heavenly home is on or near Mount Meru (also called Sumeru).[10][16]

Some scholars have also argued that there is a continuity between Indra and Shiva (Rudra). [17]

The name is found in Hittite mythology as Inar/Inara.[18]

Etymology and nomenclature[edit]

Indra appears in ancient artworks, and is known by many names. Top: 2nd century CE Kushan Empire Buddhist relief showing Indra as paying homage to the Buddha. Bottom: Hindu gods Surya and Indra guarding the entrance of the 1st century BCE Buddhist Cave 19 at Bhaja Caves (Maharashtra).[19]

The etymological roots of Indra are unclear, and it has been a contested topic among scholars since the 19th-century, one with many proposals.[20] The significant proposals have been:

  • root ind-u, or "rain drop", based on the Vedic mythology that he conquered rain and brought it down to earth.[9][20]
  • root ind, or "equipped with great power". This was proposed by Vopadeva.[9]
  • root idh or "kindle", and ina or "strong".[21][22]
  • root indha, or "igniter", for his ability to bring light and power (indriya) that ignites the vital forces of life (prana). This is based on Shatapatha Brahmana.[23]
  • root idam-dra, or "It seeing" which is a reference to the one who first perceived the self-sufficient metaphysical Brahman. This is based on Aitareya Upanishad.[9]
  • roots in ancient Indo-European, Indo-Aryan deities.[24] For example, states John Colarusso, as a reflex of proto-Indo-European *ə2n-(ə)r-, Greek anēr, Sabine nerō, Avestan nar-, Umbrian nerus, Old Irish nert, Ossetic nart, and others which all refer to "most manly" or "hero".[24]

Colonial era scholarship proposed that Indra shares etymological roots with Zend Andra derived from Old High German Antra, or Jedru of Old Slavonic, but Max Muller critiqued these proposals as untenable.[20][25] Later scholarship has linked Vedic Indra to the European Aynar (the Great One), Abaza, Ubykh and Innara of Hittite mythology.[24][26] Colarusso suggests a Pontic[note 1] origin and that both the phonology and the context of Indra in Indian religions is best explained from Indo-Aryan roots and a Circassian etymology (i.e. *inra).[24]

Indra is also called Śakra frequently in the Vedas and in Buddhism (Pali: Sakka). He is known in Burmese as သိကြားမင်း, pronounced [ðadʑá mɪ́ɴ]; in Thai as พระอินทร์ Phra In, in Khmer as ព្រះឥន្ទ្រា pronounced [preah ʔəntraa], in Malay as Indera, in Kannada as ಇಂದ್ರ Indra, in Telugu as ఇంద్రుడు Indrudu or Indra in Malayalam as ഇന്ദ്രന് Indran, in Tamil as இந்திரன் Inthiran, Chinese as 帝释天 Dìshìtiān, and in Japanese as 帝釈天 Taishakuten.[27]

Indra has many epithets in the Indian religions, notably Śakra (शक्र, powerful one), Vṛṣan (वृषन्, mighty), Vṛtrahan (वृत्रहन्, slayer of Vṛtra), Meghavāhana (मेघवाहन, he whose cloud is vehicle), Devarāja (देवराज, king of deities), Devendra (देवेन्द्र, the lord of deities),[28] Surendra (सुरेन्द्र, chief of deities), Svargapati (स्वर्गपति, the lord of heaven), Vajrapāṇī (वज्रपाणि, he who has thunderbolt (Vajra) in his hand) and Vāsava (वासव, lord of Vasus).

  • The only common factor in these three groups [Mitanni, Kassites, Hittites] is the Vedic God Indra - Hittite Inar, Kassite Inda-bugas and Mitanni Indara. S. Talageri, The Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism (1993)
  • The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology points out that nothing is known about the original Indo-European gods of the Hittites, with the sole exception of one god, Inar, whom the encyclopedia actually describes as " a God who had come from India with the Indo-European Hittites." Inar is very obviouly the Rigvedic God Indra.
    • Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology quoted in The Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism (1993), p. 128


Indra is of ancient but unclear origin. Aspects of Indra as a deity are cognate to other Indo-European gods; they are either thunder gods such as Thor, Perun, and Zeus who share parts of his heroic mythologies, act as king of gods, and all are linked to "rain and thunder".[29] The similarities between Indra of Hindu mythologies and of Thor of Nordic and Germanic mythologies are significant, states Max Muller. Both Indra and Thor are storm gods, with powers over lightning and thunder, both carry hammer or equivalent, for both the weapon returns to their hand after they hurl it, both are associated with bulls in the earliest layer of respective texts, both use thunder as a battle-cry, both are heroic leaders, both protectors of mankind, both are described with legends about "milking the cloud-cows", both are benevolent giants, gods of strength, of life, of marriage and the healing gods, both are worshipped in respective texts on mountains and in forests.[30]

Michael Janda suggests that Indra has origins in the Indo-European *trigw-welumos [or rather *trigw-t-welumos] "smasher of the enclosure" (of Vritra, Vala) and diye-snūtyos "impeller of streams" (the liberated rivers, corresponding to Vedic apam ajas "agitator of the waters").[31] Brave and heroic Innara or Inra, which sounds like Indra, is mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni, a Hurrian-speaking people of Hittite region.[32]

Indra as a deity had a presence in northeastern Asia Minor, as evidenced by the inscriptions on the Boghaz-köi clay tablets dated to about 1400 BCE. This tablet mentions a treaty, but its significance is in four names it includes reverentially as Mi-it-ra, U-ru-w-na, In-da-ra and Na-sa-at-ti-ia. These are respectively, Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya-Asvin of the Vedic pantheon as revered deities, and these are also found in Avestan pantheon but with Indra and Naonhaitya as demons. This at least suggests that Indra and his fellow deities were in vogue in South Asia and Asia minor by about mid 2nd-millennium BCE.[21][33]

Indra is praised as the highest god in 250 hymns of the Rigveda – a Hindu scripture dated to have been composed sometime between 1700 to 1100 BCE. He is co-praised as the supreme in another 50 hymns, thus making him one of the most celebrated Vedic deities.[21] He is also mentioned in ancient Indo-Iranian literature, but with a major inconsistency when contrasted with the Vedas. In the Vedic literature, Indra is a heroic god. In the Avestan (ancient, pre-Islamic Iranian) texts such as Vd. 10.9, Dk. 9.3 and Gbd 27.6-34.27, Indra – or accurately Andra[34] – is a gigantic demon who opposes truth.[24][note 2] In the Vedic texts, Indra kills the archenemy and demon Vritra who threatens mankind. In the Avestan texts, Vritra is not found.[34]

Indra is called vrtrahan- (literally, "slayer of Vritra demon") in the Vedas, which corresponds to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian noun verethragna-. According to David Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.[35] It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",[35] which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"[36] from the Bactria–Margiana Culture.[36] At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.[37] According to Anthony,

Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with Soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from Ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.[38]

Indra and Shiva[edit]

That Shiva was the god of the Harappans, is based on a single Harappan finding, the so-called Pashupati seal. It depicts a man with a strange headwear sitting in lotus posture and surrounded by animals. Though not well visible, he seems to have three faces, which may mean that he is a three-faced god (like the famous three-faced Shiva sculpture in the Elephanta cave), or that he is a four-faced god with the back face undepictable on a two-dimensional surface. The common speculation is that this is Shiva in his Pashupati (“lord of beasts”) aspect. Ever since the discovery of the Gundestrup cauldron in Central Europe, which depicts the Celtic horned god Cernunnos similarly seated between animals, this Pashupati seal is actually an argument in favour of the IE character of Harappan culture. Elst 1999

Shiva is usually identified with the Vedic god Rudra. It so happens that Indra’s and Rudra’s domains are more or less the same: both are thundering sky gods. In mythology, Indra is, like Shiva, a bit of an outsider, who is in conflict with the other gods, shunned by them (and even by his mother), left alone by them to fight the Dragon, doing things that disrupt the world order. Christians who picture Jesus as the friend of the outcasts, may like to know that the despised “Aryan racist god” Indra is in fact on the side of the outcasts: “Indra, you lifted up the outcast who was oppressed, you glorified the blind and the lame.” (Rg-Veda 2:13:12) As David Frawley has shown, Indra has many epithets and attributes which were later associated with Shiva: the dispeller of fear, the lord of mAyA (enchantment), the bull, the dancer, the destroyer of cities (Indra purandara, Shiva tripurahara).62 Both are associated with mountains, rivers, male fertility, fierceness, fearlessness, warfare, transgression of established mores, the Aum sound, the Supreme Self. Elst 1999

Shiva and Indra are both associated with intoxication. Indra is praised as having a tremendous appetite for the psychedelic soma juice. Shiva has Soma-Shiva as one of his aspects, a name containing one of those Brahminical etymology games: Soma is the Vedic intoxicant, and also the moon (as in SomwAr, “Monday”), which is part of Shiva’s iconography (hence his, epithet SomanAtha). Elst 1999

The now-popular theory that Shiva is a non-Vedic and anti-Vedic god, is partly based on the Puranic story of the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice. Daksha is the father of Shiva’s beloved Sati: he rebukes Shiva, Sati commits suicide, and Shiva vents his anger by disturbing the sacrifice which Daksha is conducting. Daksha refuses to worship Shiva because Shiva is vedabAhya, “outside the Vedas”; as in a fit of anger, mortals also call their relatives all kinds of inaccurate names. Elst 1999

As David Frawley shows, the Daksha story is quite parallel to the Vedic story of Indra stealing the soma from Twashtr and even killing the latter, and to the Vedic story of Rudra killing Prajapati. In each case, a god who disrupts or “destroys” the world order, is seen to defeat a god representing the process of creation, which is equated with the process of the Vedic sacrifice (the Creator creates the world by sacrificing). The destroyer-god, himself a cornerstone of the created world, disrupts the creative sacrifice. David Frawley restores these stories to their traditional metaphysical interpretation: “Both Indra’s and Shiva’s role of destroying Prajapati or his son relate to their role as eternity (absolute time) destroying time or the year (relative time) represented by Prajapati and the sacrifice.”63 Personally, I prefer the more physical explanation given by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and in consonance with modem insights into mythology, viz. that the victory of the one god over the other may simply refer to the replacement of one constellation by the next as the stellar location of the equinox. Elst 1999

The outsider role of Shiva in the Puranic pantheon is the continuation of Indra’s role in the Vedic pantheon, which in turn is only the Indian version of a role which exists in the other IE pantheons as well, e.g. the Germanic fire god Loki or the Greco-Roman warrior-god Ares/Mars. Shiva also continues Indra’s role of warrior-god. Till today, many Shiva sadhus are proficient in the martial arts. The Shaiva war-cry Hara Hara Mahadev is still used by some regiments of the Indian army as well as by Hindu demonstrators during communal confrontations.64 Elst 1999

Finally, shiva, “the auspicious one”, is an epithet of not only Rudra but of Vedic gods in general. Indra himself is called shiva several times (Rg-Veda 2:20:3, 6:45:17, 8:93:3). Shiva is by no means a non-Vedic god, and Indra never really disappeared from popular Hinduism but lives on under another name. Elst 1999

63D. Frawley: Arise Arjuna, p. 177. The symbolism of eternity and time is very clear in the iconography of Shiva’s consort KAli. Representing all-devouring time, she dances on Shiva’s unconscious body: the world of change and destruction exists and affects us as long as the timeless self-consciousness of the Self has not awoken. Elst 1999

Indra in Rigveda[edit]

There are clearly two "thunder-gods" in the Rigveda: Indra and Parjanya. The name Indra has its origin in the word indu- "drop", and therefore he is a thunder-god associated with the actual rain-drops, and (apart from the fact that he is basically restricted to the Indo-Aryan branch) is clearly a god of the monsoon region of Haryana and its interior areas. The name Parjanya (apart from the fact that it has equivalents in three other European branches) has its origins, as we saw, in the oak-forests of the north-western mountains. Indologists and AIT scholars, with their inverted logic, classify Parjanya as the original PIE and therefore also Vedic thunder-god because he is found in Slavic, Baltic and Germanic mythology as well, and Indra as a "new" thunder-god who increasingly replaced the original PIE thunder-god in India. The facts, however, indicate the opposite picture: a) Indra is the most important deity in the Rigveda, and has over 250 hymns addressed to him or glorifying him (out of a total of 1028 hymns in the Rigveda). Parjanya has only 3 hymns addressed to him or glorifying him. Even more significantly, while Indra is present in every part of the text, old and new, and is mentioned (by this name alone, not counting his other numerous special epithets) 2415 times in 538 hymns, Parjanya is mentioned only 36 times in the following 25 hymns: Old Books (6,3,7,4,2): IV.57.8. VI.49.6; 50.12; 52,6,16; 75.15. VII.35.10; 101.5; 102.1,2; 103.1. New Books (5,1,8,9,10): V.53.6; 63.4,6; 83.1-5,9. I.38.9,14; 164.51. VIII.6.1; 21.8; 102.5. IX.2.9; 22.2; 82.3; 113.3. X.65.9; 66.6,10; 98.1,8; 169.2. It will be seen that all the references except one (VII.35.10) are in New Books or in Redacted Hymns (underlined), and include the notoriously late hymns towards the end of Books 4,6 and 7 (there being no reference to Parjanya at all in Books 2 and 3). The sole exception (VII.35.10) is clearly just a case of a late added name in a long list of deities in a Viśvedeva ("all-gods") hymn. This proves that Parjanya is a deity of the northwest who entered the Rigveda in the period of the New Books, as the Vedic Indo-Aryans expanded northwestwards into the mountainous areas from the monsoon area in Haryana and east. As the deity is found only in Slavic, Baltic and Germanic, it also confirms the presence of (at least the remnants of) the ancestral Slavic, Baltic and Germanic dialects in Central Asia during the period of the New Books of the Rigveda. b) Further, while Indra is otherwise found only in Indo-Aryan (and, by opposition, as a demon in the rival Iranian tradition recorded in the Avesta), he is also represented in Hittite mythology in the name of the goddess Inara who helps the (unnamed) rain god to kill the Great Serpent who was interfering with the rainfall. Hittite (Anatolian) was linguistically the first IE branch to separate from the other branches in any hypothetical Homeland; and the presence of Inara in Hittite mythology confirms either the greater antiquity of Indra (to Parjanya), or the presence of the proto-Hittites in Central Asia at the time of the north-westward expansion of the Vedic Aryans, or both.[1] [archive]

Talageri writes, The presence, in Hittite mythology, of Indra, as the God/Goddess Inara who helps the rain-God to kill the Great Serpent, is significant. Indra is completely unknown to all the other Indo-European mythologies and traditions (except of course, the Avesta, where he has been demonized): Anatolian can only have acquired this God and nature-myth from an earlier sojourn close to the Vedic area. [The name is so uniquely Indo-Aryan that Lubotsky and Witzel (see WITZEL 2006:95) feel emboldened to classify Indra as a word borrowed by "Indo-Iranian" from a hypothetical BMAC language in Northern-Afghanistan/Central-Asia! Incidentally, the Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology actually describes Inar/Inara as “Inar, a God who had come from India with the Indo-European Hittites” (LAROUSSE 1959:85)]. [2] [archive]


File:Guardians of the eight directions 02.JPG
Indra is typically featured as a guardian deity on the east side of a Hindu temple.

Indra was a prominent deity in the Vedic era of Hinduism.[21]

Vedic texts[edit]

Over a quarter of the 1,208 hymns of the Rigveda mention Indra, making him the most referred to deity than any other.[21][39] 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 Vritra that held back rains, and thus released rains and land nourishing rivers.[20] For example, the Rigvedic hymn 1.32 dedicated to Indra reads:

<poem style="font-style:roman;text-align:left" lang="">

इन्द्रस्य नु वीर्याणि प्र वोचं यानि चकार प्रथमानि वज्री । अहन्नहिमन्वपस्ततर्द प्र वक्षणा अभिनत्पर्वतानाम् ॥१।। अहन्नहिं पर्वते शिश्रियाणं त्वष्टास्मै वज्रं स्वर्यं ततक्ष । वाश्रा इव धेनवः स्यन्दमाना अञ्जः समुद्रमव जग्मुरापः ॥२।। </poem>

<poem>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 Tvastar, Like lowing cattle downward sped the waters, then flowed to the ocean. ॥2।।[40]</poem>

—Rigveda, 1.32.1–2[41]

The hymns of Rigveda declare him to be the "king that moves and moves not", the friend of mankind who holds the different tribes on earth together.[42] In one interpretation by Oldenberg, the hymns are referring to the snaking thunderstorm clouds that gather with bellowing winds (Vritra), 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.[43] In another interpretation by Hillebrandt, Indra is a symbolic sun god (Surya) and Vritra is a symbolic winter-giant (historic mini cycles of ice age, cold) in the earliest, not the later, hymns of Rigveda. The Vritra is an ice-demon of colder central Asia and northern latitudes, who holds back the water. Indra is the one who releases the water from the winter demon, an idea that later metamorphosed into his role as storm god.[43] According to Griswold, this is not a completely convincing interpretation, because Indra is simultaneously a lightning god, a rain god and a river-helping god in the Vedas. Further, the Vritra demon that Indra slew is best understood as any obstruction, whether it be clouds that refuse to release rain or mountains or snow that hold back the water.[43]

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 Varuna, Vishnu, Rudra and others when the situation arises. Further, Indra also accepts and follows the instructions of Savitr (sun-god).[44] Indra, like all Vedic deities, is a part of henotheistic theology of ancient India.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47] The Vedic prayers to Indra, states Jan Gonda, generally ask "produce success of this rite, throw down those who hate the materialized Brahman".[48]

Indra is often presented as the twin brother of Agni (fire) – another major Vedic deity.[49] Yet, he is also presented to be the same, states Max Muller, as in Rigvedic hymn 2.1.3, which states, "Thou Agni, art Indra, a bull among all beings; thou art the wide-ruling Vishnu, worthy of adoration. Thou art the Brahman, (...)."[50] 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.[39][note 3]

  • Griffith, in his footnote to 1.4.8, notes: “The VRtras, the enemies, the oppressors, or obstructors, are ‘the hostile powers in the atmosphere who malevolently shut up the watery treasures in the clouds. These demons of drought, called by a variety of names, as VRtra, Ahi, SuSNa, Namuci, Pipru, Sambara, UraNa, etc. etc., armed on their side, also, with every variety of celestial artillery, attempt, but in vain, to resist the onset of the gods’ - Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts, V, p.95.”

Further, in his footnote to 1.31.1, he quotes Wilson: “the legend of Indra’s slaying VRtra… in the Vedas is merely an allegorical narrative of the production of rain. VRtra, sometimes also named Ahi, is nothing more than the accumulation of vapour condensed or figuratively shut up in, or obstructed by, a cloud. Indra, with his thunderbolt, or atmospheric or electrical influence, divides the aggregate mass, and vent is given to the rain which then descends upon the earth.” As usual, the scholars firmly avoid examining the mythologies of other Indo-European peoples. Every major Indo-European mythology records the killing of a mighty serpent by the thunder-God: the Greek Zeus kills the Great Serpent Typhoeus, and the Teutonic Thor kills the Great Serpent of Midgard. But Hittite mythology gives the lie to this forced interpretation. The Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology relates the following prominent Hittite myth: “The Great Serpent had dared to attack the weather-God. The God demanded that he be brought to justice. Inar, (another) God,… prepared a great feast and invited the serpent with his family to eat and drink. The serpent and his children, having drunk to satiety, were unable to go back into their hole, and were exterminated.”66 This weather-God “presided over tempests and beneficial rainfall.”67 Here, in this much-transformed myth, the name of the God, who kills the Great Serpent who is interfering with the rainfall, is Inar, clearly cognate to Indra. So there has clearly been no “superimposition” of any historical events onto any nature-myth: Indra’s exploits are indeed the exploits of a thunder-God fighting the demons of drought. (Talageri 2000)

The Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology records, as the only Indo-European myth still extant among the Hittites, the myth of the Great Serpent who had dared to attack the weather-god (name unknown) and who was subsequently killed by Inar. This is clearly a version of the killing of Vṛtra by Indra in the Rigveda. The Larousse Encyclopaedia actually describes Inar as ―Inar, a God who had come from India with the Indo- European Hittites‖ (LAROUSSE 1959:85).(Talageri 2008)


The ancient Aitareya Upanishad equates Indra, along with other deities, with Atman (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, Atman, verily one only, was here - no other blinking thing whatever; he bethought himself: let me now create worlds".[54][55] 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, Agni and other divinities become active cooperative organs of the body.[55][56][57] The Atman thereafter creates food, and thus emerges a sustainable non-sentient universe, according to the Upanishad. The eternal Atman then enters each living being making the universe full of sentient beings, but these living beings fail to perceive their Atman. The first one to see the Atman as Brahman, asserts the Upanishad, said, "idam adarsha or "I have seen It".[55] 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.[58] The passing mention of Indra in this Upanishad, states Alain Daniélou, is a symbolic folk etymology.[9]

The section 3.9 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad connects Indra to thunder, thunderbolt and release of waters.[59] In section 5.1 of the Avyakta Upanishad, Indra is praised as he who is embodies the qualities of all gods.[39]

Post-vedic texts[edit]

File:Krishna Holding Mount Govardhan - Crop.jpg
Krishna holding Govardhan hill from Smithsonian Institution’s collections

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 Shiva, Vishnu, or Devi. In medieval Hindu texts, Indra is an aspect of Shiva.[39]

He is depicted as the father of Vali in the Ramayana and Arjuna in the Mahabharata.[11] He becomes a source of nuisance rains in the Puranas, out of anger and with an intent to hurt mankind. But, Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu, 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.[11]

Sangam literature (300 BCE-300 AD)[edit]

Sangam literature of the Tamil language contains more stories about Indra by various authors. In Silapathikaram Indra is described as Maalai venkudai mannavan (மாலைவெண் குடை மன்னவன்), literally meaning Indra with the pearl-garland and white umbrella.[60]

The Sangam literature also describes Indhira Vizha (festival for Indra), the festival for want of rain, celebrated for one full month starting from the full moon in Ootrai (later name-Cittirai) and completed on the full moon in Puyaazhi (Vaikaasi) (which coincides with Buddhapurnima). It is described in the epic Cilapatikaram in detail.[61]

Relations with other gods[edit]

In Hindu religion, he is married to Shachi, also known as Indrani or Pulomaja.[62]

Indra and Shachi have a son, Jayanta, and daughters called Jayanti and Devasena. Goddess Jayanti is the spouse of Shukra, while goddess Devasena marries the war-god Kartikeya.[63]


In the Brahmavaivarta Purana,[64] Indra defeats Vṛtrá and releases the waters. Indra asks Vishvakarma 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 Shachi asks the priest Brihaspati 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.[citation needed]


Indra icon shows him armed with weapons, and riding an elephant (left). In Jainism and Buddhism artworks, he is sometimes shown as riding an elephant with multiple heads (right).

In Rigveda, Indra is described as strong willed, armed with 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.

— RigVeda, Book 5, Hymn XXXVI: Griffith[65]

Indra's weapon, which he used to kill evil Vritra, is the Vajra or thunderbolt. Other alternate iconographic symbolism for him includes a bow (sometimes as a colorful rainbow), a sword, a net, a noose, a hook, or a conch.[66] The thunderbolt of Indra is called Bhaudhara.[67]

In the post-Vedic period, he rides a large, four-tusked white elephant called Airavata.[9] 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.[68]

In the Shatapatha Brahmana and in Shaktism traditions, Indra is stated to be same as goddess Shodashi (Tripura Sundari), and her iconography is described similar to those of Indra.[69]

The rainbow is called Indra's Bow (Sanskrit: indradhanusha इन्द्रधनुष).[66]


Left: A Buddhist statue of Thagyamin in Myanmar, or Sakka-Indra. Right: Indra at the Buddhist Ajanta Caves.

Indra is a popular guardian deity in Buddhism, who protects Buddhist teachings and believers.[2] He is commonly found in the Buddhist art works in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions all over South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia.[70][71] He also appears extensively in ancient and medieval Buddhist literature such as the Buddhacarita and the Mahavamsa.[2][70] Indra is the god who urges the Buddha to go teach mankind, after he had achieved his enlightenment under a bodhi tree but had doubts whether he should share his knowledge.[2] Other texts depict Indra as the most devoted of divine disciples of the Buddha, who listens and follows the Buddha, and the deity who renders assistance to the Buddha and his followers on numerous occasions.[10]

The Buddhist cosmology places Indra above Mount Sumeru, in Trayastrimsha heaven.[2] He resides and rules over one of the six realms of rebirth, the Devas realm of Saṃsāra, that is widely sought in the Buddhist tradition.[72][note 4] Rebirth in the realm of Indra is a consequence of very good Karma (Pali: kamma) and accumulated merit during a human life.[75]

In Buddhism, Indra is commonly called by his other name, Śakra or Sakka, ruler of the Trāyastriṃśa heaven.[70] 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, Asvaghosha's Buddhacarita in different sections refers to Indra with terms such as "the thousand eyed",[76] Puramdara,[77] Lekharshabha,[78] Mahendra, Marutvat, Valabhid and Maghavat.[79] Elsewhere, he is known as Devarajan (literally, "the king of gods"). These names reflect a large overlap between Hinduism and Buddhism, and the adoption of many Vedic terminology and concepts into Buddhist thought.[80] Even the term Śakra, which means "mighty", appears in the Vedic texts such as in hymn 5.34 of the Rigveda.[9][81]

The Buddha (middle) is flanked by Brahma (left) and Indra, possibly the oldest surviving Buddhist artwork.[82]

The Bimaran Casket made of gold inset with garnet, dated to be around 60 CE, but some proposals dating it to the 1st century BCE, is among the earliest archaeological evidences available that establish the importance of Indra in Buddhist mythology. The artwork shows the Buddha flanked by gods Brahma and Indra.[82][83]

In China, Korea, and Japan, he is known by the characters 帝釋天 (Chinese: 釋提桓因, pinyin: shì dī huán yīn, Korean: "Je-seok-cheon" or 桓因 Hwan-in, Japanese: "Tai-shaku-ten", kanji: 帝釈天). In Japan, Indra always appears opposite Brahma (梵天, Japanese: "Bonten") in Buddhist art. Brahma and Indra are revered together as protectors of the historical Buddha (Chinese: 釋迦, kanji: 釈迦, also known as Shakyamuni), and are frequently shown giving the infant Buddha his first bath. 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.[citation needed]

File:Seal Bangkok Metropolitan Admin (green).svg
Many official seals in southeast Asia feature Indra.[84] Above: seal of Bangkok, Thailand.

In the Huayan school of Buddhism and elsewhere, the image of Indra's net is a metaphor for the emptiness of all things.[citation needed]

In Bali, the legend of Tirta Empul Temple origin is related to Indra. The sacred spring was created by the Indra, whose soldiers were poisoned at one time by Mayadanawa. Indra pierced the earth to create a fountain of immortality to revive them.[citation needed]

In Japan, Indra is one of the twelve Devas, as guardian deities, who are found in or around Buddhist temples (Jūni-ten, 十二天).[85] In Japan, Indra has been called "Taishaku-ten".[86] He joins these other eleven Devas of Buddhism, found in Japan and other parts of southeast Asia: Indra (Taishaku-ten), Agni (Ka-ten), Yama (Enma-ten), Nirrti (Rasetsu-ten), Vayu (Fu-ten), Ishana (Ishana-ten), Kubera (Tamon-ten), Varuna (Sui-ten), Brahma (Bon-ten), Prithvi (Chi-ten), Surya (Nit-ten), Chandra (Gat-ten).[86][87][88]

The ceremonial name of Bangkok claims that the city was "given by Indra and built by Vishvakarman." The provincial seal of Surin Province, Thailand is an image of Indra atop Airavata.[citation needed]


Left: Indra as a guardian deity sitting on elephant in Jain cave temple at Ellora
Right: Indra, Indrani with elephant at the 9th-century Mirpur Jain Temple in Rajasthan (rebuilt 15th-century).

Indra in Jain mythology always serves the Tirthankara teachers. Indra most commonly appears in stories related to Tirthankaras, in which Indra himself manages and celebrates the five auspicious events in that Tirthankara's life, such as Chavan kalyanak, Janma kalyanak, Diksha kalyanak, Kevala Jnana kalyanak, and moksha kalyanak.[89]

There are sixty four Indras in Jaina literature, each ruling over different heavenly realms where heavenly souls who have not yet gained Kaivalya (moksha) are reborn according to Jainism.[13][90] Among these many Indras, the ruler of the first Kalpa heaven is the Indra who is known as Saudharma in Digambara, and Sakra in Śvētāmbara tradition. He is most preferred, discussed and often depicted in Jaina caves and marble temples, often with his wife Indrani.[90][91] 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 five auspicious moments in a Jina's life, including his birth.[13] These Indra-related stories are enacted by laypeople in Jainism tradition during special Puja (worship) or festive remembrances.[13]

In Jaina iconography for Indra, he is sometimes represented to be dancing, just like the Nataraja – the classic Hindu icon for a dancing Shiva. Some symbolic overlaps between Jainism and Hinduism are widespread with regards to Indra mythologies and iconography.[92]

In south Indian Digambara Jaina community, Indra is also the title of hereditary priests who preside over Jain temple functions.[13]

See also[edit]


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  1. near Black Sea.
  2. In deities that are similar to Indra in the Hittite and European mythologies, he is also heroic.[24]
  3. The Trimurti idea of Hinduism, states Jan Gonda, "seems to have developed from ancient cosmological and ritualistic speculations about the triple character of an individual god, in the first place of Agni, whose births are three or threefold, and who is threefold light, has three bodies and three stations".[51] Other trinities, beyond the more common "Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva", mentioned in ancient and medieval Hindu texts include: "Indra, Vishnu, Brahmanaspati", "Agni, Indra, Surya", "Agni, Vayu, Aditya", "Mahalakshmi, Mahasarasvati, and Mahakali", and others.[52][53]
  4. Scholars[73][74] note that better rebirth, not nirvana, has been the primary focus of a vast majority of lay Buddhists. This is sought in the Buddhist traditions through merit accumulation and good kamma.
  • Indra was the god of the thunderstorm that puts an end to the oppressive summer heat and opens the rainy season. That is why among the 12 Vedic solar months or half-seasons, he rules the first month of the rainy season. As the Rg-Vedic seer Vasishtha says in his celebrated Hymn of the Frogs, both the priests and the frogs croak with joy when the first rainstorm breaks: the frogs because of the advent of water, the priests because of the manifestation of their god, Indra. Implicitly, the priests’ recitation is humorously likened to the frogs’ croaking... Less poetically and more philosophically, the Atharva-Veda puts him at the centre of the sophisticated concept of Indrajâla, “Indra’s net”. In this net, a diamond in every knot reflects every other diamond knot, and thus the whole. The West needed another four thousand years to develop the similar concept of the “holographic paradigm”... He was also the slayer of the dragon Vrtra, a model for all the dragon-slayers in the world, such as Zeus killing Typhon, or Saint George, or Siegfried, or Beowulf. In Iran, he was transformed into a demon, but his nickname Verethragna (Vedic Vrtrahan, “Vrtra-slayer”) then became a popular god in its own right. There, we have an Indra on the side of both good and evil. ... However, the Buddha arrived just in time for Indra to play a role in his career. it was Indra himself who persuaded the freshly awakened Shakyamuni to start preaching his newfound path. Buddhist monks then spread the cult of Indra to foreign lands as far as Japan. Indra’s weapon, the lightning or vajra, became the emblem of instant Enlightenment. The sought-after “Self-nature” (Chinese zixing) is present all the time, deep in all of us; but when we embark on the path of meditation and finally awaken to it, it strikes like lightning.
    • Elst, K. 2019. Ch 20


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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