8

The Verse 6.20.2 of Rigved says that Indra 'leagued' with Vishnu to destroy Vritra:

2 Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted, When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Viṣṇu, slewest Vṛtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters.

3 Indra, Strong, Victor, Mightier than the mighty, addressed with prayer and perfect in his splendour, Lord of the bolt that breaketh forts in pieces, became the King of the sweet juice of Soma.

How did Vishnu help Indra in killing Vritra?

7

There is a slightly different version of the story of Vritra as mentioned in the Mahabharata. There Indra is defeated by Vritra, gets advice from Vishnu, befriends Vritra based on that advice, and later kills Vritra by throwing foam infused with Vishnu's power on him.

(All of the following are from K.M. Ganguly's translation of Vyasa's MahaBharata)

MahaBharata Udyoga Parva, Section 9: Indra is defeated by Vritra: Long story but Twashta creates Vritra since Indra kills his son. Vritra trounces Indra.

MahaBharata Udyoga Parva, Section 10: Indra asks Vishnu for help and hatches a plan:

"Indra said, This whole indestructible universe, O gods, hath been pervaded by Vritra. There is nothing that can be equal to the task of opposing him. I was capable of yore, but now I am incapable. What good betide you, can I do? I believe him to be unapproachable. Powerful and magnanimous, possessing immeasurable strength in fight, he would be able to swallow up all the three worlds with the gods, the Asuras, and the men. Therefore, hear ye dwellers of heaven, this is my resolution. Proceeding to the abode of Vishnu, in company with that high-souled Being must we consult, and ascertain the means of slaying this ruthless wretch.' "Salya continued, 'Indra having thus spoken, the gods with that host of Rishis repaired to the mighty god Vishnu to place themselves under the-protection of that protector of all. And afflicted with the dread of Vritra, they said unto the Supreme Lord of the deities. Thou hadst in former times covered the three worlds with three steps. Thou hadst procured the ambrosial food, O Vishnu, and destroyed the Asuras in battle. Thou didst bind the great Asura Vali and hadst raised Indra to the throne of heaven. Thou art the lord of the gods, and this entire universe is pervaded by thee. Thou art the God, the mighty Deity, saluted by all persons. Be thou the refuge of all the celestials together with Indra, O best of gods. The whole universe, O slayer of Asuras, hath been pervaded by Vritra. And Vishnu said, 'I am no doubt bound to do what is for your good. I shall, therefore, tell you of a contrivance whereby he may be annihilated. Do ye with the Rishis and the Gandharvas repair to the place where Vritra that bearer of a universal form is and adopt towards him a conciliatory policy. You will thus succeed in overthrowing him. By virtue of my power, victory, ye gods, will be won by Indra, for, remaining invisible, I shall enter into his thunderbolt, that best of weapons. O foremost of gods, depart ye with the Rishis and the Gandharvas. Let there be no delay in effecting a peace between Indra and Vritra.'

MahaBharata Udyoga Parva, Section 10: Indra slays Vritra with Vishnu's help:

Thus peace having been concluded, Vritra was very much pleased. And Indra also became pleased though constantly occupied with the thought of killing Vritra. And the chief of the deities passed his time in search of a loophole, uneasy (in mind). And on a certain day when it was evening and the hour awful, Indra caught sight of the mighty Asura on the coast of the sea. And he bethought himself of the boon that was granted to the illustrious Asura, saying, 'This is the awful evening time; it is neither day, nor night; and this Vritra, my enemy, who hath stripped me of my all, must undoubtedly be killed by me. If I do not kill Vritra, this great and mighty Asura of gigantic frame, even by deceit, it will not go well with me.' And as Indra thought of all this, bearing Vishnu in mind he beheld at that instant in the sea a mass of froth as large as a hill. And he said, 'This is neither dry, nor wet, nor is it a weapon; let me hurl it at Vritra. Without doubt, he will die immediately.' And he threw at Vritra that mass of froth blended with the thunderbolt. And Vishnu, having entered within that froth, put an end to the life of Vritra. And when Vritra was killed, the cardinal points were free from gloom; and there also blew a pleasant breeze; and all beings were much pleased.

This leads to Indra getting ashamed and fleeing from the scene and later Nahusha becoming the new Indra and getting cursed by Agastya etc.

  • 1
    Interesting since this use of foam is associated with killing of Namuchi in Vedic myths! – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jul 27 '17 at 4:45
  • @Dr.VineetAggarwal This may be a case of Kalpa Bheda. – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 27 '17 at 4:59
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    @KeshavSrinivasan hmmm the exploits of Indra in Vedas refer to the current Indra and the Vedic and Puranic lore matches in this instance. Possibly the Mahabharat version belongs to a different Kalpa though I am always surprised at how the same situations keep repeating consistently! – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jul 27 '17 at 5:03
  • @Dr.VineetAggarwal No matter how many times you sow mango seeds, only mango tree springs out always. No matter how many times you put a prism in the sunlight only same 7 colors appear. – Mr. Sigma. Jul 27 '17 at 8:43
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    @Fire. that's a beautiful analogy! Just surprised that the names of these people also don't change over the eons. – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jul 27 '17 at 9:08
9

The full story is described in Srimad Bhagvata MahaPurana, Skandha 6, Adhyaya 9 to 12.

SB 6.9: Appearance of the Demon Vṛtrāsura
SB 6.10: The Battle Between the Demigods and Vṛtrāsura
SB 6.11: The Transcendental Qualities of Vṛtrāsura
SB 6.12: Vṛtrāsura’s Glorious Death

SB 6.9.18 — That very fearful demon, who was actually the son of Tvaṣṭā, covered all the planetary systems by dint of austerity. Therefore he was named Vṛtra, or one who covers everything.

SB 6.9.19 — The demigods, headed by Indra, charged the demon with their soldiers, striking him with their own transcendental bows and arrows and other weapons but Vṛtrāsura swallowed all their weapons.

SB 6.9.20 — Struck with wonder and disappointment upon seeing the strength of the demon, the demigods lost their own strength. Therefore they all met together to try to please the Supersoul, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, by worshiping Him.

Vishnu guided Indra and other Devas to go to Rishi Dadhichi which will award you his body. By making Astra (wapon) called thunderbolt (Vajra) from his body by Vishwakarma, Indra can kill Vritra.

SB 6.9.54 — When the Aśvinī-kumāras beg for Dadhyañca’s body on your behalf, he will surely give it because of affection. Do not doubt this, for Dadhyañca is very experienced in religious understanding. When Dadhyañca awards you his body, Viśvakarmā will prepare a thunderbolt from his bones. This thunderbolt will certainly kill Vṛtrāsura because it will be invested with My power.

SB 6.10.13-14 — Thereafter, King Indra very firmly took up the thunderbolt manufactured by Viśvakarmā from the bones of Dadhīci. Charged with the exalted power of Dadhīci Muni and enlightened by the power of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Indra rode on the back of his carrier, Airāvata, surrounded by all the demigods, while all the great sages offered him praise. Thus he shone very beautifully, pleasing the three worlds as he rode off to kill Vṛtrāsura.

Vritrasura also accepted this:

SB 6.11.20 — O Indra, King of heaven, the thunderbolt you carry to kill me has been empowered by the prowess of Lord Viṣṇu and the strength of Dadhīci’s austerities. Since you have come here to kill me in accordance with Lord Viṣṇu’s order, there is no doubt that I shall be killed by the release of your thunderbolt. Lord Viṣṇu has sided with you. Therefore your victory, opulence and all good qualities are assured.


So, Vishnu helped Indra and for the way of killing Vritra. He guided him how to make Vajra (thunderbolt) that can kill Vritra and he also powered that Astra (weapon) so-that Indra could won Vritra. (It can also be said Indra got Vajra with the help of Vishnu).

  • Hmmm I knew Lord Vishnu had suggested the creation of Vajra but I thought maybe there's some direct way in which he helped as well. Thanks for sharing the passages :) – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Jul 26 '17 at 16:36
2

The story of Indra and Vṛtra is metaphorical as explained below.

Since you cited a quote from the Rig Veda. Therefore, in the first place, the question of Viṣṇu helping Indra has to be understood in the context of the primary sources namely Vedas and Brahmanas.

In Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, it is stated that

वृत्रो ह वा इदं सर्वं वृत्वा शिश्ये । यदिदमन्तरेण द्यावापृथिवी स यदेदं सर्वं वृत्वा शिश्ये तस्माद्वृत्रो नाम — १.१.३.[४] vṛtro ha vā idaṃ sarvaṃ vṛtvā śiśye yadidamantareṇa dyāvāpṛthivī sa yadedaṃ sarvaṃ vṛtvā śiśye tasmādvṛtro nāma 1.1.3.[4]

In ancient time Vṛtra was sleeping covering the entire world specially the earth and the heaven. As because he slept covering these all, therefore he is named after Vṛtra. √vr to cover. In this connection the derivation from Yāska’s Nirukta (2.16). Yāska derives Vṛtra as follows,

तस्मात् इन्द्रशत्रुः । तत् कः वृत्रः । तत् आभिवादिनी एषा ऋक् भवति । [त्वाष्ट्रः असुरः इति ऐतिहासिकाः ।] अपां च ज्योतिषः च मिश्रीभावकर्मणः वर्षकर्म जायते । तत्र उपमार्थेन युद्धवर्णाः भवन्ति । अहिवत् तु खलु मन्त्रवर्णाः ब्रामन्णवादाः च । तस्मिन् हते प्रसस्यन्दिरे आपः । विवृद्ध्या शरीरस्य स्रोतांसि निवारयां चकार । अतिष्ठन्तीनाम् अनिविशमानानाम् इति अस्थावराणां काष्ठानां मध्ये निहितं शरीरं मेघः । इन्द्रशत्रुः इद्रः अस्य शमयिता वा शातयिता वा । वृत्रस्य निण्यं वि चरन्ति आपः दीर्घं तमः आ अशयत् इन्द्रशत्रुः । मेघः इति नैरुक्ताः । शरीरं शृणातेः । शम्नातेः वा । वृत्रस्य [ निण्यम् ] निर्णामं विचरन्ति विजानन्ति आपः इति । दीर्घं द्राघतेः । तमः तनोतेः । आशयत् आशेतेः । अतिष्ठन्तीनाम् अनिवेशनानां काष्ठानां मध्ये निहितं शरीरम् ।२.१६ ।

Purana says that he is a demon born of but the authors of Nirukta hold that he is nothing but cloud. Sāyana supports the opinion. He says that the root √vr. to cover seems to be quite appropriate. Lightning and clouds combine to produce rain and that interaction of lightning and cloud is described in the simile of the battle between Indra and Vṛtra. After killing Vṛtra, Indra was known by the title of Vṛtraghna. References to this struggle are to be found in many places in this Brāhmaṇa e.g., I.2.4.1, I.6.2.3, II.5.3.18, II.5.4.I, II.5.4.9, II.6.I.I, and IV.I.3.1

Indra-Vṛtra (Śat Br. 11–5–3–18)

It is said that in the context of Sākamedha offerings Indra slew Vṛtra. It is by means of all the seasonal sacrifices, that the god slew Vṛtra. The sacrificer invited Indra to make a bull roar in the Sākamedha offerings. The sound is known as Vaṣat. For the bull is indeed Indra’s form, etad vā idindrasya rūpam yadṛṣabhah.

Indra-Vṛtra (Śat Br. II-5–4–1)

The Mahahavis or great oblation is an integral part of the Sākamedha. By means of the great oblation Indra slew Vṛtra. So the sacrificer thereby slays his wicked, spiteful enemy and gain the victory by performing this seasonal sacrifice.

Indra-Vṛtra (Śat. Br. II-5–4–9)

Before the slaying of Vṛtra, he was indeed Indra, but after the slaying of Vṛtra, he became Mahendra even as a king becomes a Maharaja after obtaining victory. For this reason, a rice pap is offered to Mahendra i.e. Indra.

Hence, the help of Viṣṇu, based on the primary sources, is to be understood in the context of providing the environment to Indra for slaying the Vṛtra.

P.S.: Below an explanation is provided to clarify the word "leagued".

Visnu is a friend of Indra, with whom he is frequently allied in the fight with Vṛtra. RV.VI.69 is dedicated to the two deities conjointly and that Indra's name is coupled with that of Viṣṇu in the dual. Viṣṇu is Indra's intimate friend RV.I.22.19. विष्णोः कर्माणि पश्यत यतो व्रतानि पस्पशे । इन्द्रस्य युज्यः सखा ॥१९॥

Furthermore, verses 4 to 6 of the 99th Sukta of the 7th Mandla are attributed to both Indra and Vishnu. Therein it is stated that: उरुं यज्ञाय चक्रथुरु लोकं जनयन्ता सूर्यमुषासमग्निम्That is Indra and Vishnu generates Surya, Usha and Agni. This is an indication to "league".

  • Nice attempt but the role of Vishnu is not clear in your interpretation since it talks about Indra and Vritra only. Would be helpful if you thrashed it out a bit to get an interpretation of Vishnu's 'help' as well. – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal yesterday
  • Verses 4 to 6 of the 99th Sukta of the 7th Mandla are attributed to both Indra and Vishnu. Therein it is stated that: उरुं यज्ञाय चक्रथुरु लोकं जनयन्ता सूर्यमुषासमग्निम्That is Indra and Vishnu generates Surya, Usha and Agni. This is an indication to "league". – user965167 yesterday
  • @Dr.VineetAggarwal: Vishnu made space for Indra for attacking vritra (sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/rv01154.htm). That was how he helped Indra -RV I.154 – srimannarayana k v yesterday
  • @user965167: Good answer. Upvoted – srimannarayana k v yesterday

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