A nice summary of Indra from
Indra is invoked alone in about one-fourth of the hymns of the RV., far
more than are addressed to any other deity ; for he is the favourite national
god of the Vedic people. He is more anthropomorphic on the physical side,
and more invested with mythological imagery, than any other member of the
pantheon. He is primarily a god of the thunderstorm who vanquishes the
demons of drought or darkness, and sets free the vsraters or wins the light.
He is secondarily the god of battle who aids the victorious Aryan in over-
coming his aboriginal foes.
His physical features, such as body and head, are often referred to ;
after he has drunk Soma he agitates his jaws and his beard ; and his belly
is many times mentioned in connexion with his great powers of drinking
Soma. Being tawny (hari) in colour, he is also tawny-haired and tawny-
bearded. His arms are especially often referred to because they wield the
42 INDEA [ii. 12
thunderbolt (vajra), which, mythologically representing the lightning
stroke, is his exclusive weapon. This bolt was fashioned for him by Tvastr,
being made of iron (ayasa), golden, tawny, sharp, many-pointed, sometimes
spoken of as a stone or rock. Several epithets, compounds or derivatives
of vajra, such as vajra-bahu bearing the holt m his arm and vajrin tvielder
of the holt are almost without exception applied to him. Sometimes he is
described as armed with bow and arrows ; he also carries a hook (afikusa).
Having a golden car, drawn by two tawny steeds (hari), he is a car-
fighter (rathestha). Both his car and his steeds were fashioned by the
Rbhus, the divine artificers.
As Indra is more addicted to Soma than any of the other gods, the
comm(?n epithet ' Soma-drinker ' (Somapa) is characteristic of him. This
beverage stimulates him to carry out his warlike deeds; thus for the
slaughter of Vrtra he is said to have drunk three lakes of Soma. One whole
hymn (x. 119) is a monologue in which Indra, intoxicated with Soma, boasts
of his greatness and his might.
Indra is often spoken of as having been born, and two whole hymns
deal with the subject of his birth. His father, the same as Agni's, appears
to be Dyaus ; but the inference from other passages is that he is Tvastr, the
artificer among the gods. Agni is called Indra's twin brother, and Pusan
(vi. 54) is also his brother. His wife, who is often mentioned, is Indranl.
Indra is associated with various other deities. The Maruts (i. 85) are his
chief allies, who constantly help him in his conflicts. Hence the epithet
Marutvant accompanied hy the Maruts is characteristic of him. Agni is
the god most often conjoined with him as a dual divinity. Indra is also
often coupled with Varuna (vii. 86) and Vayu, god of Wind, less often with
Soma (viii. 48), Brhaspati (iv. 50), Pusan, and Visnu.
Indra is of vast size ; thus it is said that he would be equal to the earth
even if it were ten times as large as it is. His greatness and power are
constantly dwelt on : neither gods nor men have attained to the limit of
his might ; and no one like him is known among the gods. Thus various
epithets such as sakra and sacivant mighty, sacipati lord of might, sata-
kratu having a hundred potvers, are characteristic of him.
The essential myth forming the basis of his nature is described with
extreme frequency and much variation. Exhilarated by Soma and generally
escorted by the Maruts, he attacks the chief demon of drought, usually
called Vrtra, but often also the serpent (ahi). Heaven and Earth tremble
when the mighty combat takes place. With his bolt he shatters Vrtra
who encompasses the waters, hence receiving the exclusive epithet apsu-jit
conquering in the tvaters- The result of the conflict, which is regarded as
being constantly renewed, is that he pierces the mountain and sets free
the waters pent up like imprisoned cows. The physical elements in the
conflict are nearly always the bolt, the mountain, waters or rivers, while
ii. 12] INDRA 43
lightning, thunder, cloud, rain are seldom directly named. The waters are
often terrestrial, but also often aerial and celestial. The clouds are the
mountains (parvata, giri), on which the demons lie or dwell, or from which
Indra casts them down, or which he cleaves to release the waters. Or the
cloud is a rock (adri) which encompasses the cows (as the waters are
f; sometimes called), and from which he releases them. Clouds, as containing
the waters, figure as cows also; they further appear under the names of
udder (iidhar), spring (litsa), cask (kavandha), pail (ko^a). The clouds,
moreover, appear as the fortresses (puras) of the aerial demons, being
described as moving, autumnal, made of iron or stone, and as 90, 99, or
100 in number. Indra shatters them and is characteristically called the
'fort-destroyer' (purbhid). But the chief and specific epithet of Indra is
' Vrtra-slayer ' (Vrtra-han), owing to the essential importance, in the myth,
of the fight with the demon. In this fight the Maruts are his regular
allies, but Agni, Soma, and Visnu also often assist him. Indra also engages
in conflict with numerous minor demons ; sometimes he is described as
destroying demons in general, the Raksases or the Asuras.
With the release of the waters is connected the winning of light, sun,
and dawn. Thus Indra is invoked to slay Vrtra and to win the light.
When he had slain Vrtra, releasing the waters for man, he placed the
sun visibly in the heavens. The sun shone forth when Indra blew the
serpent from the air. There is here often no reference to the Vrtra fight.
Indra is then simply said to find the light ; he gained the sun or found it
in the darkness, and made a path for it. He produces the dawn as well as
the sun ; he opens the darkness with the dawn and the sun. The cows
mentioned along with the sun and dawn, or with the sun alone, as found,
released, or won by Indra, are here probably the morning beams, which are
elsewhere compared with cattle coming out of their dark stalls. Thus when
the dawns went to meet Indra, he became the lord of the cows ; when he
overcame Vrtra he made visible the cows of the nights. There seems to be
a confusion between the restoration of the sun after the darkness of the
thunderstorm, and the recovery of the sun from the darkness of night at
dawn. The latter feature is probably an extension of the former. Indra's
connexion with the thunderstorm is in a few passages divested of mytho-
logical imagery, as when he is said to have created the lightnings of heaven
and to have directed the action of the waters downwards. With the
Vrtra-fight, with the winning of the cows and of the sun, is also connected
the gaining of Soma. Thus when Indra drove the serpent from the air,
there shone forth fires, the sun, and Soma ; he won Soma at the same time
as the cows.
Great cosmic actions are often attributed to Indra. He settled the
quaking mountains and plains. He stretches out heaven and earth like
a hide ; he holds asunder heaven and earth as two wheels are kept apart by
44 INDRA [ii. 12
the axle ; he made the non-existent into the existent in a moment. Some-
times the separation and support of heaven and earth are described as
a result of Indra's victory over a demon who held them together.
As the destroyer of demons in combat, Indra is constantly invoked by
warriors. As the great god of battle he is more frequently called upon than
any other deity to help the Aryans in their conflicts with earthly enemies.
He protects the Aryan colour and subjects the black skin. He dispersed
50,000 of the black race. He subjected the Dasyus to the Aryan, and gave
land to the Aryan.
More generally Indra is praised as the protector, helper, and friend of his
worshippers. He is described as bestowing on them wealth, which is con-
sidered the result of victories. His liberality is so characteristic that the
frequent attribute maghavan bountiful is almost exclusively his.
Besides the central myth of the Vrtra-fight, several minor stories are
connected with Indra. In various passages he is described as shattering the
car of Usas, goddess of Dawn (iv. 51); this trait is probably based on the
notion of Indra's bringing the sun when kept back by the delaying dawn.
He is also said to have stopped the steeds of the Sun, apparently by
causing the latter to lose a wheel of his car. Indra is further associated
with the myth of the winning of Soma ; for it is to him that the eagle brings
the draught of immortality from the highest heaven. Another myth is
the capture by Indra, with the help of Sarama, of the cows confined in
a cave by demons called Panis.
Various stories which, though mixed with mythological elements, pro-
bably have an historical basis, are told of Indra's having fought in aid of
individual proteges, such as king Sudas, against terrestrial foes.
The attributes of Indra are chiefly those of physical superiority and rule
over the physical world. He is energetic and violent in action, an
irresistible fighter, an inexhaustible lavisher of the highest goods on man-
kind, but at the same time sensual and immoral in various ways, such as
excess in eating and drinking, and cruelty in killing his own father Tvastr.
He forms a marked contrast to Varuna, the other great universal monarch of
the RV., who wields passive and peaceful sway, who uniformly applies the
laws of nature, who upholds moral order, and whose character displays lofty
RigVeda X 119 (Brererton and Jamison translation) - Indra boasting about his Soma-drinking (Agni speaks the last verse)
Yes for sure! Yes (says) my mind: I could win cow and horse—yes! – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
Forth like raging winds, the draughts have lifted me up. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
The draughts have lifted me up, like swift horses a chariot. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
A thought has come up close to me, like a bellowing cow to her dear son. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
Like an artisan a chariot-box, I bend the thought around with my heart. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
Because the ﬁve peoples have not appeared to me to be even a speck . . . – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
Because both world-halves are not equal to even one wing of mine . . . – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
By my greatness I have surmounted heaven and this great earth. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
Blast it! I will set down this earth here—or over here. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
I will keep smiting the earth to blazes—here or over there. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
In heaven is one wing of mine; I have dragged the other below. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
Here I am—greater than great, sped upward to the clouds. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!
As a household that is properly equipped, I journey as the carrier of the oblations to the gods. – Have I drunk of the soma? Yes!