It's well-known that the Pandavas were all sons of gods: Yudhishthira was the son of Yama god of death, Bhima was the son of Vayu the wind god, Arjuna was the son of Indra king of the gods, and Nakula and Sahadeva were sons of the twin Ashwini Kumaras. But these weren't the only gods they were incarnations of. Let me explain.

This chapter of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata describes how the gods were once conducting a Yagna when they saw a golden lotus floating in the Ganga river. Indra traced the lotus back to the source of the Ganga, where he saw a woman weeping while her tears being transformed into golden lotuses. When he asked her why she was crying, she took him to a mountain in the Himalayas where a young man and a woman were playing dice. Indra tried to introduce himself as the lord of the Universe, but the young man showed no interest in it. Indra angrily repeated his statement, when suddenly the young man revealed himself to be Shiva. To punish Indra for his arrogance, Shiva forced Indra into an underground cave, which contained other five people. It turns out that Shiva had given the same test to five previous Indras as well, and he imprisoned them because they failed it. But Shiva offered the Indras a way to redemption:

Those that are of disposition like thine never obtain my grace. These others (within the cave) had at one time been like thee. Enter thou this cave, therefore, and lie there for some time. The fate of you all shall certainly be the same. All of you shall have to take your birth in the world of men, where, having achieved many difficult feats and slaying a large number of men, ye shall again by the merits of your respective deeds, regain the valued region of Indra. Ye shall accomplish all I have said and much more besides, of other kinds of work.

As a result, the five previous Indras were born as the five Pandavas. The present Indra served as the father of one of them, Arjuna, to redeem himself as well. And the weeping woman, referred to in the text as Sri or Lakshmi, incarnated as the Pandavas' wife Draupadi. (Madhvacharya says that this isn't Vishnu's wife Lakshmi, however, but rather an almagamation of the goddesses Syamala, Bharati, Sachi and Ushas, denoted as Sri because of their opulence.)

But my question is, who were the five previous Indras who were born as the Pandavas? All the Mahabharata tells us is that their names were "Vishwabhuk, Bhutadhaman, Sivi of great energy, Santi the fourth, and Tejaswin". But what were their life stories, and when did they live?

There are fourteen Manvantaras in a Kalpa, and during each Manvantara a different Indra rules the three worlds. As described in this chapter and this chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam, before the current Indra (named Purandara or Sakra), the previous Indras of the present Kalpa were Yagna (an incarnation of Vishnu), Rochana, Satyajit, Trishikha, Vibhu, and Mantradruma. None of these seem close to the names of the five cursed Indras. So did they rule in a previous Kalpa?

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    In my opinion, Indra is just a title, so there can be many people who were chosen to be Indra in different timespan. A rule can be there that one should be Indra for a manvantar but what if there is any crisis and he is incompetent. Similarly, there can be some replacements based on his conduct eg, i know once an Indra was removed from his place for his bad deeds and Nahush took over as next Indra. So the Indra position remained and thee could have been hundreds/thousands of real Indra getting throne replacing the previous one. – Aby Mar 11 '15 at 8:09
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    @Aby Actually, the Indra who was temporarily replaced by Nahusha was the present Indra. The present Indra was removed for the sin of killing Vritrasura, but he came back later, after depositing his sin on Earth in the form of various different things. (This all happened in the present Manvantara.) But yeah, it's possible that a Nahusha-like situation may have happened in past Manvantaras as well. But I get the sense that they were the actual official Indras of their respective Manvantaras, because they resemble our Indra, which suggests that they were similarly born for the job. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 11 '15 at 8:28
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    I actually have heard a lot of other stories as well about Indra's bad conduct so I am not sure if one person would be forgiven/punished every time and he again keeps repeating and repenting mistakes. This is ok for a human being but not for a godly position. So, i believe these must have been different people holding Indra's designation at the time they do their misdeeds and time to time there would be different people assuming Indra's role. – Aby Mar 11 '15 at 11:45
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    @Aby Well, I expect that most if not all the stories you've heard about Indra behaving badly are about the current Indra. And he doesn't lose his position after every little thing. The case with Vritrasura was exceptional because Vritrasura was a Brahmin and Brahmahatya (killing a Brahmin) is one of the worst sins ever. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 11 '15 at 13:22
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    @Aby By the way, an easy way to tell whether a story in Hindu scripture is referring to the present Indra is by seeing if they use our present Indra's personal names, like Sakra, Purandara, or Vasava. – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 11 '15 at 15:21

As per the Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya of Madhvacharya, these Indras are referred with the following names

"When he lifted the hill he saw these four demi-gods. They were all Indra’s in previous Manvantara’s. Vayu by name Rochana, Yama by name Satyajith, Ashwini Gods by name Trishala and Vibhu respectively occupied the post of Indra in Swaar ochisha, Uttama, Raivata and Tapas Manwantara"

So, the Indras referred as Vishwabhuk, Bhutadhaman, Sivi of great energy, Santi the fourth, and Tejaswin" Should be Vayu by name Rochana, Yama by name Satyajith, Ashwini Gods by name Trishala and Vibhu respectively occupied the post of Indra in Swaarochisha, Uttama, Raivata and Tapas Manwantara".

But the exact mapping is not given.

The link for the Mbh tatparya nirnaya is given below http://www.dvaipayana.net/mbtn-trans/chapter_18_prabhanjanacharya.pdf


In skanda purana prabhas khanda( of Tatpurusa Kalpa names of indras are given.

Indras are Visvabhuk, vipascit, sukirti, sibi, vibhu, manobhuva, ojasvin, the powerful bali, adbhuta, santi, ramya, devavara, vrsa rtadhaman, divassvamin and suci. These are the fourteen sakras(indras).


Indra is just an office, not a personal name. During any age, any individual with enough merit can aspire to attain the office of Indra. The office of Indra is eternal so long as the universe exist. Indra is not God, though, although there are instances where God Himself will assume the office of Indra or Brahma, both of whom are generally created beings with high merit.

So to answer your question, we don't know who those Indras are. Since Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are generally considered to be supreme and powerful deities, with the middle one (Vishnu) considered to be God Himself, it would make sense that Shiva's lifespan and power would outlast the lifespan of the office of Indra.

For whatever reason, Shiva likely played dice for a long enough time until he accumulated enough Indras to make the Mahabharata happen. The names you list above are likely just personal names of those Indras. It's similar to how the office of PoTUS is never fulfilled by the same individual but always someone who aspires to that office.


'We shall go from our celestial regions even unto the region of men where salvation is ordained to be difficult of acquisition. But let the gods Dharma, Vayu, Maghavat, and the twin Aswins beget us upon our would-be mother. Fighting with men by means of both celestial and human weapons, we shall again come back into the region of Indra.'

"Vyasa continued, 'Hearing these words of the former Indras, the wielder of the thunderbolt once more addressed that foremost of gods, saying, 'Instead of going myself, I shall, with a portion of my energy, create from myself a person for the accomplishment of the task (thou assignest) to form the fifth among these!' Vishwabhuk, Bhutadhaman, Sivi of great energy, Santi the fourth, and Tejaswin, these it is said were the five Indras of old.

Vishwabhuk, Bhutadhaman, Sivi of great energy, Santi the fourth, and Tejaswin are the 5 old Indra who incarnated as Pandavas with the portions of Dharma, Vayu, Maghavat, and the Asvins.

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