Hindu Gods and Goddesses:
Indra

Details and Origins

Who: INDRA

What: Hindu king of the gods, god of war, god of rain, god of thunder and storms, a fertility god. In later times, when gods such as Vishnu and Shiva gained more prominence, he lost status and became more of a weather god and ruler of the lesser gods, while the top gods were immune to his powers.

Which religion? Mainly Hinduism, but there’s also one mentioned in Zoroastrianism, as well as in Buddhism and Jainism, where he’s more often called Sakra.

When: Around 1500 BC (perhaps earlier — the date is debated), he was spoken of in the Rig Veda the Aryans brought with them when they conquered portions of India.

Spouse: Indrani, sometimes referred to as goddess of wrath, but usually just considered his consort. She’s given higher status in southern India than she is in the north.

Divine relatives: Sky god Dyaus Pita (father); Prthivi, earth goddess (mother); Agni, god of fire (twin brother); Jayanta, Midhusa, Nilambara, Rbhus, Rsabha, Sitragupta, and the mythic Pandava archer Arjun (sons).

Weapons or noteworthy special powers: A lightning-thunderbolt called the vajra, which he wields with abandon much like the Norse god Thor or, perhaps, Zeuss / Jupiter. Power over storms. Liberator of rivers and water. Could move his heaven, Mera, from place to place. Superhuman battle strength, especially when he consumed soma. Rides a special white fighting elephant, called Airavata.


A Few Stories of Indra

Hinduism has had many thousands of years to collect and refine its accounts of Hindu gods and goddesses. So it would be impossible to communicate all the stories of heroes and gods that are told in the early Vedas and, later on, those accounts shared in the Mahabharata, in which his supremacy starts to decline. Then the older god begins to be supplanted by younger heroes of the pantheon, such as Shiva and Vishnu, with his many avatars. But here are a few tales I found interesting …


Lord Indra and the Dog

It is said that of all the Pandava brothers, only the oldest, Yuddhistira, had the courage and perseverance to climb the icy heights of the Himalayas all the way to the golden gates of Lord Indra’s heaven. Of those who had started the journey with Yuddhistira, only his faithful dog remained. He alone had braved all obstacles and suffering to stay by Yuddhistira’s side to the end.

Indra himself opened the gates to Yuddhistira and welcomed him heartily. But then he tried to discourage his noble guest from bringing a mere dog into a palace of the gods. Yuddhistira refused to leave his trusty friend, and his loyalty was rewarded.

The king of gods then transformed the dog into Dhamma (Dharma) and named Yuddhistira Dharma-Raja, King of Religion or Law, and welcomed him into the pantheon.


Indra and the Dragon

The demon (asura) Vrita transformed himself into a powerful dragon and consumed the waters of the world, leaving it thirsty. The earth was in a terrible drought, and there was no one to help all the people, who were left with a perpetual desert to live in.

Then Indra was born, because it was time. He was born to the purpose and, for as long as his talents were needed, he would wield the waters and rumbling powers of the vajra to conquer evil. But first he had to get the water…

He drank the soma that gave him supernatural strength and journeyed forth to challenge the dragon. Laying waste to multiple fortresses to get to Vrita, finally, he faced his enemy. Battling long, the god of war and weather destroyed his foe, releasing the waters once again, and they fell from the sky in drops that quenched the earth and brought life back to its flesh.


The Seriously Bad Outcome

An elderly sage named Gautama had an extraordinarily beautiful wife named Ahalya. And as in many other myths around the world, the god who saw her just had to have her. 

One day when Gautama had gone into the forest, Indra disguised himself as the sage and went home to Ahalya. He then ordered her to have marital relations with him. Whether or not she saw through the ruse — the Ramayana says she wasn’t tricked, while later versions of the story say she was completely fooled — the real Gautama found out and didn’t care about excuses. 

Gautama cursed both wife and god, and because he was righteous, what he said came to pass. Ahalya became a stone and was only released from it much later when Rama’s foot brushed against it. Her partner in crime? The penalty was severe. Depending on the version, Indra was either cursed to be castrated or to be covered with a thousand vulvae, which later became eyes … definitely an improvement.

The moral of the story: If that’s not your spouse, hands off. A god should have a little more self control.


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