Indra the Storm-God:
images, information and worship/puja

Custom Search
Indra - from Nepal - gilt bronze statue (13th century A.D.) Shri Indra was the favourite national god of the Vedic Indians, with about 250 hymns dedicated to him in the Rigveda, more than those devoted to any other god and almost one fourth of the total number of hymns of the Rigveda.

Shri Indra is the god of thunder, being similar in many ways to the Teutonic Thor (Old Norse Þorr; Old English Þunor; German Donner), or Greek Zeus/Roman Jupiter. Like Thor, he is described in the Rigveda as red- or tawny-beared (RV 10.23,4), though the extant sculpture and carvings seem to invariably show him as beardless. His characteristic weapon is the cudgel vajra ('thunder-bolt'), just as Thor's is the famous hammer Mjöllnir. Shri Indra is the pre-eminent drinker of the divine soma (the madhu or 'mead' of the gods), the imbibing of which exhilerates him and aids him in his heroic actions.

Shri Indra's most important deed is the slaying of the asura ('demon') Vritra, who is a Dragon (ahi). Vritra hoards and encloses the vital elements of the universe: waters, light, cows, and Shri Indra struggled in order to free these life-sustaining treasures from the grasp of the dragon Vritra (whose very name, Vṛtra, means 'the Encloser, the Obstructer') and release them into the world. And he must continually struggle against this Dragon (ahi), who represents the forces of Chaos and Non-Existence (asat).This is why one of Shri Indra's epithets is Vṛtrahan 'slayer of Vritra, overcomer of resistance'. By defeating these forces he separates and supports heaven and earth (RV 5.29). The Norse thunder-god Thor too battles against the midgardsorm ('serpent of Middle-Earth') at various times, as do other Indo-European Storm-Gods, such as the Hittite Tarhunnas (the weather-god) against the dragon Illuyankas.

In his battle with Vritra and other demons, such as Namuci (na-muci 'he who won't release'), his especial friend is Shri Vishnu (RV 1.22,19), who is often described as helping Indra to defeat Vritra. Vishnu's function in the battle with Vritra seems to be primarily to 'make space' by means of his famous three strides, for Indra, about to slay Vritra, says to Vishnu: 'O my friend Vishnu, stride out widely' (RV 4.18,11). The association of Arjuna (son of Indra) and Shri Krishna (avatara of Vishnu), especially in their companionship during the Mahabharata battle, is thus prefigured by this association of Shri Indra and Vishnu.

By worship and sacrifice (especially soma-sacrifice, as soma-drinking increases Indra's strength and vigour), humans on earth help Indra in his struggles, e.g.:
'Sacrifice, Indra, made you grow so mighty, the dear oblation with the pressed soma.
O Worshipful, with sacrifice help our sacrifice, for sacrifice helped your vajra when slaying the dragon'.
(Rigveda 3.32,12; cf. RV i.63,2)

See further below on soma-sacrifice.
.......


Prayers to Indra

Rgveda I.32:
I now proclaim the heroic deeds of Indra; what he did first, the vajra-wielder, he slew the dragon, bored through to the waters; he split through the bellies of the mountains. [1]

He slew the dragon who lay on the mountain; Tvashtar (the smith of the gods) fashioned for him the roaring Vajra (thunder-club). [With a sound] like lowing milch cows, the flowing waters ran quickly down to the ocean. [2]

Bullishly, he chose for himself the Soma (ambrosia of the gods); he drank from the pressed (soma) in the three soma-vessels. The Generous One (=Indra) took the missile, the vajra; he slew him, the first-born of dragons. [3]

When, you, O Indra, slew the first-born of dragons and thereupon dispelled the sorcery of the sorcerers, then producing the sun, the day, the dawn, you found no enemy indeed at that time. [4]

Indra slew Vritra (the dragon), the greatest of Vritras, with the vajra; (slew) the shoulderless one with his great weapon. Like branches/shoulders of a tree hewn off by an axe, the dragon lies flat on the ground. [5]

Like one ignorant of battle, badly intoxicated, (the dragon) challenged the advancing great warrior, the presser of many; (he) did not escape the collision of his weapons; he who had Indra as a conqueror crushed together the rivers (?). [6]

Footless and handless he fought Indra; (Indra) struck him on the ridge (=neck?) with his vajra. The gelded one who wished to be equal to the bull, the serpent lay cut into pieces strewn in many places. [7]

He (=the dragon) lay there like a split reed, the rising waters of Manu flowed over (him); the dragon lay at the feet of those whom he had encompassed with his might. [8]

Vritra's mother's strength became low; Indra warded off her weapon. The mother lay above, the son lay below; Danu (=Vritra's mother) lay like a milch cow with her calf. [9]

Vritra's body was sunk in the midst of the never standing, never resting water courses; the waters flowing over Vritra's secret, he who was conquered by Indra lay in the long darkness. [10]

The waters were as wives of the Dasa (=Vritra), guarded by the dragon, shut up like cows by the Pani. The orifice of the waters, which had been closed up, he (=Indra) opened after having slain the dragon. [11]

You became a tail-hair of a horse there, O Indra, when you struck against the missile; you, the unique god, conquered the cows; you conquered, O Hero, the Soma; you let flow free the seven rivers. [12]

Not for him [=Vritra] did the lightning avail, nor thunder, no what mist and hail-stones he scattered. When Indra and the dragon fought, the Generous One [=Indra] was victorious (then) and for the future. [13]

What avenger of the dragon did you see, O Indra, when fear came into the your heart, the heart of the one who slew the dragon, when you crossed nine and ninety streams; like a startled eagle crossed through the cloudy regions? [14]

Indra, the vajra-wielder, is king over that which moves and that which stays still, over the tamed and the horned; he rules as king over humans, containing (all) as spokes within the wheel's rim. [15]




Soma yajna (sacrifice) / [Indrapuja] soma yajna / Indrapuja - photo from author's puja in Shillong (Meghalaya, India), 2005

More to be added...

Soma is to be identified with the plant Ephedra (vulgaris / distachya)
.............
Rigveda - Book 9, Hymn 4 (Griffith's translation; to be updated)
O flowing Soma, win and conquer high fame; [1ab]
And make us better than we are. [1cd]
Win the light, win heaven, and, Soma, all good things; [2ab]
And make us better than we are. [2cd]
Win skilful strength and mental power. O Soma, drive away our foes; [3ab]
And make us better than we are. [3cd]
Filterers- purify soma for Indra, for his drink: [4ab]
And make us better than we are. [4cd]
Give us our portion in the Sun through your own mental power and aids; [5ab]
And make us better than we are. [5cd]
Through your own mental power and aid long may we look upon the Sun; [6ab]
And make us better than we are. [6cd]
Well-weaponed Soma, pour to us stream of riches doubly great; [7ab]
And make us better than we are. [7cd]
As one victorious unsubdued in battle pour forth wealth to us; [8ab]
And make us better than we are. [8cd]
By worship, O flowing Soma, men have augmented you for support: [9ab]
And make us better than we are. [9cd]
O Indu ['soma drop']], bring us wealth in steeds, manifold, all-reaching; [10ab]
And make us better than we are. [10cd]












Indra images
Nepalese 18th-c. gilt bronze
gilt Indra murti
origin: Nepal
date: 18th c.
material: gilt-bronze
size: ?
credit: Taiwan National Palace Museum
another shot of Nepalese 18th-c. gilt bronze
another view of previous Indra murti
origin: Nepal
date: 18th c.
material: gilt bronze
size: ?
credit: Taiwan National Palace Museum


copper mask from nepal - 1200-1400 A.D.
copper Indra mask
origin: Nepal
date: 13th-14th c. A.D.
material: copper
size: ?
credit: ?
wooden mask of indra - 1500-1700 A.D.
wooden Indra mask
origin: Nepal
date: 16th-17th c. A.D.
material: wood
size: ?
credit: ?
contemporary brass indra mask
brass Indra mask
origin: India
date: present-day
material: brass
size: 6" tall
credit: khazana.com
Indra - 800-1000 A.D. - Patan museum, Nepal
Indra murti
origin: Nepal
date: 9th-10th c. A.D.
material: copper-alloy, gilt
size: ?
credit: Patan Museum
Indra gilt-bronze 1200-1300 A.D. - Nepal
Indra murti
origin: Nepal
date: 13th c. A.D.
material: gilt bronze
size: ?
credit: ?
Indra - ?
Indra murti
origin: Nepal
date: ?
material: ?
size: ?
credit: ?
Indra - Mathura sculpture with Airavata
Indra sculpture
origin: Mathura, India
date: 4th-5th c. A.D.
material: red sandstone
size: ?
credit: Mathura Sculptures
Indra/Vishnu from Mathura
Indra (or Vishnu?) sculpture (fragment)
origin: Saptasamundari Well,
Mathura, India
date: early part of 2nd c. A.D.
size: ?
credit: Mathura Sculptures
Indra with vajra - Mathura
Indra sculpture (fragment)
with garland and vajra
origin: village Tarsi, near Mathura, India
date: c. 2nd c. A.D.
size: ?
credit: Mathura Sculptures
Indra - madhubani painting with cow dung
madhubani painting of Indra on Airavata
origin: India
date: modern
material: Madhubani painting on
handmade paper treated with cow-dung
size: 10" x 14"
credit: Vidya Devi & Dhirendra Jha (artists) @
Exotic India.com
Indra on Airavata (vahana]
modern painting of Indra on Airavata
origin: ?
date: modern
material: ? - painting
size: ?
credit: ?

Indra on Airavata (Kailash Raj)
modern painting of Indra on Airavata
origin: India
date: modern
material: miniature painting on paper
size: 5.5" x 7.0"
credit: Kailash Raj (artist) @
Exotic India.com
Indra murti
Indra murti
origin: India
date: present-day
material: copper with 24k gold gild
size: 5.0" x 4.0" x 2.0" (0.6 kg)
credit: Exotic India.com
Indra murti - exotic india.com
Indra murti
origin: India
date: present-day
material: brass
size: 10.0" x 9.0" x 4.4" (2.8 kg)
credit: Exotic India.com
Indra murti from Exotic India.com
Indra murti
origin: India
date: present-day
material: brass
size: 7.5" x 6.0" x 7.5" (1.6 kg)
credit: Exotic India.com
Indra murti - exotic india.com
Indra murti
origin: India
date: present-day
material: brass
size: 5.5" x 4.3" x 9.5" (2.7 kg)
credit: Exotic India.com
Indra murti - khazana.com
Indra murti
origin: India
date: present-day
material: brass
size: 12" tall
credit: Khazana.com
Indra murti - khazana.com
Indra murti
origin: northern India
date: present-day
material: brass
size: 9" tall
credit: Khazana.com
Indra sculpture - singapore musuem
Indra sculpture
origin: Madhya Pradesh, India
date: ?
material: sandstone
size: ?
credit: National University of Singapore Museum
Indra riding Airavaat
carving of Indra riding Airaavat
origin: ?
date: ?
material: stone
size: ?
credit: ?
Indra and Surya rock-carving
carving of Indra and Surya
origin: Bhaja, India
date: ?
material: stone
size: ?
credit: ?
19th-c. Nepalese Indra and Mahout
Nepalese model of Indra with mahout on howdah
origin: Nepal
date: 19th-c.
material: bronze w/ turquoise, coral, glass
size: 20"h. x 17"l. x 7"w.
credit: BURCHARD GALLERIES INC
Indra - Muladhara cakra
Deities within the Muladhara Cakra:
Indra, Brahma, Dakini (clockwise from bottom)
origin: India(?)
date: 20th-c.(?)
material: drawing
size: ?
credit: Layayoga: The Definitive Guide to the Chakras and Kundalini

For modern paintings of Indra and his battles, see the work of A. Fantalov here


LINKS:
Association of Polytheist Tradition
The Julian Society
International Year Of Polytheism (powered by monochrom)



Bibliography
Ṛgveda with the padapāṭha and commentaries of Skandasvāmin, Udgītha, Veṅkaṭamādhava and Mudgala. [devanagari Sanskrit text & English intro] Vishva Bandhu, ed. Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India: Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, 1963-6.
Rig Veda: a metrically restored text with an introduction and notes. [roman Sanskrit text + English intro.] Barend A. van Nooten & Gary B. Holland, eds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994.
Der Rig-Veda aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche übersetzt mit einem laufenden Kommentar versehen. [German trans. + notes] Geldner, Karl Friedrich, ed. Harvard Oriental Series 33-36, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951-1957. [Vols. 33-35 reissued in one volume with preface by Michael Witzel, Cambridge, MA: The Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, 2003].
Atharvaveda-Samhita. [devanagari Sanskrit text only] Svaamii Jagadiishvaraananda Sarasvatii, ed. Delhi: Vijay Kumar Govindram Hasanand, 1999.
Atharva-Veda-Samhita. [English trans. only] William Dwight Whitney, trans. Charles Rockwell Landman, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1905. [reprinted, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1962]
Rigveda Brahmanas: the Aitareya and Kausiitaki Braahmanas of the Rigveda. [English trans. only] Arthur Berriedale Keith, trans. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1920. [reprinted, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971]
The Shatapatha-Braahmana, according to the text of the Maadhyandina school. Julius Eggeling, trans. SBE 26, 41, 43, 44. Oxford: Clarendon, 1882-1900. [reprinted, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1963.]
Kaatyaayana Shrauta Suutra {Rules for the Vedic Sacrifices}. [Sanskrit + English trans.] H.G. Ranade, ed. & trans. Pune (India): H.G. Ranade, 1978.

Benveniste, Émile, and Louis Renou (1934). Vr̥tra et Vr̥θragna. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.
Bhattacharji, Sukumari (1970). The Indian Theogony (Brahmaa, Visnu & Shiva). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [reprinted, New Delhi: Penguin, 2000].
Brown, W. Norman (1942). 'The Creation Myth of the Rig Veda'. Journal of the American Oriental Society 62:85-98.
Brown, W. Norman (1965). 'Theories of Creation in the Rig Veda'. Journal of the American Oriental Society 85:23-34.
Buschardt, Leo (1945). Vṛtra: Det Rituelle Daemondrab iden Vediske Somakult. Det Kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab; Historisk-Filologiske Meddelelser, Bind XXX, Nr.3. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish (1943). 'The Hindu Tradition: The Myth'. from Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: Philosophical Library. [reprinted in The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Rama P. Coomaraswamy, ed. Bloomington (Indiana): World Wisdom, 2004: 267-73]
Dandekar, Ramchandra Narayan (1979). Vedic mythological tracts. Delhi: Ajanta Publications.
Doniger, Wendy (1999). Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Indian edition, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002]
Dumézil, Georges (1970). The Destiny of the Warrior. Alf Hiltebeitel, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [translation of Heur et malheur du guerrier: aspects mythiques de la fonction guerrière chez les Indo-Européens. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969.]
Dumézil, Georges (1983). The Stakes of the Warrior. David Weeks, trans. Jaan Puhvel, ed. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983. [trans. of 'L'enjeu du jeu des dieux--un héros', part one of Mythe et épopée, vol. 2: Types épiques indo-européens: un héros, un sorcier, un roi. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1971.]
Falk, Harry (1989). 'Soma I and II'. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 52:77-90.
Falk, Harry (1997). 'The purpose of Rgvedic ritual'. In Michael Witzel (ed.), Inside the texts, beyond the texts: New approaches to the study of the Vedas, 69-88. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Geldner, Karl Friedrich (1951-1957). Der Rig-Veda aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche übersetzt mit einem laufenden Kommentar versehen. 4 vols. Harvard Oriental Series 33-36. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Gonda, Jan (1967). 'The Indra Festival According to the Atharvavedins'. Journal of the American Oriental Society 87:414-429.
Gonda, Jan (1989). The Indra Hymns of the Rgveda. Orientalia Rheno-Traiectina, 36. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Grassmann, Hermann (1873/1964). Wörterbuch zum Rig-Veda. 4th ed. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Hiltebeitel, Alf (1976). The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mahabharata. Ithaca (New York): Cornell University Press, 1976. [reprinted, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990].
Jamison, Stephanie W. (1991). The Ravenous Hyenas and the Wounded Sun: myth and ritual in ancient India. Ithaca (New York): Cornell University Press.
Jamison, Stephanie W. (1996). Sacrificed Wife/Sacrificer's Wife: women, ritual and hospitality in ancient India. New York: Oxford University Press.
Joshi, N.P. (2004). Mathuraa Sculptures: an illustrated handbook to appreciate sculptures in the Government Museum, Mathura. New Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan.
Kashikar, Chintaman Ganesh (1990). Identification of Soma. Pune: Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth.
Kuiper, F.B.J. (1962). 'The Three Strides of Visnu'. in Indological Studies in Honor of W. Norman Brown. Ernest Bender, ed. New Haven (Connecticut): American Oriental Society: 137-51.
Kulkarni, R.P. (1997). Layout for Different Sacrifices According to Different Shrauta Suutras. Ujjain (M.P., India): Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan.
Lahiri, Ajoy Kumar (1984). Vedic Vrtra. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Macdonell, A.A. (1897). Vedic Mythology. Strassburg: Karl Trübner. [reprinted, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000].
Mahapatra, P. (1965). 'Tree-Symbol Worship in Bengal'. in Tree-symbol Worship in India. S.S. Gupta, ed. Calcutta: Indian Publications.
Mahdihassan, S. (1974). 'Soma, in the light of comparative phramacology, etymology and archaeology'. Janus 61:91-102.
Mahdihassan, S. (1985). 'A Persian painting illustrating ephedra, leading to its identity as Soma'. Journal of Central Asia 8:171-175.
Monier-Williams, Sir M. (1899). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: etymologically and philologically arranged with special reference to cognate Indo-European languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1899. [reprinted with corrections, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002]
Nicolás, Antonio T. de (1978). Meditations Through the Rg Veda: Four Dimensional Man. Boulder (Colarado) & London: Shambala.
Nyberg, Harri (1995). 'The problem of the Aryans and the Soma: the botanical evidence'. in The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: language, material culture and ethnicity. George Erdosy, ed. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter: 382-406. [Indian edition, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997]
Oldenberg, Hermann (1917). The Religion of the Veda. Shridhar B. Shrotri, trans. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988. [translation of Die Religion des Veda. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1917 (2nd. ed.)]
Parpola, Asko (1995). 'The problem of the Aryans and the Soma: textual-linguistic and archaeological evidence'. in The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: language, material culture and ethnicity. George Erdosy, ed. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter: 353-381. [Indian edition, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997]
Puhvel, Jaan (1987). Comparative Mythology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Rönnow, Kasten (1927). Trita Aaptya: eine vedische Gottheit I. Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift 1927 - filosofi, språkvetenskap och historika vetenskaper, 5. Uppsala: A.-B. Lundequistka Bokhandeln.
Schmidt, Hanns-Peter (1968). 'Bṛhaspati und Indra'. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.
Schmitt, Rüdiger (1967). Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.
Sen, Chitrabhanu (1978). A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals: based on the shrauta and grhya suutras. Delhi: Concept Publishing.
Slade, Benjamin (2007). 'Untydras ealle - Grendel, Cain and Vṛtra: Indo-European śruti and Christian smṛti in Beowulf.' In Geardagum 27:1-32.
Slusser, Mary (1982). Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Söhnen, Renate (1997). 'Rise and decline of the Indra religion in the Veda'. In Inside the texts, beyond the texts: new approaches to the study of the Vedas, ed. Michael Witzel, 235-243. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Söhnen-Thieme, Renate (2001). 'On the Vṛtra myth in the Ṛgveda'. In Philologica et linguistica. Historia, Pluralitas, Universitas. Festschrift für Helmut Humbach zum 80. Geburtstag am 4. Dezember 2001, ed. Maria Gabriella Schmidt and Walter Bisang, 302-315. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag.
Toffin, Gérard (1992). 'The Indra Jatra of Kathmandu as a Royal Festival: Past and Present'. Contributions to Nepalese Studies 19.1:73-92.
Tripathi, G.C. (1977). 'Das Indradhvaja-Fest in Orissa'. in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, suppl. III. (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag), 2:1002-1014.
Venkatasubbiah, A. (1965). 'On Indra's winning of cows and waters'. Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 115:120-133.
Watkins, Calvert (1995). How to Kill a Dragon: aspects of Indo-European poetics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Witzel, Michael (1995a). 'Early Indian history: linguistic and textual parametres'. in The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: language, material culture and ethnicity. George Erdosy, ed. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter: 85-125. [Indian edition, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997]
Witzel, Michael (1995b). 'Rgvedic history: poets, chieftains and polities'. in The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: language, material culture and ethnicity. George Erdosy, ed. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter: 307-352. [Indian edition, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1997]
Witzel, Michael (1997). 'The Development of the Vedic Canon and its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu. (Materials on Vedic Shaakhaas 8)'. in Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts: new approaches to the study of the Vedas. Harvard Oriental Series. Opera Minora, vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press: 257-345.
Witzel, Michael (2004). 'The Ṛgvedic religious system and its Central Asian and Hindukush antecedents'. In The Vedas: Texts, language and ritual, ed. Arlo Griffiths and Jan E.M. Houben, 581-636. Groningen: Forsten.
Witzel, Michael & Stephanie Jamison (1992). 'Vedic Hinduism'. Ms., Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. available online @ http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/%7Ewitzel/vedica.pdf [short version published in The Study of Hinduism. A. Sharma, ed. Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 2003: 65-113].

Indra with vajra [kushaana period, mathura]



Benjamin Slade
last updated on 19-June-2009