The hymns begin with the story of Indra's birth: his mother kept him in the womb for many years she insisted that it was not only due to maternal feelings but for Indra's sake - i.e. to protect him; the hymns do not tell why this was necessary, but it may well be because his father was jealous of Indra's great powers, a suspicion ultimately proved valid when Indra kills his father. The Rig Vedic hymns dedicated to Indra have a lot of dialogues incorporated in it. It begins with a dialogue between Indra and his mother. The hymns say that Indra is still inside the womb and wishes to break out through her side; his mother attempts to dissuade him but he insists on being born. She then hides him presumably still in fear of his father.
An especially celebrated battle of Indra is the one where he is victorious over Vratra. It is celebrated in numerous songs and hymns in the Rig Veda. Again and again the splendid victory is spoken of, which the god achieved over the demon, countless times Indra is praised exultingly, because he slew Vratra with his thunderbolt. Vratra is a demon in the form of a serpent or a dragon, who keeps the waters enclosed or imprisoned in a mountain. Indra wants to release the waters. With Soma he imbibes courage, hastens to the battle, and slays the monster, and now the released waters flow in a rapid stream over the corpse of Vratra.
The songs leave no doubt that the myth of Indra's dragon-fight refers to some powerful natural phenomenon. Heaven and earth tremble when Indra slays Vratra. He does not destroy the dragon once only, but repeatedly, and he is invited also in the future always to kill Vrtra, and to release the waters. Most mythologists agree with this view and see Indra armed with a thunderbolt and a representation of a thunderstorm in the dragon fight. The thunderbolt of Indra is a club which, as a phallic symbol, is also a symbol of fertility, the source of seed as well as rain. It has been said in the hymns that Indra, who wields the thunderbolt in his hand, is the king of that which moves and that which, rests, of the tame and of the horned. He rules the people as their king, encircling all this as a rim encircles spokes.
Whatever be the various scholarly opinions regarding Indra, it is generally seen that the Vedic singers themselves had no clear consciousness of the original meaning of Indra and Vrtra as nature-gods. For them Indra was a powerful champion, a giant of enormous strength, but Vrtra the most dreaded of the demons, which were believed to be embodied in the black aborigines of the land.
Indra does not fight only with Vrtra, but with numerous other demons. His demon-fights are only a copy of the battles which the Aryan immigrants had to fight. Therefore, too, Indra is above all a god of warriors. Of none of the gods of the Vedic pantheon are so many individual traits us, none is portrayed so 'true to life' as this warlike god in the 250 hymns which are dedicated to him. There are numerous physical descriptions of the God in the hymns dedicated to him. Some of these descriptions are given are as follows:
"Big and strong are his arms. With beautiful lips he quaffs the Soma-drink, and when he has drunk, he moves his jawbones with pleasure, and shakes his fair beard. Fair as gold is his hair, and his whole appearance."
He is a giant in stature, heaven and earth would not be large enough to serve him as a girdle. In strength and vigour no heavenly nor earthly being approaches him. When he grasped the two endless worlds, they were for him only a handful. He is called by preference a bull. Boundless as his strength, is also his power of drinking, which is described, often not without humour, in the songs. Before he slew Vrtra, he drank three ponds of soma, and once it is even said that he drank, in one gulp, thirty ponds of Soma juice.
In the hymns dedicated to Indra it has been said that for victory in the battle it is Indra who is invoked because he is considered most manly and brawny. It is believed that Indra listens and gives help in combat, kills enemies and wins riches. Hymns on Indra go on further saying that Indra is the one who had insight the moment he was born, the first who protected the gods with his power of thought, before whose hot breath the two world-halves tremble. He was the one who made fast the tottering earth, who made still the quaking mountains, measured out and extended the expanse of the air and had propped up the sky. The hymns dedicated to Indra say that it is He who encourages the weary and the sick, and the poor priest who is in need, who helps the man who harnesses the stones to press Soma. Indra is the one under whose command are horses and cows and villages and all chariots. It has given birth to the sun and the dawn and led out the waters.
This warlike national god is much more suitable than any other to be the chief of gods. Although in the Rig Veda almost every god is at some time or another praised as the first and highest of all gods, this is a sort of flattery, by means of which one wants to incline the god in one's favour, similarly to the way in which later court poets have celebrated many a petty prince as the ruler of the world. Yet Indra is, in the earliest times, undoubtedly a king among the gods.
As chief of gods he is celebrated thus:
"He who just born as chief god full of spirit Went far beyond the other gods in wisdom : Before whose majesty and mighty manhood The two worlds trembled : he, o men, is Indra."
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