Indra ! A Deva(ta), a Rishi, a Hero, and the Strategist behind the Ramayana War

I have been enhancing my site-map and wanted to “tell” this story again. It is one of my favorite works and keeps growing like Hanuman’s tail.

Indra as the hero to who Sri Rama was compared by Valmiki :

Indra was our ancient Indian hero even before Sri Rama. Valmiki thought so highly of Sri Rama that he compared him to Indra, in every Kanda of the Ramayana. In fact an Indra among men, is Narendra, a king. To be the Indra of something is to be the king of it. The best at it. In fact, since Valmiki was Rama’s contemporary, to describe his greatness, he had to compare him to Indra and Vishnu. (Today someone may be compared to Rama and Krishna.)

Indra as the ancestor of the Andhras :

(In the balakanda of the Valmiki Ramayanam, 15th sarga, he is described as “tridasha raajaanam shakram”. Megasthanes wrote about that 30 walled cities of the powerful Andhras in his Indica, They have been recently unearthed by ASI.  I think that “Andhra” is in fact derived from “Indra” as is in the french “andrei” : More)

What was Indra like?

He was very strong, very handsome and very fond of Soma Rasa ( a drink). He was the king of the Devas. Or… should I say he is the king of the Devas? For that we have to decide whether Indra is human or divine. He is definitely both, and we have to understand what we are talking about from the context.


Indra’s Time Scale as per the Bhagavatham:

The Bhagavatam tells us that 1 day for Indra is a month for us. So each such Indra presides over 50-100 human generations and a new Indra takes over after that. Click here for details.

Indra as the Devata of  the Vedas:

Indra is first mentioned in the Vedas, which are older than the Ramayana. Now we know that the Vedas have been interpreted differently by different scholars. Scholars who think that Indra is a hero, interpret the mantras one way, scholars who think he is a Force of Nature interpret them another way and the spiritual scholars take a very sublime view of the whole thing. 

Indra, Vajra and Vrtrasura:

Indra himself used the Vajrayudham and the Sakthi. Vajra means hard. And Ayudham means weapon. It can mean diamond too. Indra’s Vajrayudham was made of the backbone of a great sage called Dadichi. Hanuman is called Vajranga Bali (the strong one with hard limbs – as hard as diamond or bone). In Hindi Vajranga Bali became Bajranga Bali.  Indra used the Vajrayudham to kill Vrttrasura, which means the mighty Vrttra! We know this from the Vedas. Who or what was Vrttra? We will come back to this later. In Sanskrit Sakthi means energy or power or competence.

Indra’s role in the Valmiki Ramayanam.

Enlisting Vishnu’s help :

Since I trust Valmiki hugely, let us look at what Indra did in the Valmiki Ramayanam. In the beginning, he led the team of Devas, asking Vishnu to be born on earth as a man, to kill Ravana, the BrahmanaRakshasa.

Divine weapons for Sri Rama through Viswamitra.

Vasishtha trained Sri Rama as a young boy, and then Viswamitra took him away and taught him all the celestial weapons. Celestial weapons means divine weapons or the weapons of the Devas. He learned to use the weapons that each Deva used or ruled. He then, saluted all the Devas and asked them to ‘please leave now and come back when I need you’. Indra and the Devas were present there when Viswamitra gave Sri Rama the divine weapons and when he trained him how to use them.

Testing Sri Rama.

Viswamitra himself was a powerful warrior who could have killed any of the Rakshasas who interrupted his Yajna. But he wanted to test and to train Sri Rama. He was happy to see that Sri Rama was not only powerful in that he could kill Subahu and chase away Marichi, but also obedient in that he would kill Tataka, a woman Rakshasi, because his guru Viswamitra asked him to. All this Indra knew.

Indra and Ahalya    …A love story… (Valmiki Ramayana – Balakanda)

On the way to Mithila, Viswamitra took Sri Rama past Ahalya’s Asrama. The story of Indra and Ahlaya is very famous. Ahalya was the mother of Satananda, the priest of Raja Janaka  the king of Mithila and Sita’s father. We also know that Ahalya was the wife of Gautama Maharshi. This story must be after the time when Gautama and Ahalya lived on Brahmagiri and discovered the Godavari.

To Err is Human: Indra was in love with Ahalya, since the time that Brahma had created this great beauty. But Brahma decreed that Ahalya should marry the pure and good Gautama. Ahalya was a devoted wife and she made Gautama very happy. But, one day, Indra came and expressed his love for Ahalya. And she, a beautiful, young lady, was flattered that the handsome and strong king of the Devas, was interested in her. She wondered how it would be if she had been with Indra, instead of with Gautama. When Gautama came home and found them together, he was badly hurt and he cursed both of them. Indra became Sahasraksha – the one with a thousand eyes, and Ahalya became a spirit living in the abandoned Asrama waiting to be redeemed from the curse. Some say she lived in a stone.

And To Forgive is divine: When Sri Rama passed the hermitage in which Ahalya lived, his foot touched the stone that Ahalya was in. And Ahalya turned back into a lovely lady again. Gautama Maharshi came there too at that time. Ahalya was purfied by Rama and Gautama forgave her and loved her again. Satananda and Viswamitra were very happy to see this kind-heartedness. It also gave them a clue, that he might forgive his own wife, if the situation came up. This is one of the reasons that Gandhiji praised Rama as Patita Pavana (the one who purifies the fallen).

Indra and Ahalya …An agriculture story?… An interpretation!

Ahalya means unploughed and Indra is the God of Rain. Gautama was devoted to the devas. So Indra rained on Gauthama’s fields. When Gautama came back to see his fields at the time of Sri Rama’s visit, all the fields had come to life! And Sahasraksha is a not a curse, but a praise! Only God has a thousand eyes with which He keeps watch over the entire universe. The Purusha Suktham describes God as Sahasraksha and Sahasrapad, with a thousand eyes and a thousand feet, who sees everything and is present everywhere. Even Varuna is described as Sahasraksha in some suktams of the Vedas. Durvasa complained that Gauthama and Vasishtha overly praised Indra and made him arrogant.

Sahasraksha, the political definition, by Chanakya.

As per the Kautilya Arthasastra “One thousand sages form Indra’s assembly of ministers. They are his eyes. Hence he is called thousand-eyed though he possesses only two eyes.”

Escorting Sravana Kumara to Swargam (Valmiki Ramayana – Balakanda)

All of us know that  Dasaratha (Rama’s father) accidentally killed Sravana Kumara. But did you know that Indra came personally to take Sravana Kumara to heaven? Sravana Kumara was a devoted son of his blind parents and had gone to fetch water for his parents. Dasaratha thought that it was an animal drinking water that caused the sound and shot in that direction. Since Sravana Kumara lived a life of love and devoted service, Indra came for him personally, to take him to Svarga (normally translated as heaven). (See also: Ksheera Sagara Mathanam (Location) and Svarga Naraka Paraloka)

Is it possible that the Sravana Nakshatram was named after Sravana Kumara? Possibly not. The 27 nakshatrams were named by Daksha Prajapati. Perhaps Sravana Kumara was named after the nakshatram.

Briefing Sarabhanga (Valmiki Ramayana – Aranyakanda)

Kaikeyi had Sri Rama exiled to the forest for 14 years. Sita and Lakshmana went with him. He refused to stay with his friend, Guha, the Nishada king and went further into the forest. He refused to turn back, irrespective of whoever asked him to come back home, his brother, his own mother or even his step-mother Kaikeyi. Once in the forest he moved from the hermitage of one Rishi to another.

The Aranyakanda of  the Valmiki Ramayana begins with Rama’s visit to the Sarabhanga Asrama, after Rama and Lakshmana had killed Viradha. There Sri Rama saw Indra, brilliant as the sun and the fire, surrounded by the other devas, wearing shining ornaments and clothes that gathered no dust,  in a chariot in the sky, drawn by fast horses, not touching the earth. Rama noticed that Indra was talking to Sarabhanga, and recognised Indra by his youthful appearance (devas always looked 25 or 30) and all the other paraphernalia around him. He asked Lakshmana to stay with Vaidehi (Sita) and went to take a closer look. Indra told Sarabhanga that he would meet Rama only later, after the war with Ravana , and hurried off into the sky in his chariot.

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana took a seat near the sage who was doing Agnihotram (worshipping with fire), and asked him about Indra.  Sarabhanga said, “Indra came here to take me to Brahmaloka, but I wanted to see you first. Oh Rama! follow this Mandakini River and it will lead you to Sutikshana’s Asrama. He will look after you.”

Rama’s journey from hermitage to hermitage, was part of Indra’s plan to eliminate the powerful Rakshasas. Under the mighty Ravana, the Rakshasas of Sri Lanka, had taken control of Janasthana (part of modern Maharashtra) and were making forays even to the forests around Kosala (north of the Gangetic Plain).

More Divine Weapons for Sri Rama through Agastya. (Valmiki Ramayana – Aranyakanda)

Sri Rama defeated and killed the Rakshasas wherever he went, at the request of the Rishis. After meeting Sutikshana and before meeting Agastya, Rama met a lot of Rishis. They told him that the Rakshasas were troubling them and trying to do ‘Yajnanasanam’ (destruction of Yajnas). (See Also : Daksha Yajnanasanam ). Then Rama told them, that the real reason his father sent him to the forest was to protect the Rishis from the Rakshasas. Did you know that Dasaratha and Indra were friends? Dasaratha helped Indra in his wars against the Asuras.

After visiting Sutikshna, Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana went to visit some other sages and then he went to visit Rishi Agastya. Agastya is one of the first few Rishis, who came from the north of India to the south. (Vasishtha on the other hand is one of the Rishis who went with Satyavrata Manu from South of India to the north, at the time of the Matsya Avatar flood.)

Agastya gave Sri Rama, the following divine weapons.

  1. A Vaishnava (belonging to Vishnu) bow, great and divine, adorned by gold and diamonds, made by Viswakarma.
  2. The best arrow, amazing and bright as the sun, given by Brahma.
  3. The two inexhaustible quivers, full of sharp arrows, as if lit with fire, given unto him, by Mahendra (the great Indra),
  4. A sword decorated with gold and  with a golden sheath.

Notice that at the time, that Sri Rama was given all these wonderful weapons, he had not yet run into Ravana. Yet Agastya thought that it would be good if Sri Rama were this well-armed. (Agastya was the son of Varuna Deva and Urvasi as per one story.)

Persuading Sita to eat, when she was held captive by Ravana (Valmiki Ramayana – Aranyakanda)

Ravana abducted Sita, when they were staying at Panchavati and arranged for to stay in the Asoka Vana, till she agreed to marry him. Sita refused to eat the food offered to her by Ravana.

Then, Ravana’s paternal grandfather, Brahma asked Indra to go and feed Sita. Indra entered Lanka and told Nidra (sleep personified) to make everyone fall asleep. When everyone was asleep, Indra offered Sita Devi some ‘Havi’ to eat. ‘Havi’ is the food of the Devas. It is the uncooked grains, ghee etc offered in the Vedic Fire. Here, Indra is called SataKratu – one who has performed 100 Kratus (like Yajnas) OR a hundred times as powerful, sahasrakhsa – one who has a thousand eyes, sacipati, the husband of Sachi and Pakasasana – the controller of Paka, Sachi is a variant of Sakthi which means energy, power, competence and such things.

Indra spoke to Sita. “I am the king of the Devas. Be safe! Don’t grieve. Oh daughter of Janaka, I will help Raghava (Rama, a descendant of Raghu) achieve his goal. By my grace he will cross the pcean with strong ones. It is my illusions (maya) that these Rakshasis are under. I have brought you the anna (food) of ‘Havi’. If you eat this you will neither be hungry nor thirsty for years.” Then Sita asked him to prove that he was a Deva so that she could trust him. Then Indra showed her that his feet did not touch the ground, his eyes did not blink, his clothes didn’t get dirty and his garland did not wilt.’ Sita was very happy. She told Indra,  ‘I see you as a  father and a father-in-law and Sri Rama now has a protector. For the sake of the Raghuvamsam, I will eat this payasam (sweet made of milk, rice and sugar).’ Then Indra left for Amaravathi.

You can find this story between the 56th and 57th sarga in the aranyakanda.

Indra’s Children :

One of Indra’s sons, Jayanta, a Kaka (crow), attacked Sita. Rama put out one of his eyes, but did not kill him. However, he sympathised with Sugreeva and killed Vali, another son of Indra’s, because Vali had taken away Sugreeva’s wife. Sugreeva and Rama had promised each other that they would help each other recover their respective wives. There is however another angle to this. The Uttarakanda tells us that Vali and Ravana concluded a treaty of friendship with Agni as the witness. (Agnisakshi). So it was clear that though Vali was Indra’s son, he would be of no help in eliminating Ravana.

Indra’s son through Kunthi was Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata, second only to Sri Krishna. Indra’s daughter Jayanti was the wife of Sukracharya and the daughter-in-law of Bhrgu Maharshi. It is stated in the Siva Purana that after Skanda was born to Siva, Indra had no children through his own wife, Saci, due to Parvathi’s sapam.

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Satya Sarada Kandula

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