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Indra deva.jpg
King of the Gods
God of Weather and War
Devanagari इन्द्र or इंद्र
Tamil script இந்திரன்
Affiliation Deva
Abode Amarāvati in Svarga
Weapon Vajra
Consort Sachi (Indrani)
Mount Airavata

Indra (Devanagari: इन्द्र) is the King of the gods or Devas and Lord of Heaven or Svargaloka in Hindu mythology. He is also the God of War, Storms, and Rainfall.

Indra figures as one of the chief deities in the Rigveda, celebrated as the slayer of Vṛtra and central to the Soma sacrifice. He has many epithets, notably vṛṣan the bull, and vṛtrahan, slayer of Vṛtra. Indra appears as the name of an arch-demon in the Zoroastrian religion, while Verethragna appears as a god of victory.

In Puranic mythology, Indra is bestowed with a heroic and almost brash and amorous character at times, even as his reputation and role diminished in later Hinduism with the rise of the Trimurti. In Buddhist tradition, Indra is also called Śakra (Pali: Sakka). He is known in Burmese as သိကြားမင်း, Template:IPA-my; in Thai as พระอินทร์ Phra In, in Malay as Indera, in Tamil as Intiran, in Chinese as 帝释天 Dìshìtiān, and in Japanese as 帝釈天 Taishakuten.[1]


If Indra as a deity is cognate to other Indo-European gods, they are either thunder gods such as Thor, Perun, and Zeus, or gods of intoxicating drinks such as Dionysos. The name of Indra is also mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni, an Indo-Aryan Hurrian speaking people who ruled northern Syria from ca.1500BC-1300BC.[2]

Janda (1998:221) suggests that the Proto-Indo-European (or Graeco-Aryan) predecessor of Indra had the epitheta *trigw-welumos "smasher of the enclosure" (of Vritra, Vala) and diye-snūtyos "impeller of streams" (the liberated rivers, corresponding to Vedic apam ajas "agitator of the waters"), which resulted in the Greek gods Triptolemos and Dionysos.

It was once supposed that Vedic Indra corresponds to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian Avesta. This idea was based primarily on the fact that the noun verethragna- corresponds to Vedic vrtrahan-, which is predominantly an epithet of Indra. The supposition that Indra corresponds to Verethragna is now controversial. While both vritra- and verethra- derive from the same root "to cover", the word verethra- is today understood to mean "obstacle". Thus, verethragna- is now understood to reflect "smiter of resistance".

Vritra does not appear in either the Avesta or in 9th-12th century books of Zoroastrian tradition. Since the name 'Indra' appears in Zoroastrian texts as that of an arch-demon opposing Truth (Vd. 10.9; Dk. 9.3; Gbd. 27.6, 34.27), it may be supposed that Verethragna was a way of reintroducing him in a favorable light.

In the Rig Veda

The Rig-Veda states,

He under whose supreme control are horses, all chariots, the villages, and cattle;
He who gave being to the Sun and Morning, who leads the waters, He, O men, is Indra. (2.12.7, trans. Griffith)

It further states,

Indra, you lifted up the outcast who was oppressed, you glorified the blind and the lame.” (Rg-Veda 2:13:12)[3]
Indra is, with Varuna and Mitra, one of the Ādityas, the chief gods of the Rigveda (besides Agni and the Ashvins). He delights in drinking Soma, and the central Vedic myth is his heroic defeat of Vṛtrá, liberating the rivers, or alternatively, his smashing of the Vala, a stone enclosure where the Panis had imprisoned the cows, and Ushas (dawn). He is the god of war, smashing the stone fortresses of the Dasyu, and invoked by combatants on both sides in the Battle of the Ten Kings.

File:Devendra Shivashankara.jpg

The Rig-Veda frequently refers to him as Śakra: the mighty-one. In the Vedic period, the number of gods was assumed to be thirty-three and Indra was their lord. (The slightly later Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad enumerates the gods as the eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras, the twelve Adityas, Indra, and Prajapati). As lord of the Vasus, Indra was also referred to as Vāsava.

By the age of the Vedanta, Indra became the prototype for all lords and thus a king could be called Mānavendra (Indra or lord of men) and Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was referred to as Rāghavendra (Indra of the clan of Raghu). Hence the original Indra was also referred to as Devendra (Indra of the Devas). However, Sakra and Vasava were used exclusively for the original Indra. Though modern texts usually adhere to the name Indra, the traditional Hindu texts (the Vedas, epics and Puranas) use Indra, Sakra and Vasava interchangeably and with the same frequency.

"Of the Vedas I am the Sama Veda; of the demigods I am Indra, the king of heaven; of the senses I am the mind; and in living beings I am the living force [consciousness]." (Bhagavad Gita 10.22) [2]

Status and function

In the Rig Veda, Indra is the king of the gods and ruler of the heavens. Indra is the god of thunder and rain and a great warrior, a symbol of courage and strength. He leads the Deva (the gods who form and maintain Heaven) and the elements, such as Agni (Fire), Varuna (Water) and Surya (Sun), and constantly wages war against the demonic Asuras of the netherworlds, or Patala, who oppose morality and dharma. He thus fights in the timeless battle between good and evil. As the god of war, he is also regarded as one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the east. As the favourite national god of the Vedic Indians, Indra has about 250 hymns dedicated to him in the Rigveda.



Bangkok Wat Arun Phra Prang Indra Erawan

Detail of the Phra Prang, the central tower of the Wat Arun ("Temple of Dawn") in Bangkok, Thailand - showing Indra on his three-headed elephant Erawan (Airavata).

In Rig Veda, Indra the solar god is sometimes described as golden-bodied ("Gora" that means golden-yellowish) with golden jaw, nails, hair, beard.

One Atharva Vedic verse reads, "In Indra are set fast all forms of golden hue."[4]

In the RV 1.65 reads, "SAKRA, who is the purifier (of his worshipers), and well-skilled in horses, who is wonderful and golden-bodied."[5] Rig Veda also reads that Indra "is the dancing god who, clothed in perfumed garments, golden-cheeked rides his golden car."[6] One passage calls him both brown and yellow.[7] "Him with the fleece they purify, brown, golden-hued, beloved of all, Who with exhilarating juice goes forth to all the deities"

Indra is described in the Rig Veda of dying his hair a yellow colour from yellow Soma juice.[8] One part of the Rig Veda says, "At the swift draught the Soma-drinker waxed in might, the Iron One with yellow beard and yellow hair." The Rig Veda/Mandala 10/Hymn 96

Other Characteristics

"Like violent gusts of wind the droughts that I have drunk have lifted me Have I not drunk of Soma juice?"[9]

"Fair cheeks hath Indra, Maghavan, the Victor, Lord of a great host, Stormer, strong in action. What once thou didst in might when mortals vexed thee, where now, O Bull, are those thy hero exploits?" (RigVeda, Book 3, Hymn XXX: Griffith)[10]

"May the strong Heaven make thee the Strong wax stronger: Strong, for thou art borne by thy two strong Bay Horses. So, fair of cheek, with mighty chariot, mighty, uphold us, strong-willed, thunder armed, in battle." (RigVeda, Book 5, Hymn XXXVI: Grffith)[11]

Indra's weapon, which he used to kill Vritra, is the thunderbolt (Vajra), though he also uses a bow, a net, and a hook. He rides a large, four-tusked white elephant called Airavata. When portrayed having four arms, he has lances in two of his hands which resemble elephant goads. When he is shown to have two, he holds the Vajra and a bow.[12]

Indra lives in Svarga in the clouds around Mt. Meru. Deceased warriors go to his hall after death, where they live without sadness, pain or fear. They watch the Apsaras and the Gandharvas dance, and play games. The gods of the elements, celestial sages, great kings, and warriors enrich his court.

"Indradhanush", the bow of Indra: Rainbow

In Hindu mythology, the rainbow is called "Indradhanush" (Sanskrit: indradhanus इन्द्रधनुस्), meaning the bow (Sanskrit dhanus; Hindi dhanush) of Indra, the God of lightning, thunder and rain.

Relations with other gods

He is married to Indrani (whose father, Puloman, Indra killed), and is the father of Arjuna (by Kunti), Jayanta, Midhusa, Nilambara, Khamla, Rbhus, Rsabha. Indra is a brother to Surya. He is attended to by the Maruts (and the Vasus), children of Diti (mother of demons), and Rudra. Indra had slain Diti's previous wicked children, so she hoped her son would be more powerful than him and kept herself pregnant for a century, practicing magic to aid her fetal son. When Indra discovered this, he threw a thunderbolt at her and shattered the fetus into 7 or 49 parts; each part regenerated into a complete individual, and the parts grew into the Maruts, a group of storm gods, who are less powerful than Indra.

Indra and Vṛtrá

Vṛtrá, an asura, stole all the water in the world and Indra drank much Soma to prepare himself for the battle with the huge serpent. He passed through Vṛtrá's ninety-nine fortresses, slew the monster and brought water back to Earth.

In a later version of the story, Vṛtrá was created by Tvashtri to get revenge for Indra's murder of his son, Trisiras, a pious Brahmin whose increase of power worried Indra. Vṛtrá won the battle and swallowed Indra, but the other gods forced him to vomit Indra out. The battle continued and Indra fled. Vishnu and the Rishis brokered a truce, and Indra swore he would not attack Vṛtrá with anything made of metal, wood, or stone, nor anything that was dry or wet, or during the day or the night. Indra used the foam from the waves of the ocean to kill him at twilight.

In yet another version, recounted in the Mahabharata, Vṛtrá was a Brahmin who got hold of supernatural powers, went rogue and became a danger to the gods. Indra had to intervene, and slew him after a hard fight. A horrible goddess named Brāhmanahatya (the personified sin of Brahmin murder) came from the dead corpse of Vṛtrá and pursued Indra, who hid inside a lotus flower. Indra went to Brahma and begged forgiveness for having killed a Brahmin. "Vajrayudha" which Indra possessed is believed to be prepared from backbone of a sage Dadhichi to kill Asuras.

In the Puranas

Status and function

Krishna Holding Mount Govardhan - Crop

Krishna holding Govardhan hill from Smithsonian Institution’s collections

In post-Vedic texts, Indra is described with more human characteristics and vices than any other Vedic deity. Modern Hindus, also tend to see Indra as minor deity in comparison to others in the Hindu pantheon, such as Shiva, Vishnu, or Devi. A Puranic story illustrating the subjugation of Indra's pride is illustrated in the story of Govardhan hill where Krishna, avatar or incarnation of Vishnu carried the hill and protected his devotees when Indra, angered by non-worship of him, launched rains over the village.

Gautama's curse

Indra duped Ahalya, the wife of Gautama Maharishi, in the guise of the saint into letting him have sex with her. He was punished by Gautama with a curse that one thousand phalluses would cover his body in a grotesque and vulgar display, and that his reign as king of the gods would meet with disaster and catastrophe.[13] Gautama later commuted the curse, upon the pleading of Brahma, to one thousand eyes instead. But according to Valmiki Ramayana the thousand eyed Indra was cursed by Gautama to lose his testicles. Indra later gets a new pair of testicles from a ram with the help of Agni.[14]

Due to this sin Indra's throne is supposed to remain insecure forever. He is repeatedly humiliated by demonic kings like Ravana of Lanka, whose son Indrajit (whose name means victor over Indra) bound Indra in serpent nooses and dragged him across Lanka in a humiliating display. Indrajit released Indra when Brahma convinced him to do so in exchange for celestial weapons, but Indra, as the defeated, had to pay tribute and accept Ravana's supremacy. Ravana realized the consequences of his sin, and was later avenged by the Avatara of Vishnu, Rama, who slew Ravana to deliver the three worlds from evil, as described in the epic Ramayana.

However, according to the tradition of the temple of Suchindrum, near Nagercoil, in Southern Tamil Nadu, Indra was promised relief from the curse, if he could manage to worship the Divine Trinity of Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva simultaneously. This he succeeded in doing at Suchindrum, where the presiding deity is Sthanumalayan, a combined form of Shiva (Sthanu), Vishnu (Mal) and Brahma (Ayan), and was accordingly granted relief. Tradition maintains that he continues to worship each night at the temple, on account of which the priests of the temple, on appointment, are made to take a vow in Tamil "Aham kaṇdathai puram çolla mattān", meaning "I will never reveal anything I see within". Further, part of their duty is to clean the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and leave it ready for all rituals at night before closing the temple and clean it again, when they re-open it in the morning.

See also: Rukmangada, Tulsi

Indra and the Ants

In this story from the Brahmavaivarta Purana,[15][16] Indra defeats Vṛtrá and releases the waters. Elevated to the rank of King of the gods, Indra orders the heavenly craftsman, Vishvakarma, to build him a grand palace. Full of pride, Indra continues to demand more and more improvements for the palace. At last, exhausted, Vishvakarma asks Brahma the Creator for help. Brahma in turn appeals to Vishnu, the Supreme Being.

Vishnu visits Indra's palace in the form of a brahmin boy; Indra welcomes him in. Vishnu praises Indra's palace, casually adding that no former Indra had succeeded in building such a palace. At first, Indra is amused by the brahmin boy's claim to know of former Indras. But the amusement turns to horror as the boy tells about Indra's ancestors, about the great cycles of creation and destruction, and even about the infinite number of worlds scattered through the void, each with its own Indra. The boy claims to have seen them all. During the boy's speech, a procession of ants had entered the hall. The boy saw the ants and laughed. Finally humbled, Indra asks the boy why he laughed. The boy reveals that the ants are all former Indras.

Another visitor enters the hall. He is Shiva, in the form of a hermit. On his chest lies a circular cluster of hairs, intact at the circumference but with a gap in the middle. Shiva reveals that each of these chest hairs corresponds to the life of one Indra. Each time a hair falls, one Indra dies and another replaces him.

No longer interested in wealth and honor, Indra rewards Vishvakarma and releases him from any further work on the palace. Indra himself decides to leave his life of luxury to become a hermit and seek wisdom. Horrified, Indra's wife Shuchi asks the priest Brihaspati to change her husband's mind. He teaches Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties.

The 14 Indras

Each Manu rules during an eon called a Manvantara. 14 Manvantaras make up a Kalpa, a period corresponding to a day in the life of Brahma. Every Manvantara has 1 Indra that means with every Kalpa 14 Indras changes. Thae Markandye Rishi is said to have a complete age of one Kalpa and in a Puran on his name called "Markandey Puran" the exact age corresponding to the human age or solar year is described in details. The following list is according to Vishnu Purana 3.1–2):[17]

Manvatara/Manu Indra
Svayambhuva Yajna (Avatar of Vishnu)
Swarochish Vipaschit
Uttam Sushaanti
Taamas Shibi
Raivat Vibhu
Chaakshush Manojav
Shraaddhdev Purandar (the present Indra)
Savarni Bali
Daksha Saavarni Adbhut
Brahma Saavarni Shanti
Dharma Saavarni Vish
Rudraputra Saavarni Ritudhaama
Ruchi (Deva Saavarni) Devaspati
Bhaum (Indra Saavarni) Suchi

In Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Bali


Indra (alias Sakra) and Sachi Riding the Divine Elephant Airavata, Folio from a Jain text, Panchakalyanaka (Five Auspicious Events in the Life of Jina Rishabhanatha [Adinatha]), circa 1670-1680, Painting in LACMA museum, originally from Amber, Rajasthan

Thagyamin at Shwedagon Pagoda

A Burmese statue of Thagyamin, who is the Burmese representation of Sakka and Indra.

In Buddhist and Jain texts, Indra is commonly called by his other name Śakra, ruler of the Trāyastriṃśa heaven. Śakra is, however, sometimes given the title Indra, or, more commonly, Devānām Indra, "Lord of the Devas". The ceremonial name of Bangkok claims that the city was "given by Indra and built by Vishvakarman." The provincial seal of Surin province in Thailand is an image of Indra atop Airavata.

In Jainism, Indra is also known as Saudharmendra, and always serves Tirthankar. Indra most commonly appears in stories related to Mahavira, in which Lord Indra himself manages and celebrates the five auspicious events in Tirthankar's life, such as Chavan kalyanak, Janma kalyanak, Diskha kalyanak, Kevalgyan kalyanak, and Nirvan kalyanak.

In China, Korea, and Japan, he is known by the characters 帝释天 (Chinese: 釋提桓因, pinyin: shì dī huán yīn, Japanese: "Tai-shaku-ten", kanji: 帝釈天). In Japan, Indra always appears opposite Brahma (梵天, Japanese: "Bonten") in Buddhist art. Brahma and Indra are revered together as protectors of the historical Buddha (释迦, Japanese: "Shaka", kanji: 釈迦), and are frequently shown giving Shaka his first bath. Although Indra is often depicted like a bodhisattva in the Far East, typically in Tang dynasty costume, his iconography also includes a martial aspect, wielding a thunderbolt from atop his elephant mount.

Some Buddhists regard the Taoist Jade Emperor as another interpretation of Indra.

In the Huayan school of Buddhism, the image of Indra's net is a metaphor for the emptiness of all things.

In Bali the legend of Tirtha Empul Temple origin is releted to Lord Indra.The sacred spring was created by the Hindu god Indra, whow3 soldiers were poisoned at one time by Mayadanawa. Indra pierced the earth to create a fountain of immortality to revive them.

See also


  1. Presidential Address W. H. D. Rouse Folklore, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Mar., 1907), pp. 12-23: "King of the Gods is Sakka, or Indra"
  3. "Indra and Shiva" by KOENRAAD ELST
  4. Hymn XXX, P. 407 The Hymns of the Atharvaveda
  5. P. 113 Rig-Veda-Sanhitá By Horace Hayman Wilson, Edward Byles Cowell, William Frederick Webster
  6. P. 248 Journal of the American Oriental Society By American Oriental Society
  7. P. 520 The hymns of the R̥gveda By Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith, Jagdish Lal Shastri
  8. P. 90 Dialectics of Hindu ritualism, Volume 1 By Bhupendranātha Datta
  9. Rig Veda:10.119.2
  10. Rig Veda: Rig-Veda, Book 3: HYMN XXX. Indra
  11. Rig Veda: Rig-Veda, Book 5: HYMN XXXVI. Indra
  12. (Masson-Oursel and Morin, 326).
  13. [1]
  14. Balakanda-Ramayana
  15. Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, ed. Joseph Campbell (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), p. 3-11
  16. webadept-ga, "Re: Religion and Suffering," 7 January 2003 21:26 PST, Google Answers, 28 March 2007 <>
  17. The 14 Indras
  1. Masson-Oursel, P.; Morin, Louise (1976). "Indian Mythology." In New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, pp. 325–359. New York: The Hamlyn Publishing Group.

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