Introduction-  Concept of God in Vedic religion

In early times, human beings faced many difficulties in their life caused mainly due to elements. This necessitated the need for propitiating natural powers. Some like Agni (fire), Surya (sun) were useful for them and some were not eg. Darkness(अंधकार). Human beings came to realise that these affect us in a variety of ways. Gradually they were deified over a period of time with their qualities explained by poets and litterateurs. The Rug Veda enunciates the relationship between man and nature. A whole new faith or religion evolved by and by and this came to be known as Vedic religion.

In Vedic religion, the deities had specific names with well-defined characteristics based on their powers whereas in other mythologies like Greek it would be difficult to identify the natural powers by the characteristics. The classification of Vedic Gods is a matter of some difficulty. The Vedic poets identify thirty three Gods divided in to three groups according to the three fold division of the universe i.e Heaven, Atmosphere and the Earth. This is borne out through the following verse

’ ye gods, who are eleven in the sky, eleven on earth and who in their glory are eleven dwellers in the(atmospheric) waters, do ye gladly enjoy our offerings.’

We will hence divide the Vedic gods into three classes, viz.

  • The celestial gods
  • The atmospheric gods
  • The terrestrial gods

Vedic God Indra

Indra is the favourite and also the chief of the Vedic gods and statistically he is the one who appears most prominently in the Rugvedic texts as one fourth of the hymns (SUKTAS) are dedicated to him. His name appears to belong to the Indo-Iranian period, as it was found in Bogaz-koi inscriptions. Indra is also akin to Indo-European gods- Thor, Perun, and Zeus and god of intoxicating drinks such as Dionysus. The name Indra is also mentioned amongst the gods of Mitanni, a Hurrian-speaking people who ruled over northern Syria(1500-1300 BC). Indra has consequently become a highly developed anthropological and mythological figure. The more important and major part of his activities is connected with the struggle of the natural forces. Many scholars believed that Indra is the god of battle, who aided the victorious Aryans in their conquest of the aboriginal inhabitants of India. And many others like Macdonell feel that ‘Indra is primarily the thunder god, the conquest of the demons of drought or darkness, and the consequent liberation of the waters, or the winning of light, forming his mythological essence’.  The great Indian scholar Yaskacharya(यास्काचार्य) gives us 13 explanations for the word Indra. Indra means sun-god and for this some scholars also say that the word Indra came from the Sanskrit word “indha(इंध) means fire, to give light”.  The German scholar Max-Muller says Indra is a deity related to rains and thunderstorms. Max-Muller gives linguistic evidence for the words Indra and Indu(इंद्र & इंदु) with indu meaning a drop of rain.

He is the God of the middle region and pervades the air. His appearance is sometimes described as tawny and sometimes golden. He is called Sushipra(सुशिप्र) or shiprin(शिप्रीन) “fair lipped”. The thunderbolt (vajra=वज्र) is the regular mythological name for the streak of lightning, and was fashioned for him by architect Tvastra. And sometimes he is also described with the bow and arrows in his hand. It is a weapon which exclusively belongs to him. With Vayu as his charioteer, he drives through the air in a golden chariot, drawn by two tawny steeds. It runs swifter than thoughts, and the epithet “Ratha-Stha(रथस्थ)” car fighter is exclusively applied to him.

Vedic gods, in general, are fond of soma, but Indra is pre-eminently addicted to it. He even stole it in order to drink it. As it was his favorite beverage, he has earned the sobriquet- “somapa(सोमपा) means soma-drinker”. Soma stimulates Indra to perform great cosmic actions and exhilarates him to carry out his warlike deeds. We have some hymns (in the 5th mandal) which says that before killing vrutrra(वृत्र), 3 lakes of soma were drunk by Indra. After drinking soma he started to praise himself and it became very difficult to stop him doing any heroic deed. The hymn X.II9 is a soliloquy of Indra, in which he sings his own praise while he was drunk with soma. The hymn and praises addressed to Indra also increase his strength and stimulate his energies. In Hindu mythology the rainbow is called Indra’s Bow(इंद्रधनुष्य).

Tvashta or Dyaus is his father, agni and pushan are his brothers. And Indrani or Shachi (इंद्राणी / शची) is his spouse. In the purushasukta(पुरुषसुक्त) he is said to have sprung, along with Agni, from the mouth of Purusa, and in another place he is said to have been generated by soma, along with other gods. Indra has Agni as his twin brother in some hymns and Pusana as his brother. Indrani is referred to several times and in one of the hymns they are represented as conversing with each other. Indra is associated with various other gods but Maruts are his most constant companions, who in innumerable passages are referred to as assisting him in his warlike exploits. His connection with these deities is so intimate as Indra has epithets like “Marutgana(मारुतगणं) means attended by the Marut hosts” and “Marutvata(मरुत्वत) means accompanied by the Maruts”. He is frequently hailed together as dual divinity with Agni and Varun, Vayu and less frequently with Soma.  Indra is invoked by combatants on both sides in the battle of ten kings(दाश). His gigantic size is dwelt upon in many passages and his greatness and power are lauded in the most unstinted terms. The hymn II.12 well describes his heroic deeds. The slaying of a demon vrutrra(वृत्र),’ the obstructer who encompassed the waters’ is the greatest heroic deed Indra has performed and so vrutrahan(वृत्रहन) becomes his most characteristic epithet.  This great conflict in which Indra, with the help of Maruts, slew Vrutrra is very vividly described in one of the hymns and this mighty deed is constantly referred to whenever Indra is spoken of. And because of this incident, Indra is glorified as god of rain and thunder. Besides Vrutrra, Indra fights with many other demons e.g. Urana of ninety nine arms, and Visvarupa of three heads and six eyes, and crushes Arbuda with his foot. He also sweeps away the Asuras, consumes the Raksasas and overcomes the malignant sprits. He has been identified with ‘thunder and storm’, ‘lighting’, ‘sky’, ‘year’, as well as with the ‘sun’ and the ‘fire’ in general. It is however, certain that Indra does not represent either the sky or the year. Nor can he be regarded as representing fire in the sense in which Agni represents it. For even when he is said to represent fire, it is the fire in lightning and not terrestrial fire. Indra the great warrior god of Vedic Indians is called upon as a helper of the Aryans in their conflicts with earthly enemies more frequently than any other deity. He is invoked to protect the Aryan colour to subjugate the Dasyus and give their land to the Aryans. Indra “the bountiful (मघवन) maghvana”, an epithet peculiarly his, is the benefactor and the compassionate helper. This is god Indra sometimes he is spoken of as the king of the whole world, lord of all that moves and breaths, leader of the human race and the universal monarch, the self dependent sovereign.

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 change. 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 detail. The following list is according to the Vishnu Purana.



Svayambhuva Yajna(Avatar of visnu)
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

Indra is sometimes associated with “Vajrapani” the chief Dharmapal or Defender and protector of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha who embodies the power of the five Dhyani Buddha. On the other hand, he also commits many kinds of mischief (किल्बिष) for which he is sometimes punished.  In Puranic mythology Indra is bestowed with heroic and an almost brash and amorous character at times, even as his reputation and role became diminished in later day Hinduism with the rise of the Trimurti. In post Vedic period Indra became a minor deity in comparison to Visnu, Siva and Devi. A Puranic story illustrating the subjugation of Indra’s pride is illustrated through the story of Govardhan hill. Lord Krisna an avatar of Visnu carried the hill and protected his devotees when an angry Indra launched rain and thunderstorm over the village as the villagers gave the worship due to him to the mountain. Yet another story in the Hindu epic Mahabharata is about king Karna’s kavach kundala(कवचकुंडलं), the armour and sheath.

Indra in Buddhism And Jainism

In Buddhism and Jainism, Indra is commonly called by his other name “Sakra(शक्र)”, ruler of Traystrisa heaven. However sakra is sometimes given the title of Indra, or more commonly, “Devanam Indra means Lord of Devas”. In Jainism, Indra is also known as Saudharmendra, and always serves the thirthankaras(तीर्थंकर).

Controversies of Superiority Between Indra And Varun

Although there are many attributes which are common to Indra and Varun, their character reveals striking points of contrast. Moral sovereignty of the universe is the chief characteristic and main function of Varuna. He is the lord of ethical law who, sitting on his heavenly throne, governs the universe according to fixed rules, while Indra is a warrior of irresistible might, who performs many heroic deeds and helps the Aryan conquerors in their struggle with the aborigines. In Indra there are also certain sensual and immoral traits, a quality from which not only Varuna but almost all the Vedic gods are singularly free. For example he is said to have slain his father shattering the car of the Dawn, and quarreled with the Maruts. He is however chiefly connected with his excessive fondness for Soma. Macdonell remarks that this perhaps is due to his more advanced anthropomorphism, while Griswold attributes it to his being a practical god of action and not a negative character like Varuna.

The view of Roth later followed by Whitney, that the pre-eminence of Varuna as belonging to the older order of gods, was in the Rugvedic period transferred to Indra which has hardly any supporters today. This is based on a fact that Varuna was less mentioned in Rugvedic text than Indra, but this is not a convincing proof of position. Later the changing situation of the Aryans, afford the most natural explanation of the change in a pre-eminence of the gods. For many years they were not attacked by or threatened by any dangerous and powerful enemy, they were easily expanding their territory; the peace loving law-abiding Varuna was good enough for them. After some time they encountered the Dasyus in India, so they were in danger of being defeated and losing some part of their territory, for this they had to collect all their strength to fight against Dasyus, and hence naturally they started to  invoke the patron warrior god-Indra oftener than the passive ruler. The superiority of these gods also kept fluctuating.


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