- Indra is the king of the gods in the VEDIC pan-theon. He is a symbol of strength and has the character of a warrior. He is associated with the thunderstorm and is said to hold a lightning bolt in his hand. Many early Vedic hymns tell of his battle with the snake demon, Vritra, in the course of which Indra splits a mountain to release the terrestrial waters that Vritra has held back. Indra also fights a demon named Vala in order to release the “cows of the dawn,” perhaps indicating that he was the creator of daylight.Indra’s enemies are the Dasas and Dasyus; these have often been taken to refer to the indig-enous tribes of India, but the context is not at all clear. At times the terms can best be translated as “enemy,” and at times they are seen to be mytho-logical beings. In the Vedas Indra is also known as a great drinker of Soma, an intoxicant used in the Vedic ritual. SOMA itself is seen as a god.Indra is frequently invoked ritually in Vedic ritual. There are more hymns to him in RIG VEDA than to any other god. Sometimes he is invoked along with AGNI (the god of fire), probably link-ing the main divinity of the heavens, Indra, with a primary terrestrial deity, Agni, who is also the messenger of the gods.The Vedic tradition often mentions Indra’s wife, Indrani. Post-Vedic mythology gives Indra the white elephant AIRAVATA as a mount to ride. Eventually Indra loses his supremacy and begins to be challenged and even ridiculed. KRISHNA pro-tects his village from Indra by holding a mountain up as an umbrella to keep away his rains. Indra is cursed for consorting with a sage’s wife (AHALYA) and is afflicted, in one version of the story, with 1,000 vaginas, which are then changed into 1,000 eyes to justify his common Vedic epithet “thou-sand-eyed one.”Further reading: Jan Gonda, trans., The Indra Hymns of the Rig Veda (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990); Alfred Hil-lebrandt, Vedic Mythology. Translated from the German by Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma, Vol. I (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic. 2d ed. (Bombay: Rupa, 1973).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.