Indra is the king of all the gods. He is also the god of thunderstorms, lightning and fierce weather. He lives in Amaravati or Indraloka, the city on the peak of Mount Meru. He rules there in a huge palace. His mount is a white elephant named Airavata. He also has Sarama, the dog as his mount. He is one of the dikpalas (lokpalas) or guardians of directions. He is also an Aditya, a group of solar gods who rule heaven.
- Father: Kashyapa
- Mother: Aditi
- Brothers: Varuna, Parjanya, Mitra, Amsa, Pusan, Dhatri, Tvastra, Aryaman, Surya, Bhaga, Vishnu (as Vamana)
- Wives: Shachi (Indrani), Aruni
- Children: Jayanta, Jayanti who married Shukracharya, Vali
- He is also the godly father of Arjuna, the Pandava
Kashyapa was living with Aditi and Diti, two of his 13 wives, in his ashrama. Kashyapa was really pleased with Aditi’s services and told her to ask for a boon. Aditi prayed for one ideal son. Accordingly, Indra was born to Aditi. Later, Aditi gave birth to others, namely Varuna, Parjanya, Mitra, Amsa, Pusan, Dhatri, Tvastra, Aryaman, Surya, and Bhaga.
Becoming King of Devas
Indra was the eldest Aditya. Because of this, he was crowned as the king of all the devas.
Killing of Vritra
Indra started becoming really arrogant and proud because he was the king of devas. Once, when Brihaspati entered Indra’s court, Indra didn’t even get up to respect Brihaspati, who was his elder and teacher. Brihaspati silently walked away in anger. Indra was so arrogant that he didn’t even realize that Brihaspati had quit being the guru of the devas. The other devas had to tell him.
The devas and asuras were constantly at war. When the asuras attacked the devas, the devas were defeated because they didn’t have someone to advise them. Indra was ashamed when he realized this had happened because of him.
He went to Lord Brahma for help. Brahma knew all about Indra’s bad attitude and how he had behaved with Brihaspati.
“What do you want Indra?” Brahma asked.
“Lord Brahma, Brihaspati had left us. And I can’t find him,” Indra said.
“I guess he doesn’t want to see your face anymore.”
“I…I know I behaved badly with Brihaspati. I am sorry for my actions. I know I was arrogant. I would tell him sorry also, if I could find him,” Indra responded.
“So why have you come here,” Brahma questioned.
“The devas need a new guru. Or else, the asuras led by Shukracharya will defeat us again,” Indra finally said.
“Ask Vishvarupa, the brilliant son of Tvastra. He will be a good guru,” Brahma said.
Indra had his doubts about Vishvarupa. He knew Vishvarupa’s mother was an asura. He could betray the devas at any time. But he went and asked Vishvarupa, who accepted the position.
With Vishvarupa guiding them, the devas won the next war easily. The Asuras fled and went into hiding in Patala loka. Indra still didn’t trust Vishvarupa completely. He thought that somehow, Vishvarupa was also helping the asuras, but he actually wasn’t. Since he was an asura, Vishvarupa still prayed for the welfare of the Asuras. Indra saw Vishvarupa doing prayers for his asura brothers once, and in fury, killed Vishvarupa.
When the other devas got to know about this, they were angry at Indra and horrified. “What are you doing! He was completely on our side,” Agni said. “Do you know how angry Tvastra will be when he hears his son had died! Did you even think about what would happen if you killed Vishvarupa?” Vayu bellowed.
Indra suddenly felt very afraid. He realized he had let his emotions control him. He knew he had made a horrible decision that would come to bite him in the future. Vayu was right. Tvastra was mad with anger when he learned that his son had been killed. He performed a huge yagna and without thinking, created an invincible monster. It had a gigantic body like a dragon and could crumble mountains with one swipe of his scaly tail. Tvastra named the monster Vritrasura and ordered him to kill Indra.
Vritrasura went to Amaravati. At the gates of the magnificent city, he shouted “INDRA!” Indra and some other devas came to face Vritra. Vritra knew he could easily crush all the devas.
“Indra, I have come to take revenge for the death of Vishvarupa! I will not spare you!” Vritra roared.
“Face me alone, Vritra,” Indra said. He didn’t want others to suffer because of his decisions. Vritra laughed and the two started intensely fighting. But Vritra was too strong for Indra. Vritra picked Indra up and was about to put Indra in his mouth when Agni screamed, “Oh no! Don’t kill Indra. We need to do something! Varuna, fire the weapon that make someone yawn.”
Varuna did so and Vritra’s mouth couldn’t close. Indra slid out and the other devas took Indra far away. Vritra got really angry. He had been so close! Suddenly, he had a cruel idea. If he troubled the humans on Earth, Indra would surely come to help them. Then Vritra would be able to kill Indra. Vritra swallowed all the water on Earth. Earth became a wasteland and living things were parched. Not knowing what to do, the devas went to Lord Vishnu with the unconscious Indra.
When Indra became conscious, he started requesting Lord Vishnu to help them. He was feeling so guilty and he knew the many were paying because of him.
“There is only one way. You must become close friends with Vritra. Only then, you will be able to learn about his weaknesses. When the right time comes, you will attack. But first, you must go to Sage Dadichi. He is fit to attain salvation, but I need to take a last test. Tell him to kill himself and give his bones to Vishwakarma, who will craft a powerful weapon with his bones capable of killing Vritra,” Vishnu advised.
The devas were horrified at hearing this. They had to use someone’s bones to craft a weapon. But they knew they had no other choice, so they went to Sage Dadichi’s hermitage. Sage Dadichi was immersed in deep meditation. There was bright light coming out of him. Finally, he woke up.
“Devas, why are you here? Let me give you some fruits,” Dadichi said and gave them some fruits.
Indra told Sage Dadichi everything. He then said while hesitating, “Lord Vishnu advised us to use your bones to make a weapon.”
“So I must die,” Dadichi said and smiled. “All this hesitating for just this. It is my time to leave this world. I am happy to die for the greater cause.”
Sage Dadichi sat back down in meditation. He closed his eyes and his soul left his body. Dadichi had sacrificed his life for them. Indra gave the bones to Vishwakarma, who used them to make the Vajra, Indra’s primary weapon.
Indra took the weapon and stood outside the gates of Amaravati, waiting for Vritra. Suddenly, Vritra appeared. “Vritra, I do not want to be your enemy. I would like to become your friend. I have come to ask for forgiveness,” Indra said.
“Why should I believe you,” Vritra shouted.
“I know I cannot beat you, so I am joining you,” Indra said with a smile.
Vritra thought about it. He was already really powerful. Indra would be a really strong ally. Maybe the other devas might also join him? “I accept,” he agreed.
On the very first day, he talked to people and learned about Vritra’s weaknesses. He learned that Vritra has built a hundred fortresses inside Amaravati. He randomly lives in a different fort every day, so it is hard to find him. Indra was enraged when he saw all the water of the Earth behind one of his fortresses.
Indra also learned that Vritra had a powerful boon protecting him: Nobody could kill Vritra with any weapon made of wood, metal or stone, with anything dry or wet or at any time during the day or night. Indra despaired when he learned of the boon.
Suddenly, it came to Indra. Foam from the water was neither dry or wet, neither wood, metal, or stone. It was evening, nor day or night. He pushed Vritra back and ran to the sea. “Vritra, I challenge you to a fight,” Indra shouted.
“You double-crosser, I will kill you now and take my father’s revenge,” Vritra said in fury.
They fought for a long time. Indra had destroyed 99 of Vritra’s 100 fortresses. Evening was almost over and it was going to be night soon. Vritra jumped towards Indra, who dodged. Indra then plunged his Vajra into Vritra. Vritra screamed in agony and tried to bite Indra. Vritra suddenly knocked Indra down.
Indra knew Sage Dadichi’s bones were really strong. The power of his bones could be transferred to another force. He threw the Vajra into the sea. The Vajra melted into foam, which Indra threw on Vritra’s face.
Vritra screamed in pain. Indra realized his plan was working. He threw some more foam. Wounds started appearing on Vritra’s body. Indra pushed Vritra, who collapsed on the ground and lay motionless. Indra turned the Vajra back into a weapon and used it to slash the waters out of Vajra, which spilled onto Earth.
The other devas, who had watched the fight, started rejoicing. But Indra was upset. “I have made horrible decisions recently. I killed a Brahmin, Vishvarupa. I also betrayed a friend, Vritra. I don’t want to be your king anymore. Pick someone smarter to be your king,” he said.
Indra and the Ants
This story is in the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana, Krishna-Janma Khanda, Chapter 47
All the devas pleaded with Indra to stay back. At their request, Indra decided to stay a bit longer as the king of devas. Soon enough, he became arrogant again. One day, Indra thought, “I am the king of devas and lord of weather. How can I live in such a small palace? I need a larger palace.”
He called Vishwakarma, the builder god responsible for many creations, and said, “Vishwakarma, can you make a more grand palace for me.”
Vishwakarma agreed to construct a grand palace. In one year, the palace was completed and Vishwakarma showed Indra. Indra wasn’t satisfied at all. He wanted an even larger palace. So he told Vishwakarma to rebuilt it. This happened again and again. Every time, Vishwakarma would rebuild the palace, but Indra was never satisfied.
Vishwakarma decided to complain to Lord Brahma. He told Brahma about everything that had happened.
“Even after what happened with Vishwarupa, Brihaspati, and Vritra, Indra still hasn’t learned his ego. His arrogance is still controlling him. I will have to teach him a lesson,” Brahma thought to himself. Brahma went to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and told them about what had happened. Together, Vishnu and Shiva made a plan to get rid of Indra’s arrogance.
One day, a boy was admiring Indra’s palace. “Do you like my palace. I am getting it built because of my victory over Vritra. Of course, it isn’t how I want it yet,” Indra said proudly.
“Well, I got to say Indra, this is the grandest palace built by any Indra,” the boy responded.
Indra was confused when the boy said this. The boy said, “Obviously, every time Brahma wakes up, the universe is created and Indra is born. Then, every Manvantara (if you don’t know what a Manvantara is, visit Time in Hinduism), there is a new Indra. Every time Brahma goes to sleep, the universe is destroyed and everyone dies, including Indra. I have seen all the Indras so far.” After saying this, the boy looked at a row of ants and laughed. Indra asked the boy why he had laughed.
“Those ants are all previous Indras. They start from tiny creatures and soon become enlightened. But then, they destroy one monster and think they’re supreme, so they go back to being stupid ants,” the boy said. Indra was aghast when the boy said this. He started feeling afraid.
After saying this, the boy turned to meet a hermit. “Oh great sir, what is the hair in your chest,” the boy asked the hermit.
“Every time an Indra dies, one of my chest hairs fall off. Soon, all of them will have fallen off,” the hermit said.
“Please stop, I know what I have done wrong. I have been arrogant and have made many mistakes,” Indra exclaimed. Suddenly, the boy and the hermit turned into Vishnu and Shiva.
Indra fell at their feet and said, “I am going to leave Swarga to meditate and repent for all my bad deeds.” Indra left Swarga and hid so that the other devas wouldn’t be able to find him.
Nahusha and Shachi
With Indra in hiding, the devas now needed another king for themselves. They decided to approach King Nahusha, the son of Ayu. Nahusha warmly welcomed the devas.
The devas then said, “You know how we are without a king right now. Well, we thought that we will temporarily need a ruler and we have considered you.”
“Wait, what. Me! I am very thankful for this offer, but there must be a better candidate for this job. I am not fit to take the place of Indra,” Nahusha said.
“We need to crown an Indra fast. The Asuras will attack, and without leadership, we will be destroyed. You are a good king: the people are happy and your kingdom is prospering,” the devas reasoned.
After much thought, Nahusha finally accepted the position as king of the devas. Soon, Nahusha became arrogant of his position. He would order sages and devas to bow to him all the time and treat them as slaves. The people living in Swarga became really upset, but they couldn’t do anything.
All the celestial Apsaras were in Nahusha’s control, but his greed for women was not satisfied. He started eyeing Shachi, the wife of Indra. When he asked for her hand in marriage, Shachi completely rejected him. But Shachi knew that Nahusha would not stop, so she left and sought refuge in Brihaspati. Brihaspati told Shachi what to do. Accordingly, Shachi came to Nahusha and said, “I will marry you, but you must first let me search for my husband.”
Nahusha agreed and started preparing for the marriage. Meanwhile, Shachi meditated on Upashruti, the goddess of the night. With the help of Upashruti, Shachi was able to find Indra. She told him about everything that had happened. Indra was outraged and told her the plan.
According to Indra’s plan, Shachi approached Nahusha. She said, “Oh Nahusha, I have accepted your marriage proposal. But I want our marriage to be grand. I would like you to make a palanquin. You will come to my residence in a palanquin carried the greatest sages of all time.”
Nahusha accepted and had a beautiful palanquin crafted. He employed Agastya and other great sages to carry the palanquin. Shachi knew that Nahusha was vainglorious and would anger the sages.
When the day of the marriage arrived, Nahusha set off to Shachi’s residence on a palanquin carried by great sages. Nahusha was not satisfied with their speed, so he yelled “Sarpa, Sarpa”, which means faster, faster. The sages started running, but Nahusha still wasn’t satisfied and kicked Agastya rishi. Agastya was enraged and cursed, “Nahusha, how dare you kick me! I am the great Agastya Rishi. You said “Sarpa”, telling me to go faster. Thus, I curse you that you will turn into a Mahasarpa ( huge snake) right now!”
Nahusha was horrified and started pleading at the feet of Agastya. Agastya said that Nahusha would be freed from the curse and would attain heaven when he meets Dharmaputra. Nahusha instantly changed into a snake and fell down. Soon, Indra was once again made king of the devas.
His main weapon is the Vajra. He also uses a thunderbolt called Bhaudhara. His Indrastra, the weapon that brings a shower of arrows is extremely powerful. His Vasavi Shakti, the magical dart, will kill someone no matter what. He has many other weapons like Sutrastra, Sanghatastra, and Vetagri. The rainbow is called Indra’s bow or Indradhanush. He also has a magical hook and net. His rain missile is called the Parjanya astra and another of his weapons is the Visoshana, which dries up. The Aindraastra is also owned by Indra.
Devraj Indra’s main mount is the white elephant Airavata. His two other mounts are the dog Sarama and the horse Uccharaaivas. He also rides in a golden chariot made for him by the Vasus.
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