Indra in Vedā
In the Veda, Indra along with other gods is the highest form of divinity and is worshiped as a protector and close friend. He is the creator and sustainer of the world. In all of the Rigvedic hymns, he is praised for killing Vrtra and releasing the waters from his stranglehold so that life may begin. He is the active god who does deeds of strength for the welfare of mankind. This much is the adhibhuta (physical) and adhidaivata (celestial) level.
EDIT ADD: I also wanted to add the fact that Indra and other devatas were not just “elite gods” worshiped through Vedic mantras. At the village level, Indra had many Utsavas such as Vasantotsava. This is clearly illustrated in Krishna’s story of raising the Govardhana hill. It shows a long-standing tradition of village festivals honoring Indra for his rains. So this is one instance of the newer gods displacing Indra as the village god.
At the adhyatma (metaphysical) level, he is also the omnipresent spirit in everything. For example:
रूपं रूपं प्रतिरूपो बभूव तदस्य रूपं प्रतिचक्षणाय ।
इन्द्रो मायाभिः पुरुरूप ईयते युक्ता ह्यस्य हरयो शता दश ।।
“He became the inner form of every form. This is his form to behold. Indra by his creative powers assumes many forms, his 1000 rays are yoked, always ready.”
वयः सुपर्णा उपसेदुरिन्द्रं प्रियमेधा ऋषयो नाधमानाः ।
अपध्वान्तमूर्णुहि पूर्धि चक्षुर्मुमुग्ध्यस्मान्निधयेव बद्धान् ।।
“The rishis, as beautiful-winged birds flew towards Indra, singing hymns pleasing to him. They said, remove our evil, fill our eyes with vision, release us from our bondage just like birds released from a cage.”
So here you have aspects of Jnana and Bhakti.
There is an even deeper symbolism in the Vrtra-killing myth as explained by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy in “Perception of the Vedas”. While Agni, Soma, and Varuna were the “pre-gods” before creation or manifestation of the universe, they were “dark”, “continuous”, ophidian (“ahi” “ahi budhyna” “ahimaya”) and unmanifested “Asat” and were identical with Asura, the great primeval father. Indra is the first wakening of the individual ego, “light”, “discrete”, “footed” and manifested “Sat”. Indra’s killing of Vrtra is simultaneous with the awakening of Agni and Soma into individual gods. It is light that is the cause of creation as it separates and distinguishes. But it is also not immortal because it changes, and causes things to change. The pre-Indra Agni, Soma, and Varuna are immortal because they existed before light, in the darkness which is the foundation of existence.
Especially Agni in the Vedas is a symbol for the highest spiritual principle, absolute truth, undivided consciousness, the singularity of opposites. In fact, Agni = Brahman of Upanishad. For more details, please see: Ram Abloh’s answer to What are your favourite passages of the Vedas or any other Hindu text? and also this blog:
Now coming to the Puranic depiction which you know well. After the time of the Vedic rishis, the original, spiritual concept of yajna became more mechanical and devoid of its earlier inner meaning. The Upanishad rishis wanted to bring back the Jnana and Bhakti of earlier Vedas, but for this, they had to break the association of the now-degraded yajna and gods. So they put down individual gods and gave a new name “Brahman” to the earlier “Agni” so that the message is not confused with the yajna Agni.
In parallel, popular religion was combining Bhagavata tradition with Vedic gods Vishnu and Rudra to come up with new deities of Vishnu-Narayana and Rudra-Shiva. Although we already find these personalities in Yajurveda (i.e in Narayana suktam, and Rudra Namakam/Chamakam), in the Puranas they become primary gods. Indra and other former Vedic gods now occupy a second-rank position.
In a way, Puranic religion is a highly simplified version of Vedic religion. The Vedic gods were never very concrete personalities, they merged into one another, they had very deep symbolism, the yajna was very intricate in symbol and metaphysics. By contrast, the Puranic Vishnu and Shiva are more personified, they have families, friends, enemies, careers. Of course, the same spiritual loftiness is assigned to them, but more often than not, they are easily approached by simple Bhakti and prayer than complex rituals.
Author/ Researcher: Ram Abloh
Indra from Rigveda 1.32
Composer: Hiraṇyastūpa Āṅgirasa
He killed the indestructible, he cleaved open the waters, he split off the strongholds of mountains.
He killed the indestructible Ahin lying over the mountain, Tvaṣṭṛ fashioned the sun-like vajra for Him,
Like bellowing running milch-cows, the waters straight away sped on to the sea.
As the Mighty, He chose soma for Himself, He drunk of the expressed from three cups,
The Generous one took vajra for his missile, he destroyed (ahan) this foremost of ahins.
Then when Indra destroyed (ahan) the foremost of ahins, he dismantled the tricks of tricksters; (definitions of definers?)
Since then, generating the sun and dawn, you indeed found no rival.
He, Indra, destroyed Vṛtra, the typical vṛtra, (blocker) he whose shoulders were apart by the great deadly vajra,
Like the logs of wood hacked down by an axe, the Ahin lies, embracing the earth.
Like a non-warrior, he, of evil pride, (or drunken?) challenged the great hero, the much responsible Indra of Silvery (soma?)
Nay, he didn’t withstand His attack of deadly blows – the one with Indra as an enemy, the sickening blows in his receptor.
Footless and handless, he lost to Indra, for He stroke the vajra upon his joints.
A castrated who tried to counter-define the Bull, Vṛtra lay shattered apart, in many places.
Over him who lies split, like a riverine reed, the rising waters of mind flow;
Even those whom Vṛtra once surrounded in might, the Ahin lay at their very feet.
She, of son Vṛtra, had her capability go down; Indra bore his deadly weapon off her,
Upward was mother, downward the son – Dānu lay like milch-cow with her calf.
In the middle of the never-resting, never-confining courses are his sunken body.
Away from Vṛtra’s secrecy, the waters flow out. The one with Indra as enemy lay in perpetual darkness.
The waters – once stood as wives of Dāsa, having Ahin for the herdsman. The waters – those restricted like the cows of Paṇis.
That which was the opening for waters – He having killed Vṛtra, uncovered it.
You were being a horse-tail, when he struck his fangs (sṛke) at you, O One God!
You won the cows, O Hero, you won soma, you released the seven streams to flow.
No lightning, no thunder for him repelled (Indra), neither did the mist or hail he scattered;
When Indra and Ahin would battle, the Generous one obtained victory then and also in after-ages.
Whom did you see then as the exterminator of Ahin, so that thrill came to your heart then, O Destroyer?*
Nine-and-ninety streams then you crossed over, like a thrilled falcon over the skies.
Indra is the king of the traveling and the settled, of the depressed and the horned.
And HE is the King, he rules over the masses, As a rim envelopes the wheel spokes, so has he enveloped all.
Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
Aug 24th, 2016
Indra from Rigveda 2.12
Composer: Gr̥tsamadaḥ Bhārgavaḥ śaunakaḥ
He who emerged as the only one born first, encapsulating the mind, as
The God of the divine concepts by inspiration,
By the hissing of whose heroic greatness the two realms shook,
He, O folks, is Indra.
He who tied together with the shattered width, He who fixed calm the outraged hurdles,
He who measured out the great middle region and fixed support for the sky,
He, O folks, is Indra.
He who, weakening the cloud, released the seven streams
And drove the kine from Vala’s cave
He who created the fire between the two rubbing clouds (or stones or hurdles), the spoiler in battles,
He, O folks, is Indra.
By whom this oscillating universe was created, He who chased the silenced group of separated Dasas,
He who, like a gambler collecting the lakhs of wealth, seized the foe’s abundances,
He, O folks, is Indra.
Of Him the frightful one, they usually ask, “where is he?” or even say of Him, “He does not exist”
He sweeps away, like birds, the abundances of the rich,
Put your faith in him, for He, O folks, is Indra.
He who is the stirrer of the oppressed and lowly, of the poet and his suppliant who recites loud,
He the great sage who envelopes the one with sowed soma and singers,
He, O folks, is Indra.
In whose direction are all the Ashvas, cows, villages and the chariots,
He who created the sun and the dawn, He who leads the waters,
He, O folks, is Indra.
To whom the two crying armies call out in battle, both enemies – the strong and the weak,
He whom two invoke, in a common mind-chariot, each for himself,
He, O folks, is Indra.
From without his whose orders, people don’t conquer,
He whom the fighting ones invoke for protection,
He who has become the model of the whole world, He who shakes even the Acyuta (motionless), He, O folks, is Indra.
He who weakens the perpetually disregarding (sinners) through his weakening force,
He who, without giving way, ridicules the mocking ones,
He who is the weakener of Dasyus, He, O folks, is Indra.
He who found the quiet Shambara among the hurdles, in the fortieth autumn,
He who through his vigor, slayed the water-born resting-cloud, He, O folks, is Indra.
He who with seven rays, the Mighty bull, caused to flow the flowing seven waters;
He who, thunder-hurling, made shine the uprising one as he scaled the sky,
He, O folks, is Indra.
To him whom the sky and earth bow, on whose breath the hurdles tremble,
He who is the drinker of the inspired essence, the observed, the thunder-armed,
Yea He who is thunder armed, He, O folks, is Indra.
He who envelopes sowing, the one nurturing, the sacrificing and the toiling person,
Him whom the sowed gift of poem magnifies, He, O folks, is Indra.
You indeed are the Fierce One and the Truth, you give the strength to the sowing and nurturing,
So may we, forever, thy beloved ones, O Indra,
Speak in the assembly with brave ones.
This is the best method by which a Vedic poet could talk about Indra to the masses. (janāsaḥ)
Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
Aug 24th, 2016
let us come back and visit an Indra hymn from core family maṇḍala. This time, 6.21 from Bharadvāja maṇḍala, composed by Bharadvāja Bārhaspatya. Why I usually delay the discussion of family maṇḍalas is because they are incredibly intricate, complex, and interconnected (For example., this hymn is connected with other Bharadvāja hymns like 6.22).
This hymn is not easy to be translated – not because it contains hapaxes or grammatical complexities, but its lines enclose a lot of information which cannot be condensed to words. You have to feel the hymn. As they say, the Vāk is to be seen in two ways – by thought and by heart. (hṛdā, manasā) Use both the visions and you get what is going on in the hymn. I will let this hymn speak for itself.
Moving on to the hymn.
Rigveda 6.21 – Indra
Bharadvāja Bārhaspatya, Chandas : Triṣṭubh.
imā́ u tvā purutámasya kārórhávyam vīra hávyā havante ǀ
dhíyo ratheṣṭhā́majáram návīyo rayírvíbhūtirīyate vacasyā́ ǁ
támu stuṣa índram yó vídāno gírvāhasam gīrbhíryajñávṛddham ǀ
yásya dívamáti mahnā́ pṛthivyā́ḥ purumāyásya riricé mahitvám ǁ
sá íttámo’vayunám tatanvátsū́ryeṇa vayúnavaccakāra ǀ
kadā́ te mártā amṛ́tasya dhā́méyakṣanto ná minanti svadhāvaḥ ǁ
yástā́ cakā́ra sá kúha svidíndraḥ kámā́ jánam carati kā́su vikṣú ǀ
káste yajñó mánase śám várāya kó arká indra katamáḥ sá hótā ǁ
idā́ hí te véviṣataḥ purājā́ḥ pratnā́sa āsúḥ purukṛtsákhāyaḥ ǀ
yé madhyamā́sa utá nū́tanāsa utā́vamásya puruhūta bodhi ǁ
tám pṛcchántó’varāsaḥ párāṇi pratnā́ ta indra śrútyā́nu yemuḥ ǀ
árcāmasi vīra brahmavāho yā́devá vidmá tā́ttvā mahā́ntam ǁ
abhí tvā pā́jo rakṣáso ví tasthe máhi jajñānámabhí tátsú tiṣṭha ǀ
táva pratnéna yújyena sákhyā vájreṇa dhṛṣṇo ápa tā́ nudasva ǁ
sá tú śrudhīndra nū́tanasya brahmaṇyató vīra kārudhāyaḥ ǀ
tvám hyā́píḥ pradívi pitṝṇā́m śáśvadbabhū́tha suháva éṣṭau ǁ
prótáye váruṇam mitrámíndram marútaḥ kṛṣvā́vase no adyá ǀ
prá pūṣáṇam víṣṇumagním púraṃdhim savitā́ramóṣadhīḥ párvatāṃśca ǁ
imá u tvā puruśāka prayajyo jaritā́ro abhyárcantyarkáiḥ ǀ
śrudhī́ hávamā́ huvató huvānó ná tvā́vām̐ anyó amṛta tvádasti ǁ
nū́ ma ā́ vā́camúpa yāhi vidvā́nvíśvebhiḥ sūno sahaso yájatraiḥ ǀ
yé agnijihvā́ ṛtasā́pa āsúryé mánum cakrúrúparam dásāya ǁ
sá no bodhi puraetā́ sugéṣūtá durgéṣu pathikṛ́dvídānaḥ ǀ
yé áśramāsa urávo váhiṣṭhāstébhirna indrābhí vakṣi vā́jam ǁ
Note that since this hymn comes from an established wordsmith like Bhāradvāja, the hymn is so complexly arranged that I cannot provide you a word-word translation that preserves the word-order. I can only give you the final translation after fixing the order to something that could make sense to you.
O Vīra, the new insights of the best craftsman of many
Invoke the unaging one situated in the chariot –
The one who is invoked with invocations.
The splendrous richness of Vāk manifests.
And him, known as “Indra” do I hymn.
Conveyed by songs, spread out in yajña by songs.
One of many māyās, whose greatness
Has excelled by greatness beyond sky and earth.
So he made the absolutely clueless darkness
To be marked with the sun, as it extended.
How come the seeking mortals not bypass your station?
O Immortal, You who have established yourself!
He who did these, where is that Indra at all?
Which masses does he approach? Among which people?
What yajña is blissful to your thought, your choice?
Which recitation, Indra? Which invoker?
For you who do much, indeed they have actively toiled :
The ancient ones, your friends born earlier,
The ones medieval and those modern.
O most invoked! Be informed of the intimate one.
Questioning it, have the intimate ones followed themselves –
The ancient, well-famed, remote (paths) of yours – O Indra!
We hymn, O Vīra! You who are conveyed by the brahman!
So much of your greatness, just that much as we know.
To you who has manifested in greatness,
The manliness of Rākṣasa stretches wide, Stand well to it!
With your vajra, your companion from the days of old,
O Brave One! Strike these down!
And so, O Indra! O Vīra! Patron of artists!
Listen to the modern poet as he strives for brahman
For you have been the support for ancestors in days before
You have always been the one invoked well in seeking.
Forward, for help lead Varuṇa, the Mitra,
Indra and Maruts, to aid us today.
Forward lead Pūṣan, Viṣṇu, Agni, Puraṃdhi,
The Savitar, the Plants, and Parvatas.
These singers, with recitations hymn you,
First to be worshiped, O Most Capable!
Listen to the call of the caller, as you are called.
There is none immortal like you other than you.
Now, as Him begotten through withstanding, as the Knowing One,
Travel towards this speech of mine with all recipients of worship,
Those which have Agni for tongue and have supported Ṛta,
Who have put the Manu above Dasa.
So to us appear as the leader in good passages,
Also in the hard passages – for you are known as the maker of the path.
These broad, easy-going, best-conveying vehicles
With them, O Indra, convey towards us the strength.
Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
Feb 19th, 2020
Indra from Rigveda to Purana
Indra is derived from the root ind- meaning to “waxen”, “to promote”, “to vivify”. Another popular word from the same root is indu used for the vivifying drops. Indra is the highest form of Divinity who has all the concepts of God in him. Indra “vivifies”, “promotes”, and “waxens”.
All the Rigvedic poems about Indra speak of the autonomous sway of Indra, in whose spiritual concept, all other deities find their place. Indra has all the qualities that are found in other concepts of God. In Indra “abide” all the concepts of God. Indra is the one whose splendor pervades throughout the universe. He through the maya assumes different forms; he verily attacks the illusory elements with their own illusion. He finds the rays of light (cows) from the darkness of ignorance (Vala’s cave), he is against unproductive Capitalism – he frees the cows from Panis who steal and hide them, he attacks the rain cloud Vrtra / Varaha with his lightning and brings the rain of knowledge that connects the spiritual mind (sky) and physical mind (earth), he quietens Shushna (the shrinker; one who causes to shrink) with his (Shushna’s) own illusion and provides wide earth (physical mind). He lets the unwedded maidens of fountains to gush from the mountains. Thus he releases the “cows” (of water streams) from mountains.
Indra is also the model for any Brahmana, any King, any Vaishya as well as any Shudra. As the sagest of all sages, the poet among all poets, he is the model for a Brahmin. As the protector of Rta (eternal Truth, law and order, cognate with English “order”, “right”) he is the model of a King. As the friend of all and connecting the world with his chariot that is vishva-sammishla (universally mingling), he is the model for the common man Vaishya. As the never-failing Help, never failing aid provider, Indra is the model for Shudra. Indra, moreover, clothes the naked and makes the blind see. He uplifts the oppressed and thus is the model for any human.
As the vivifier through the life essence of his rains that connect the spiritual mind and physical mind, we see soma in Indra. As he himself also is the richest in rays of cows of knowledge (Gautama; refer Sub. litany, Taittiriya / Maitrayani Samhita Yajurveda) as well as sows the seed by plowing the infertile and unploughable (a-halya; halya = that which can be plowed) earth of physical mind, (for this reason he is also called Kaushika, kushika means plowshare; ref: Sub. Litany) we see Savitr, the “sowing sun”, and Surya in him. He is the friend of all, he himself sees through Mitra’s eyes. As the ruler of the universe omnipresent, he is Varuna himself. As the killer of hurdles and blockers, “serpents” (or “dragons”, referring to creeping dangers) and darkness, Indra is Agni himself. He creates the world and assumes the role of Tvashtr. He is himself the spiritual Sun; the Vedic symbol of Self and container of Reality, and His radiance is the all illuminating Vishnu, who measures all realms created by Indra. He the provider of riches is simply the Lakshmi form of Agni. As infinite forms, he himself is Aditi.
As the giver of knowledge and sage of sages, Indra is the Brhaspati, he is the Vrshabha in might, he is the splendor that pervades the whole universe. (pashya meha… “See me here” the famous telling of Indra to an agnostic) There is Indra implies that all the concepts of God are there; however, there is no Indra means that there is no God. This is why in Rigveda, we find atheists denying simply Indra directly; because Indra has no single physical symbol – all the symbols form a part of Him. And we find in Rigvedic Indra the God beyond gender, creed, race, form, physical concepts. Though Indra in Rigveda can also be taken, like any other Rigvedic concept of God, as a single concept that is identical with other concepts about the Supreme God, the Rigvedic Indra is conceptually much more. The Indra of Rigveda is the concept of God that contains in itself all other concepts of God.
The Samaveda also talks about the same Indra, and Yajurveda and Atharvaveda also talk of the same Indra who is himself the God. However, the Brahmanas like to see all Vedic devas as “individual gods” and Indra as “Chief of gods”. Still, it is to be noted that all Vedic concepts are still “gods” in Brahmanas and not “demigods”.
By the Ramayana period, we find initial attacks to the Vedic concepts of God by the people who were now in a confused state with different gods. Also, some gods had already started to be degraded to “demigods”. The Ahalya myth is forged. (You may read my answer to What was the story of Indra and Ahalya? in detail) And Indra being the chief “god” attested in Vedas now had to suffer the most. Varuna, another important Rigvedic concept of God was brutally ripped off of his autonomous sway by the Rama. A mere mortal Rama challenges God Varuna himself. (hahaha) Indrajit, a local Rakshasa kid, simply “wins over Indra”. (One should note that Indra simply kills Vrtra, the supreme most of all demons) Rama of Ramayana generously steals many of Indra qualities. In many cases, the Rama is compared with Indra in Ramayana. The Ramayana Sita could have been inspired by Rigvedic Sita. Indra is still mocked in many myths, starting from the tale of Sagara’ horse. (Hehee.. does not it seem amusing to hear that one can become God by killing 100 horses and that God is jealous of man? :P)
By the Mahabharata period, we find a total mess of gods, demigods, and “Gods”. There we find trinity emerging up, and Indra becomes King of gods. Indra is constantly mocked by furnishing myths. Indra turns out to be merely anthropomorphic character, resembling Greek gods now.
The puranic period saw the sectarian gods coming up. No trace of Vedic names of God was left. Even concepts that had some connection with concepts in Vedas were brutally hunted, like suppressing Brahma, accusing him of incest with his daughter and Shiva “chastising him”. (fun) Indra now becomes a position. There is a vacancy in the position after a certain period of time called Manvantara, and a person who has killed 100 horses through Ashvamedha can become Indra. Indra becomes an inefficient chief of the “demigods”, and the “Gods” constantly mock him. In Shiva Purana, Shiva steals the credit of Indra’s achievements, in Vishnu Puranas, Vishnu steals the credit of Indra’s achievements… and so on. Moreover, every rape case is generously loaded on Indra’s head. If some king has his daughter being raped by some guy, he would say “Indra raped her” so that he can escape from the bad image. Some great souls even curse Indra.
The most Supreme deed of restoring Rta by killing Vrtra is turned into a legend of killing a mere demon Vrtra. Puranas, apart from trying to transfer Indra’s credit of killing Vrtra to Vishnu/Shiva/Devi worship, also try to sympathize with Vrtra! This is by making the Vrtra a “Brahmin” (Fun Fun Fun) by modifying the story, and also unnecessarily exaggerating and telling “Dadhici’s sacrifice” so that Indra is devoid of any sympathy from readers. Moreover, the killing of Vrtra is shortened to an act of killing a Brahmin who wished to conquer Devas. Again, we are shown Indra is a bad guy who does anything cruel to protect his group of “guys” ( the “demigods” are equally bad as the asuras in most of the cases) – Devas, and himself. And any achievement he gets is because he worships the relevant sectarian god of the Purana. Altogether, after reading Puranas (original) one learns never to worship Indra, or at least think of worshiping Indra. Moreover, one will hate Indra to the core.
In my answer to the origin of Dashavataras, you can read how those came. The final blow was certainly from a village boy Krishna (earlier, only mighty Rakshasas and later kings “conquered Indra”, now even village boys could!) who picks up a mountain to shield the “wrath of Indra”. (thinking of worshiping the kid, isn’t it? That is what the author also intended) The Rigvedic title of “Govinda” for Indra (because he finds the cows of light of knowledge from the Vala’s cave of darkness of ignorance) is simply transferred to the kid without a valid reason (a myth is cooked up with very difficulty). Everything that Veda praised Indra for is simply transferred to kids and shepherds, on the ecstasy of copying out the stories, the Puranic author also copied the women enjoyment to Krishna, from the earlier myths of Indra “raping women”. But you should not ever accuse Krishna. His rape is divine.
It is interesting to note that even Ahalya’s forged myth in Ramayana clearly shows Ahalya as not innocent and enjoying with Indra, but the Puranic guys take it to another level where Ahalya is chaste “kanya”, and Indra is responsible for all rape cases in the world.
I try to stop myself without cursing those insolent fools who have written nonsense. It is hard, but when one is beyond emotions and petty notions, he reaches a level of divine indifference to ignore such perverts.
Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
April 27th, 2017
Indra & Ahalyā
The first story in Sanskrit literature to target a Vedic deity name with a harsh offense like “taking another’s wife” is the Rāmāyaṇa story of Indra cheating Gautama to have sexual relations with his wife Ahalya. Ahalya in Ramayana is as interested as Indra in the relationship. Perhaps, Gautama was such disinterested in the sexual affairs (he is said to have exercising tapas for so long while having Ahalya as his wife) that Ahalya was tempted. Either way, Rāmāyaṇa author (whoever it be) attempts a detailed story to defame Indra specially and chooses Viśvāmitra to tell it (for reasons we will see later) to Rāma-lakṣmaṇas.
So, the story is like this – “Indra interested in Ahalyā, changes his form to her husband and has intercourse with her. Ahalya knows that it is Indra, and she perhaps proud of that, allows Indra too. After that, when Gautama is about to return, Ahalyā tells Indra that she is pleased to have satisfied him, and asks Indra to protect both of them from Gautama. However, before Indra could escape, Gautama comes to the hermitage and notices Indra; and he curses Indra that he becomes impotent, to which Indra’s testicles “fall at the instant”. Gautama, also curses his wife that she be unseen to eyes, live in dust, without food and water for thousands of years. (until Rama comes to redeem her charisma) Devas find the condition of Indra pathetic, Agni orders the testicles of a ram to be fitted on Indra. That happens, and from then, Indra is called “meṣavṛṣaṇa” – one who has ram’s testicles.”
This story is a cleverly engineered ploy, from the earlier Vedas and Brahmanas, but twisted in such a way so as to defame Indra. In fact, Ahalyā means “one who can’t be plowed”, referring to an infertile land or that which is in drought. (she is said to be the daughter of Mitra the sun by Brahmanas) Like the usual love of Indra towards the oppressed and the disregarded, the act of Indra “loving” equally the socially “defective” is shown as divine benevolence. (elsewhere, his acts of giving insight to blind man, making the lame walk, helping a shunned child of an unmarried girl to become a king, and uplifting the oppressed are famous and often quoted throughout Vedas) He showers his rain and makes Ahalya fertile. Hence, the most important invocation “formula” to Indra in Yajurveda, the “Subrahmaṇyā” (“the best formula”) poetically praises him as the lover of Ahalya. But not limited to that. The verse plays with the typical Vedic style of expression, and is a whole expression of Indra in itself, playing with words and imageries.
The emotional, ecstatic uttering of Subrahmaṇyā goes thus :
“Indra āgaccha! Hariva āgaccha!
Kauśika brāhmaṇa! Gautama bruvāṇa!”
Why I wrote in Sanskrit, is to elucidate many points. This being the supreme of all formulas in Yajurveda, it is such an important thing to be misrepresented and delude the Sanskrit illiterate people. It is quite bad to see that jāra, which in all the Vedas stand as a term for a normal lover, on the virtue of being used as an epithet for Indra, was caused to change its whole meaning in later Sanskrit. Wow, hail Hindus!
Translation of the above :
“Indra, come! You of golden (steeds) come!
You the ram of Medhātithi (Medhātithi Kāṇva is a famous Rigvedic poet who called Indra a ram and described him as drinking his soma in form of a ram)
You the menā of Vṛṣaṇaśva (an epithet of Indra already present in Rigveda)
Lover of Ahalya!
Versified as “Kauśika”! (Brahman is the verse, so brāhmaṇa should be taken to mean “versified”)
You who is being spoken of as “Gautama”!”
Now, this is the base from which Rāmāyaṇa twists out the legend. Rāmāyaṇa takes note of “Ahalyāyai jāra” (lover of Ahalya) “Kauśika brāhmaṇa” (versified as/by Kauśika) “Gautama bruvāṇa” (called Gautama) to create a story “versified by Viśvāmitra” (who is Kauśika) in which Indra is spoken of as Gautama, and him being a lover of Ahalyā. And the greatest ill-will it shows in this regard is forging a nonsensical compound “meṣa-vṛṣaṇa” by joining “medhātither meṣa, vṛṣaṇaśvasya mene” and completes it with the above nonsensical legend.
Returning to the Vedic formula, the terms are significant. Ahalyā is the barren land, whose husband is the one who shines on her, the rich in cows (solar rays) – the Gautama, who is Indra himself, (association of Indra and cows is not new) but unable to make her “fertile”. But Indra, according to Ṛta, changes his form and his “cows” become no more the rays, but the clouds which milk rain. (the other cow metaphor) Thus, the changes from to the “fertilizing” one, but still is Gautama. And further, he could also be imagined as the poetic “ploughshare” (Kuśika, kauśika) which plows Ahalyā and which is the daughter (menā) of Vṛṣaṇaśva. (plowshare is the daughter of “plow cart” which has its bearer as a bull)
The emotional aspect is that he becomes a “daughter” of the Vṛṣaṇaśva, a lover of the socially discarded Ahalyā, he becomes the ram of Medhātithi, he stirs the mind of poets and devotees deeply, he vivifies even changing his own form for the sake of Ṛta and love – showing divine benevolence and responsibility in the Vedic style.
Brahmanas somehow, manage to get that Ahalyā is Maitreyi, associated with the sun, and therefore decode the possible meaning of Ahalyā for the reader. One of the Brahmanas rightly tells that Indra goes as versified Kauśika for the sake of (plowing) Ahalya. The rest of the Brahmanas are puzzled over why Indra is both Gautama and Kauśika (they mix it up with the Vedic intended pun of both being clan names as well) and try to create contradictory myths to each other.
But Rāmāyaṇa’s purpose was not to find the meaning or explain the meaning of the Vedic formula. Its purpose was to delude the people. So, it carved out the nasty legend of Gautama being the sage of Rigveda belonging to Gautama clan (perhaps Vāmadeva Gautama) being the husband who is always at tapas (heat) of Ahalyā, and Indra being a dramatic (ill-minded) who out of lust towards Ahalyā, changes his form to Gautama. To make a presentation of the “Kauśika” mention, Rāmāyaṇa makes the whole story spoken by Kauśika Viśvāmitra. And most importantly, it creates out the nonexistent compound “meṣavṛṣaṇa” to delude public and to defame Indra. So much for honesty!
Mahābhārata, which is more or less contemporary to Rāmāyaṇa as a scripture, tries to twist the legend another way – it explains Kauśika as the one who curses Indra to lose his testicles, (for no reason mentioned) by which he has ram-testicles, but also tells that Gautama cursed Indra for violating Ahalyā, by which Indra has a golden beard. (hahaha! what a curse!)
The later Purāṇas cannot see Ahalyā as a woman with ascetic power who could recognize Indra, and also cannot obviously see her being on the same level with their arch-rival Indra in sinning. Ahalyā becomes one of the famed pañca-kanyās, she is “raped” by Indra disguised as Gautama.
Puranas take a better strategy than Ramayana, blabbering other great epithets of Indra to be a result of curses. As we saw, Mahābhārata already mentions the golden beard (hariśmaśru) of Indra, which is a Vedic epithet for his shining rays, and his sage character of suta-somapāna, to merely result of a curse. (It might be tempting to connect it with why the derived word from śmaśru, “mayir(u)” transformed its meaning in Tamil and Malayalam) MB twists the meaning of hariśmaśru to mean “old and impotent” in the context. Certain narratives take the famed “sahasrākṣa” epithet of Indra (meaning he sees everywhere) made to be from this curse, and he was initially cursed to have “a thousand vaginas” (sahasra-bhaga; bhaga also means auspiciousness but not in this context for the Puranas who still, quite amusingly, call God bhagavān – rich in bhaga) and later it is toned down to make the vaginas “eyes” and thereby make him sahasrākṣa.
So much about divinity and good-will of epics and Puranas!