Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The origin of Indra

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 19, 2014



Vahagn – the God of Fires: March 21


Indra, also known as Śakra in the Vedas and in Buddhism, is the leader of the Devas or demi gods and the lord of Svargaloka or heaven in the Hindu religion. The name of Indra (Indara) is also mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni in northern Syria from ca.1500-1300 BC.

Indra is the god of rain and thunderstorms. Aspects of Indra as a deity are cognate to other Indo-European gods; they are either thunder gods such as Thor, Perun, and Zeus, or gods of intoxicating drinks such as Dionysus.

He wields a lightning thunderbolt known as vajra and rides on a white elephant known as Airavata. Indra is the supreme deity and is the twin brother of Agni and is also mentioned as an Āditya, son of Aditi. His home is situated on Mount Meru in the heaven.

Indra is celebrated as a demiurge who pushes up the sky, releases Ushas (dawn) from the Vala cave, and slays Vṛtra; both latter actions are central to the Soma sacrifice. He is associated with Vajrapani – the Chief Dharmapala or Defender and Protector of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha who embodies the power of the Five Dhyani Buddhas.

On the other hand, he also commits many kinds of mischief (kilbiṣa) for which he is sometimes punished. 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.

Indra has many epithets, notably vṛṣan the bull, and vṛtrahan, slayer of Vṛtra, Meghavahana “the one who rides the clouds” and Devapati “the lord of gods or devas”. Indra appears as the name of a daeva in Zoroastrianism (but the word Indra can be used in general sense as a leader, either of devatas or asuras), while his epithet, Verethragna, appears as a god of victory.

Indra descends from an Indo-Iranian god known as *vrtra-g’han- (virtually PIE *wltro-gwhen-) “slayer of the blocker”. The word vrtra-/verethra- means “obstacle”. Thus, vrtrahan-/verethragna- is the “smiter of resistance”. Vritra as such does not appear in either the Avesta or books of Zoroastrian tradition. Since the name ‘Indra’ appears in Zoroastrian texts as that of a demon opposing truth Zoroastrian tradition has separated both aspects of Indra.

Vedic Indra corresponds to Verethragna of the Zoroastrian Avesta as the noun verethragna- corresponds to Vedic vrtrahan-, which is predominantly an epithet of Indra. According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.

It was “a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements”, which borrowed “distinctive religious beliefs and practices” from the Bactria–Margiana Culture. At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.

Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with Soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from Ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.

Janda (1998:221) suggests that the Proto-Indo-European (or Graeco-Aryan) predecessor of Indra had the epithet *trigw-welumos [or rather *trigw-t-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 Triptolemus (lit. “threefold warrior”; also known as Buzyges) and Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology.

Triptolemus is analysed by Janda (1998) as a Greek continuation of a variant of the epithet, *trigw-t-welumos, a “terpsimbrotos” compound “cracker of the enclosure”, Greek (w)elumos referring to the casings of grain in Greek being descended from the same root *wel-.

On such grounds, a rock or mountain *welos or *welumos split by a heroic deity, liberating Dawn or the Sun is reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European mythology (the “Sun in the rock” myth, sometime also speculated to be connected with the making of fire from flintstone).

Vala, Vritra and the Panis

Vala (valá-), meaning “enclosure” in Vedic Sanskrit, is an Asura of the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda, the brother of Vrtra. Historically, it has the same origin as the Vrtra myth, being derived from the same root, and from the same root also as Varuna, *val-/var- (PIE *wel-) “to cover, to enclose” (perhaps cognate to veil).

In the early Vedic religion, Vritra (Vṛtra वृत्र “the enveloper”), is an Asura and also a serpent or dragon, the personification of drought and adversary of Indra. Vritra was also known in the Vedas as Ahi (“snake”). He appears as a dragon blocking the course of the rivers and is heroically slain by Indra.

Parallel to Vrtra “the blocker”, a stone serpent slain by Indra to liberate the rivers, Vala is a stone cave, split by Indra (intoxicated and strengthened by Soma, identified with Brhaspati in 4.50 and 10.68 or Trita in 1.52, aided by the Angirasas in 2.11), to liberate the cows and Ushas, hidden there by the Panis.

The Panis are a class of demons in the Rigveda, from paṇi-, a term for “bargainer, miser,” especially applied to one who is sparing of sacrificial oblations. The word pani is also applied in the Rig Veda to human beings, even respected members of the community, who are unwilling to share their wealth. In one hymn Indra himself is addressed as “pani”.

The Panis appear in RV 10.108 as watchers over stolen cows. They are located behind the stream Rasā, and sought out by Sarama. They boast to Sarama that they are well-armed and will not yield the cows without battle, and that the cows are furthermore well hidden in a rocky chamber. Sarama threatens them with the might of Indra and the Angirasas who will recover the cows.

The “rocky treasure-chest” of the Panis is identical to Vala, the stone split by Indra to liberate Dawn. The myth is a variant of that of Indra slaying Vrtra, imagined as a stone serpent, liberating the blocked rivers.

Already in 2.24, the myth is given a mystical interpretation, with warlike Indra replaced by Brahmanaspati, the lord of prayer, who split Vala with prayer (brahman) rather than with the thunderbolt.


Varuna, or Waruna, is a god of the water and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law of the underwater world. A Makara is his mount. In Hindu mythology, Varuna continued to be considered the god of all forms of the water element, particularly the oceans.

As chief of the Adityas, meaning “of Aditi” (Sanskrit: अदिति “limitless”), in the Vedas the mother of the gods (devamatar) and all twelve zodiacal spirits from whose cosmic matrix the heavenly bodies were born, Varuna has aspects of a solar deity though, when opposed to Mitra (Vedic term for Surya), he is rather associated with the night, and Mitra with the daylight.

As the most prominent Deva, however, he is mostly concerned with moral and societal affairs than being a deification of nature. Together with Mitra–originally ‘agreement’ (between tribes) personified—being master of ṛtá, he is the supreme keeper of order and god of the law. The word ṛtá, order, is also translated as “season”.

Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the societal affairs including the oath, and are often twinned Mitra-Varuna (a dvandva compound). Varuna is also twinned with Indra in the Rigveda, as Indra-Varuna (when both cooperate at New Year in re-establishing order).

The Rigveda and Atharvaveda portray Varuna as omniscient, catching liars in his snares. The stars are his thousand-eyed spies, watching every movement of men.

In the Rigveda, Indra, chief of the Devas, is about six times more prominent than Varuna, who is mentioned 341 times. This may misrepresent the actual importance of Varuna in early Vedic society due to the focus of the Rigveda on fire and Soma ritual, Soma being closely associated with Indra.

Varuna with his omniscience and omnipotence in the affairs of men has many aspects of a supreme deity. The daily Sandhyavandanam ritual of a dvija addresses Varuna in this aspect in its evening routine, asking him to forgive all sins, while Indra receives no mention.

Both Mitra and Varuna are classified as Asuras in the Rigveda (e.g. RV 5.63.3), although they are also addressed as Devas as well (e.g. RV 7.60.12), possibly indicating the beginning of the negative connotations carried by Asura in later times.

In post-Vedic texts Varuna became the god of oceans and rivers and keeper of the souls of the drowned. As such, Varuna is also a god of the dead, and can grant immortality. He is attended by the nagas. He is also one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the west. Later art depicts Varuna as a lunar deity, as a yellow man wearing golden armor and holding a noose or lasso made from a snake.


Varuna rides the sea creature Makara, a sea-creature in Hindu mythology. It is a Sanskrit word which means “sea dragon” or “water-monster” and in Tibetan language it is called the “chu-srin”, and also denotes a hybrid creature. It is generally depicted as half terrestrial animal in the frontal part, in animal forms of an elephant, crocodile, stag, or deer, and in the hind part as an aquatic animal, in the form of a fish or seal tail. Sometimes, even a peacock tail is depicted.

Makara is the vahana (vehicle) of the Ganga – the goddess of river Ganges (Ganga) and the sea god Varuna. It is also the insignia of the love god Kamadeva. Kamadeva is also known as Makaradhvaja (one whose flag a makara is depicted). Makara is the astrological sign of Capricorn, one of the twelve symbols of the Zodiac. It is often portrayed protecting entryways to Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Makara symbolized in ornaments are also in popular use as wedding gifts for bridal decoration. The Hindu Preserver-god Vishnu is also shown wearing makara-shaped earrings called Makarakundalas. The Sun god Surya and the Mother Goddess Chandi are also sometimes described as being adorned with Makarakundalas.


Verethragna is an Avestan language neuter noun literally meaning “smiting of resistance”. Representing this concept is the divinity Verethragna, who is the hypostasis of “victory”, and “as a giver of victory” Verethragna plainly enjoyed the greatest popularity.

Verethragna descends from an Indo-Iranian god known as *vrtra-g’han- (virtually PIE *wltro-gwhen-) “slayer of the blocker”. The neuter noun verethragna is related to Avestan verethra, ‘obstacle’ and verethragnan, ‘victorious’.

In Zoroastrian Middle Persian, Verethragna became Warahran, from which Vahram, Vehram, Bahram, Behram and other variants derive. The name and, to some extent, the deity has correspondences in Armenian Vahagn and Vram, Sogdian Wshn, Parthian Wryhrm, and Kushan Orlagno.

While the figure of Verethragna is highly complex, parallels have also been drawn between it and (variously) Vedic Indra, Puranic Vishnu, Manichean Adamas, Chaldean/Babylonian Nergal, Egyptian Horus, Hellenic Ares and Heracles.

The interpretation of Verethragna was once one of the more widely debated fields in Zoroastrian scholarship since the theories of origin reflected a radical revolution in ethical, moral and religious values.

Primarily because the Avestan adjective verethragnan (victorious) had a corresponding Vedic term vrtrahan where it appeared “preponderantly [as] a qualification of Indra”, one theory proposed that in Indo-Iranian times there existed a dragon-slaying warrior god *Indra and that Avestan Verethragna derived from that divine figure.

The arguments against this theory are manifold: For one, there is no hint of Verethragna (or any other Zoroastrian divinity) having dragon-slaying functions. In the Avesta, it is the hero warrior-priest Thraetaona (Fereydun) who battles the serpent Aži Dahāka (which, for the virtue of ‘Azi’ being cognate with Sanskrit ‘Ahi’, snake, is – by proponents of the theory – associated with Vedic Vritra).

Moreover, in the Vedas, the epithet ‘hero’ (sura) is itself almost exclusively reserved for Indra, while in the Avesta it is applied to Thraetaona and other non-divine figures.

The term “victorious” too is not restricted to Verethragna, but is also a property of a number of other figures, both divine and mortal, including Thraetaona. Then, while in the Vedas it is Indra who discovers Soma, in the Avesta it is humans who first press Haoma and Thraetaona is attributed with being the “inventor of medicine”.

In the Vedas, Indra strikes with vajra, but in the Avesta vazra is Mithra’s weapon. Finally, and from a point of basic doctrine far more important than any of the other arguments, Indra is a daeva, precisely that class of divinity that Zoroaster exhorts his followers to reject. Indeed, Indra is explicitly named as one of the six evil demons in Vendidad 10.9 – directly opposing the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta, with whom Verethragna is associated.

Attempts to resolve these objections led to the development of another theory, in which, in addition to the pre-historical divinity of victory, there was also a dragon-slaying hero *Indra. Then, while the Iranians retained the figures independently of one another, the Indians conflated the two (leaving an echo in the character of Trita Aptya).

This theory too had its problems, in particular the fact that Indra was already evidently a divine figure, and not a man, in the Mittani treaties, where he appears in the company of Mitra and Varuna. That again raises more questions since the treaties echo the Rig Veda’s invocation of all three as protectors of contract, again, not a property associated with Verethragna.

However, as Benveniste and Renou demonstrated, many of the objections to the first theory could be negated if the evidence were reviewed in light of the fact that the principal feature of Verethragna was not to slay noxious creatures but to overcome obstacles (verethra), in particular to unblock the flow of apas, the waters, the holiest of the elements.

Paul Thieme agreed with this principal feature, but clarified that while the wealth of archaic elements in the Bahram Yasht clearly point to the pre-Zoroastrian era, the interpretation of proper names is “highly conjectural”, and “in no case do we get a decisive argument against their Indo-Aryan or old Indic character”.

Adopting “the exact linguistic and exegetic analysis” of Benveniste and Renou, Thieme concludes “Proto-Aryan *Indra has assumed the functions of a Proto-Aryan god *Vrtraghna.” Noting that Vrtrahan is the name of Indra only in the later Sanskrit texts (but not in the Rig Veda), Thieme adds “there is no valid justification for supposing that the Proto-Aryan adjective *vrtraghan was specifically connected with *Indra or any other particular god.”


Vāhana (Sanskrit: that which carries, that which pulls) denotes the being, typically an animal or mythical entity, a particular deva (approximately translatable from Sanskrit as ‘deity’) is said to use as a vehicle. In this capacity, the vāhana is often called the deity’s mount. Upon the partnership between the deva and his vāhana is woven much iconography and mythology.

Often, the deva is iconographically depicted riding (or simply mounted upon) the vāhana. Other times, the vāhana is depicted at the deity’s side or symbolically represented as a divine attribute.

The vāhana may be considered an accoutrement of the deity: though the vāhana may act independently, they are still functionally emblematic or even syntagmatic of their “rider”. The deva (or devī, who will have her own, unique vāhana) may be seen sitting or on, or standing on, the vāhana. They may be sitting on a small platform called a howdah, or riding on a saddle or bareback. Vah in Sanskrit means to carry or to transport.


Vahagn or Vahagn Vishapakagh (Vahagn the Dragon Reaper). Vahagn was the god of thunder and lightning, and a herculean hero noted for slaying dragons. Vahagn fought and conquered dragons, hence his title Vishabakagh, “dragon reaper”, where dragons in Armenian lore are identified as “Vishaps”.

Vahagn was also a god of fire and war to whom Armenian kings and warlords would pray before engaging in battle. He was linked to Verethragna, whose name in Avestan means “smiting of resistance”, the hypostasis of victory in the texts of the Avesta; the name turned into Vahagn (the Avestan “th” becoming “h” in Arsacid Middle Persian), later on to take the form of Vahagn.

He was also worshiped as a sun-god, a sun-god, rival of Baal-shamin and Mihr, and a god of courage, later identified with the Greek Herakles. Vahagn’s main sanctuary was located in the Ashtishat city of Taron “world” (a region in ancient Armenia).  The priests of Vahévahian temple, who claimed Vahagn as their own ancestor, placed a statue of the Greek hero in their sanctuary. In the Armenian translation of the Bible, “Heracles, worshipped at Tyr” is renamed “Vahagn”.

All the gods, according to the Euhemerist belief, had been living men; Vahagn likewise, was introduced within the ranks of the Armenian kings, as the son of Yervand (6th century BC.), together with his brothers — Bab and Tiran.

The Armenian princely house of Vahevunis believed to derive from Vahagn. The Vahevunis were ranked high in the Royal Registrar of Armenia, recorded by King Valarshak. In the pre-Christian Armenia, the Vahevunis hereditarily possessed the temple town of Ashtishat on the left bank of the Aratzani river and most likelly also held the post of the Sparapet, i.e.t he Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Armenian Army.

Historian Khorenatsi’s report of an ancient song gives a clue to his nature and origin: Ancient Armenian origin of Vahagn’s birth song. In this the god Vahagn rises from the fire. The stalk or reed, key to the situation, is an important word in Indo-European mythology, in connection with fire in its three forms.

Fereydūn – Trita

Fereydūn is the name of an Iranian mythical king and hero who is an emblem of victory, justice and generosity in the Persian literature. All of the forms of the name shown above derive, by regular sound laws, from Proto-Iranian *Θraitaunah and Proto-Indo-Iranian *Traitaunas.

*Traitaunas is a derivative (with augmentative suffix -una/-auna) of *Tritas, the name of a deity or hero reflected in the Vedic Trita and the Avestan Θrita. Both names are identical to the adjective meaning “the third”, a term used of a minor deity associated with two other deities to form a triad.

In the Indian Vedas, Trita is associated with gods of thunder and wind. Trita is also called Āptya, a name that is probably cognate with Āθβiya, the name of Θraētaona’s father in the Avesta. *Traitaunas may therefore be interpreted as “the great son of the deity Tritas”. The name was borrowed from Parthian into Armenian as Hrudēn.

Trita (“the Third”) is a minor deity of the Rigveda, mentioned 41 times. He is associated with the Maruts, with Vayu and with Indra, like Indra, or as Indra’s assistant, fighting Tvastar, Vrtra and Vala. He is called Āptya, the deity of the Apas (waters).

In RV 1. 105, Trita fallen into a well begs aid from the gods. Sayana on 1.105 comments that this relates to three rishis, Ekata, Dvita and Trita who found a well, and Trita, drawing water, was pushed down by the other two and imprisoned, where he composed a hymn to the gods, and managed miraculously to prepare the sacrificial Soma; this is alluded to in RV 9.34.4 and described in Mahabharata 9.2095.

In the Avesta, Θraētaona is the son of Āθβiya, and so is called Āθβiyāni “from the family of Āθβiya”. Originally he may have been recorded as the killer of the dragon Aži Dahāka, but in Middle Persian texts Dahāka/Dahāg is instead imprisoned on Mount Damāvand, Amol.

According to Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāmeh, Fereydun was the son of Ābtīn, one of descendants of Jamshid. Fereydun, together with Kaveh, revolted against the tyrannical king “Zahhāk”, defeated and arrested him in the Alborz Mountains. Afterwards Fereydun became the king and, according to the myth, ruled the country for about 500 years. At the end of his life he allocated his kingdom to his three sons; Salm, Tur, and Īraj.

Iraj was Fereydun’s youngest and favored son and inherited the best part of the kingdom, namely Iran. Salm inherited Asia Minor (“Rūm”, more generally meaning the Roman Empire, the Greco-Roman world, or just “the West”) and Tur inherited Central Asia (“Tūrān”, all the lands north and east of the Oxus, as far as China), respectively.

This aroused Iraj’s brothers’ envy and encouraged them to murder him. After Iraj’s murder, Fereydun enthroned Iraj’s grandson, Manūchehr. Manūchehr’s attempt to avenge his grandfather’s murder initiated the Iranian-Turanian wars.


Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name, thought to be a theonym in Linear B tablets as di-wo-nu-so (KH Gq 5 inscription), shows that he may have been worshipped as early as c. 1500–1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks; other traces of the Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete.

His origins are uncertain, and his cults took many forms; some are described by ancient sources as Thracian, others as Greek. In some cults, he arrives from the east, as an Asiatic foreigner; in others, from Ethiopia in the South.

He is a god of epiphany, “the god that comes”, and his “foreignness” as an arriving outsider-god may be inherent and essential to his cults. He is a major, popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, and is included in some lists of the twelve Olympians.

Dionysus was the last god to be accepted into Mt. Olympus. He was the youngest and the only one to have a mortal mother. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre. He is an example of a dying god.

He was also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. His thyrsus is sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey. It is a beneficent wand but also a weapon, and can be used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents.

He is also called Eleutherios (“the liberator”), whose wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself.

His cult is also a “cult of the souls”; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.

In Greek mythology, he is presented as a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, thus semi-divine or heroic: and as son of Zeus and Persephone or Demeter, thus both fully divine, part-chthonic and possibly identical with Iacchus of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Some scholars believe that Dionysus is a syncretism of a local Greek nature deity and a more powerful god from Thrace or Phrygia such as Sabazios or Zalmoxis.


According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (anonymous text of the 7th century BCE) Triptolemos was one of the men who had great power and honor in Eleusis and was one of the chiefs among the people, protecting the city by their wisdom and true judgements. The Hymn also gives us the information that Triptolemos together with Diocles, Eumolpos, Keleus and Polyxeinus learned the mysteries and rites of the goddess Demeter.

The later tradition, spread out by the Athenians, connected Triptolemos with the first civilization in Eleusis, cultivating the grain, a gift of Demeter. Triptolemos is described as a son of Keleus, the Eleusinian king and his wife Metaneira, who welcomed in their palace the goddess Demeter, when she was mourning for her daughter Kore.

Demeter equited for their kindness, so she gave to Triptolemos the ears of a corn and she taught him to cultivate the fields. Triptolemos became a teacher of agriculture over the whole world. He was bringing this knowledge on his winged chariot from one place to the other, while Demeter and Persephone took care of him during this mission. In the later myths Triptolemos became after his death the judge in the underworld.

The representation of Triptolemos became very popular and he was depicted on many Greek vases and inside reliefs, mainly during the Classical period. The oldest image of Triptolemos (dated from the 6th century BCE) exists on the black-figured amphora from Les Musées Royaux in Brussels. Triptolemos is sitting on his wheeled throne, keeping the ears of a corn, while one of his companions is following him and an other man is thanking him for his mission.

The story about Triptolemos was favorite mainly during the 5th century BCE. The myth about Triptolemos was evoluting between the 7th and 5th century BCE. From the Classical period the story and its form get stabilized.

At this time he was pictured on many red-figured vases, which are exhibited in the collections of the British Museum in London, in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, in the University Library of Haifa and in many other places. Triptolemos appears as a young man, usually with a branch or diadem in his hair, often seating on a winged chariot, decorated with snakes.

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