Indra and Vrtra

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri Oct 18 20:00:45 CDT 2002

Vrtra was powerful and terrible, every inch the equal of Indra in
strength.  When the Devas tried to fight him, he just laughed and
swallowed their arrows.  He swiftly put the them to flight and plunged the
three worlds into darkness, drying up the waters.  The defeated Devas led
by Indra hastened to Vaikuntha to seek refuge at the feet of Vishnu
Bhagawan.  He advised Indra to seek the bones of Maharshi Dadhichi
Atharvani to create a weapon that could defeat Vrtra.

Here I must digress to explain why the bones of the Rshi were important.
This story also has extremely ancient roots, being mentioned in the Rk
Samhita and other Vedic texts.  There he is called Dadhyancha Atharvani.
Panini explains how Dadhyancha turns into Dadhichi, this is one of the few
places were Vedic diverges significantly from classic Sanskrit.

This Dadhichi Rshi was as his name suggests a master of the Atharvaveda.
He knew the secret of Madhuvidya by which immortality is gained and the
yajna becomes complete.  Brhadaranyakopanishad II.5 is called
Madhubrahmana (the upanishad is part of the Shatapatha Brahmana of the
Shuklayajurveda) and explains this Madhuvidya.  It is the knowledge
of Brahman and is called that because it is the sweetest of all things.
Indra threatened Dadhichi Rshi that if he would reveal this knowledge to
anyone, He would behead him.

The Ashvina kumaras came to learn that Maharshi Dadhichi knew the
Madhuvidya and wished to learn it from him.  The Ashvins, Dasra and
Nasatya, are the twin sons of Vivasvata (Surya Bhagawan) and take the form
of youths with horses heads.  They approached the Rshi as students and
while he didn't mind teaching them he was mindful of what Indra had
threatened.  The Ashvinas suggested that they would cut off his head first
and replace it with a horses head.  Then they would learn the vidya and
when Indra cut off the Rshis' horse head, they would replace it with his
real one.  And that is how it came to pass.  The Ashvinas later taught
this vidya to mankind which why they are known as the physicians of the

Indra went to Maharshi Dadhichis' ashram and made His request which the
Rshi accepted.  If Madhuvidya is the secret of immortality, why did the
Rshi choose to die?  Because he knew that the true immortality is not in
the body but in oneness with Brahman.  For the sake of the three worlds,
he was happy to give up his mortal coil.  Indra took the bones of Rshi
Dadhichi to Vishwakarma (a little mystery:  Why Vishwakarma who was
thefather of Vrtra?) who fashioned them into the Vajra.

Another digression before we return to the main story.  I have seen two
English translations for Vajra in English both of which fall short of the
mark in my opinion.  First, especially in Buddhist contexts (the Vajra
plays an important symbolic role in Tantric forms of Buddhism as practiced
in places like Tibet.) is Diamond.  This accurately conveys the idea that
the vajra is the hardest known substance but the vajra is not a gem.  The
second is thunderbolt.  Thunder is suposed to be the sound of the Vajra
being wielded by Indra who is the God of Rain.  But as we have seen, the
Vajra is more than that.  In the popular imagination as seen for example
in the Mahabharata TV series, it is shown as a kind of mace.

Armed with the Vajra, Indra slew the hsts of the Daityas until only Vrtra
himself remained.

[ be continued]

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