It has come to my attention that there is a curious misbelief out there – that Shiva is somehow Indra. As in, the post-Vedic Deity Shiva is a ‘continuation’ of the Vedic Indra under a somewhat different name.
I thought that this was merely a matter of some people being a bit misinformed – yet as it turns out there is some academic support for this view. Although given the ‘support’ in question comes from Professor Wendy Doniger – a figure who is regarded as ‘controversial’ at best in Hindu circles – that hardly commends the thought as valid.
Indeed, it often can seem that there is a certain sort of academic – as with a certain sort of armchair commentator – who will often wilfully push what should otherwise rightfully be relegated to ‘fringe theories’, because it is an easy way to ‘stand out’.
But this is not about that. This is about a critical appraisal and response to the claims that Indra is somehow Shiva.
So what is the evidence cited in favour of such a proposition ?
Well, Doniger’s approach – which appears to inform a fair few of the people pushing this perspective – has actually been somewhat misrepresented. It is still wrong, and we shall get to how that is in a moment, but the perils of Wikipedia mean that people have taken at face value the line upon the relevant page: “According to Wendy Doniger, the Puranic Shiva is a continuation of the Vedic Indra”, and presumed that this is accurate. Both in terms of the theology, and in terms of its presentation of Doniger’s own views.
As applies the latter, Doniger’s actual perspective is rather more nuanced – in “Siva: The Erotic Ascetic”, she goes through a number of Vedic Gods, and effectively tries to make the argumend that the post-Vedic figure of Shiva is ‘drawing from’ each of these as something of a syncretic God.
Of course, Doniger has a bit of a mono-myopia (that is to say, she is perhaps ironically – given the subject-matter – rather one-eyed), and insists upon reading the entire thing through a ‘Freudian’ lense as repetitive layers of sexual metaphor. Which is not to say that there is no sexual metaphor to be found in the Vedas or in later Hindu texts – only that it is a rather limited mind and limited grasp which insists on reducing seemingly everything down thereto.
So, for Doniger, Rudra is regarded as a God of Death (accurate – although incomplete), and therefore celibate and anti-procreative. Thus requiring Shiva to have sourced His Fatherly and romantically engaged elements from somewhere else, some other Vedic era God. She chooses (inter alia) Indra. And whilst it is unquestionably true that Indra is heavily amorous (in the manner, perhaps, resemblant of the Greek Zeus … but also the Greco-Roman Hercules) ; Doniger is, in effect, manufacturing an artificial opening to forcibly jam her pet theory into.
Rudra has long had an association with Life, and its bestowal. A capacity given as inheritance to His Two Sons – The Asvin Hero-Horse-Healer Twins. And which we might also find recalled when considering Rudra-Shiva as Soma, Soumya. Certainly, it may also be seen in the association of Rudra as the “Rain-Pourer” [RV VI 66 3].
Rudra also has a most eloquent Wife, indeed – Vak; occasionally described in terms of a Cow. Prisni, the Mother of the Maruts to Rudra, is a name meaning (inter alia) exactly that.
All of these things are exactly what we should expect, given that Rudra is Dyaus Pitar [a fact attested in multiple Vedic statements upon the matter] – the Indo-European Sky Father. And a Father is a Father precisely because He bestows (half of) Life.
So, as you can see, Doniger’s theorizing falls over at the first hurdle. She has set up a straw-man by claiming that the Vedic Rudra lacks certain characteristics, in order to require these to be ‘provided’ to the post-Vedic Shiva via assimilation from some other Vedically prominent Deity. And in order to do that, she has omitted quite a swathe of Vedic evidence upon the matter, the Indo-European comparative mythology, and the clear theological understanding which unites both.
But in fairness to Doniger, it is not only the ‘fertility’ or ‘life-bestowing’ portfolio area which she draws upon in service of her argument.
She also cites the Maruts – suggesting that the Maruts may “at first belong to Rudra, but they and their acts are so Indra-like that they come to be regarded as the brothers or companions of Indra. Thus, historically, Indra may be said to have ‘adopted’ the Maruts.”
Except here’s the thing. The Maruts, as we have seen, are Rudra’s Sons by Prisni. This is directly and repeatedly stated in the Vedic canon. Rudra is Dyaus Pitar. Dyaus Pitar is the Father of Indra. A situation mirrored more generally via the comparative Indo-European typology – wherein the Sky Father is the Father of the Striker/Thunderer [consider Odin & Thor, Zeus & Herakles, etc.].
So of course we are going to expect the Maruts to be regarded as somewhat ‘fraternal’, ‘brotherly’ to Indra – for that is quite literally the case. It does not mean that Indra has “adopted” the Maruts for Him to be hailed as foremost amongst Them. Especially given the Puranic-era mythology which Doniger quotes immediately after this peculiar contention, which directly undermines her point by citing Shiva as Father of the Maruts – and Shiva as Rudra in relation to this.
She then proceeds to attempt to establish that the multi-eyed characteristic of Shiva and the multi-“eyed” characteristic of Indra as , again , being coterminous. And, perhaps more to the point, as having erotic impetus. Which, in the case of Indra, is certainly apt – the tale is well known of the sage Gautama cursing Indra to sprout a thousand “eye-shaped” parts of the female anatomy all over His body. A sort of contra-passo / ironic punishment for His attempting to seduce the Sage’s wife, causing the ‘outer shape’ of Indra to mirror what was dominating His mind. And which is symbolically referenced as applies the account of Indra relative to the Celestial Nymph Tilottama – wherein these turn into genuine ‘eyes’ due to Indra’s lustful gazing towards Tilottama.
Or, per another recounting, the yonis turn to eyes following Indra’s repenting of His sinful disposition in this regard, performing appropriate penance, and correspondingly being granted the boon of this transposition. Which matters, because this does speak to a potential linkage of Indra and Shiva – albeit not at all in the manner that Doniger seems to think it does.
You see, the Indo-European Sky Father is well-known to be All-Seeing. Whether with the One All-Seeing Eye (often identified with the Sun), or the Thousand Eyes (Spies) in the Sky as well as Elsewhere (I have tentatively suggested the Stars in the former regard ; Birds often in the latter ; and Sunbeams in both). It is one useful rubric with which to assess whether a particular figure is linked back to this underlying God.
There is good reason for this, and at some point I intend to write more upon this subject directly – but for now it is enough to note that it is a characteristic of the ideal king, the ideal ruler. Seeing all, knowing all, which goes on within His Kingdom.
Now as applies Indra … it is my personal interpretation of affairs that Indra is a Prince Who has some ‘growing up to do’ afore being ready to Rule. Oddly enough, the character arc of the comic-book derived Thor in the first few Marvel movies upon the subject is quite a good illustration of this concept.
Indra being cursed with an ironic and mocking echo of what is required of a ruler , one thousand ‘eye-shaped’ yonis rather than one thousand genuine eyes , is a statement that Indra has a character flaw which He must overcome. The transmutation of these to Eyes following His Penitence, is a sign that He has indeed made meaningful progress toward this goal. And thus, in His Own Way, is becoming more akin to His Divine Father: The Emperor of the Worlds.
I am unaware of where Doniger is getting the notion of Indra as “Three-Eyed”; it is not impossible that it is some obscure Hindu belief, but it is the first I had heard of it. When the motif occurs in sculpture (as distinct from scripture) – it is meant as an illustrative shorthand for the ‘thousand-eyed’ characteristic of Shiva due to the difficulty and unaesthetic nature of attempting to represent all of these upon Him; and is pointedly rendered horizontally rather than vertically so as to avoid confusion with the actual Third Eye of Shiva. And, in any case, I am not sure how the (Destructive) Eye of Shiva would represent a coterminity with Indra, if Doniger is insistent upon the notion of Indra as ‘creative’ force.
The next portion of Doniger’s argument consists of a rather peculiar insistence that, in essence, because both Indra and Shiva are married, because both Indra and Shiva have sex, and because both Indra and Shiva kill people … that these are therefore the same deity. Most of these paragraphs consist of Doniger rattling off mythology around Indra, and then claiming whatever characteristic illustrated in the myth in question is one ‘inherited’ by Shiva. Occasionally a rather loose figurative relation to the Shaivite mythology may be attempted.
To put it bluntly, it does not make for very compelling reading. And Heaven Help Us (quite literally) if the only way one winds up with a romantic relationship is by virtue of being Indra !
Now, to go further with this debunking – it is necessary to note that what is said on Wikipedia of Doniger’s argument … doesn’t quite line up with what is actually in her book that is supposedly being cited from. It is possible that the elements in question I could not find there were in a subsequent edition, or that the Wikipedia editor in question was somewhat wilfully over-reading. It does not matter. What DOES matter is that people keep citing these things as having shaped and informed their own (mis)belief upon the matter – and that just simply will not do. So therefore, in a spirit of completeness, here’s what Wiki says:
“Doniger gives several reasons for her hypothesis. Both are associated with mountains, rivers, male fertility, fierceness, fearlessness, warfare, the transgression of established mores, the Aum sound, the Supreme Self.”
As I say, I am unsure quite what the detail is to most of these references … because they are not actually in Doniger’s cited work referenced. But it occurs that the notion of “fierceness, fearlessness, warfare” making Indra out to be Shiva is … peculiar, in the extreme. These are characteristics of a combative martial deity, certainly. It is just that few Indo-European Pantheonic expressions possess but a single one of these. Indeed, usually many if not most of the Gods of a given Indo-European people are thought of in something approaching such terms. One may as well utilize these to attempt to argue that Athena is Ares or Apollo. Or that Thor is Odin. You get the idea.
Although I say “something approaching such terms” – as the “fearlessness” angle is not strictly apt for Indra in Vedic characterization – hence, for instance, the occasion wherein He bargains with Vayu so that the latter may go forth in order to check whether Vritra is truly dead.
It is difficult to comment in depth nor detail about the “mountains, rivers” alleged association, without actually knowing what is meant by this. If I were to put words into Doniger and/or this Wiki editor’s mouth, I would presume that it is the association of Indra with a figure by the name of Parvat [‘Mountain’ (male)] – a male adventuring companion, perhaps comparable in some ways to those Hymnals wherein Indra and Brihaspati (Shiva) working together slay some epic monster. This is not the Parvati [‘Mountain’ (female)] that Shiva is married to; nor is it the Mountains where Shiva is often to be found. The Riverine association is even broader in what it does not distinctly describe – as many Vedic Gods have some degree of river linkage, all depending upon the particular form and context of the individual reference for what is actually meant by this.
As for “the Aum sound, the Supreme Self” – this is perhaps somewhat valid, as a statement of Hindu theology … insofar as, again, you can somewhat legitimately regard most Hindu Gods as having these associations. It is literally part of our theology as soon as the monistic conception is heavily introduced. It does not demarkate an especial coterminity of Indra and Shiva. It also does not take into consideration the further theological concerns around particular Deities as being ‘closer’ to the ‘supreme’ – or, we might say, with deference to the excellent observation of Sayana , a particular Deity being the in-universe expression of the Supreme. An attribute not exactly held by others – whether by difference of kind, or merely by difference of extent/degree.
Wiki goes on to add: “In the Rig Veda the term śiva is used to refer to Indra. […] Indra, like Shiva, is likened to a bull […] In the Rig Veda, Rudra is the father of the Maruts, but he is never associated with their warlike exploits as is Indra.” And adds a footnote around a perceived “lack of warlike conduct” for Shiva.
All of which is wrong by implication and interpretation – or, in the case of a “lack of warlike conduct” for Shiva, just direct and flat-out wrong.
As applies the term of ‘Siva’ being utilized for Indra … this is not entirely unexpected. ‘Shiva’ is both a theonym, as well as a more general adjective. It is possible for Indra to be referred to as having an ‘auspicious’ or ‘positive’ facing – without this making Indra the ‘core’ of modern-day Shiva. One may as well assert that because both Saraswati and Indra are hailed as Vritrahan – Slayer of Vritra – that this makes Saraswati and Indra the same God. It just simply does not work that way. Figures can bear similar epithets, similar qualities – without being the same.
A caveat which presumably also applies to the “Bull” referencing. Wherein while it IS true that we have good grounds to utilize ‘Bull’ symbolism in both intra- and inter- Indo-European pantheonic analysis … to state that just because there is a “Bull” symbol or expression linked to both makes Them the same God would imply that the symbolic connotations of the Bull must be unique and distinct and uniquely tied to only a single Deity (per pantheon, presumably). That the Son of the Sky Father cannot inherit any of these. And that, for instance, NandiJi might also be one or both figures via virtue of being a Bull.
The Warlike Conduct qualification, as I have stated, is patently in error. In the course of the MythoLinguistics of War series, I have repeatedly illustrated this – BhutAtman as Shiva literally meaning “War”, for example; or The Manyu as the mightiest of the Hindu War Gods – a form of Rudra-Shiva (occurring in both the Vedic and the Puranic layers of scripture), acting as the empowering champion of The Gods in a war against the Daityas. Who could forget, as well, VeeraBhadra, an emanation-emissary of Shiva and accompanied by RudraKali, leading the war-hosts of Maruts and other Servants of Shiva against the rest of the Pantheon assembled for the Horse-Sacrifice of Daksha.
There is a reason that the modern-day Nepali Army have the Trishula as their emblem. And every year upon MahaShivRatri parade as the Bhole Ki Baraat – the armed procession, the warrior retinue of Shiva.
And speaking of the Trishula – there is one further aspect requiring our address. For this, too, is occasionally cited (somehow) as evidence of some fundamental coterminity of Indra and Shiva. On grounds that both the Trishula and the Vajra are what we might term ‘regal’ emblems, regal devices. This is not wrong … but what is wrong is to insist that Indra bears the device that is the Trishula – even though, strictly speaking, the Trishula also is symbolically equivalent in the hands of Mahadev or Mahadevi , to the Vajra.
Confused? So are many people, evidently. Allow me to exclaim.
The Trishula is an example of what we would call the World-spear – cognate with Odin’s Gungnir , etc. ; although is also charged with the same potency as the Vajra, and is functionally rather equivalent.
That potency, that energy, is the ‘force of cosmic law’. The metaphysics of this expression hinge around Sayana’s excellent identification of Brahman-As-Rta (‘Cosmic Law as The Absolute’); which thus helps to explicate the ‘gatekeeper’ role played by Saraswati Vak in the bestowing of the Vajra unto Indra. She is responsible for the ‘preparation’ or ‘unlocking’ of this weapon from ‘The Waters’ – i.e. the ‘outer sphere’ of the universe beyond which is where the Vajra comes from, and where Brahman-as-Absolute-Law is. This is where Devi is from, utterly uncoincidentally.
The Vajra wielded by Indra is a percussive weapon – a mace or club , like Thor’s Mjolnir … because that is the form of the energy when wielded by the Striker/Thunderer Indo-European deific [think Herakles with His Club , for example]. There IS RigVedic attestation for Rudra wielding (a) Vajra – although whilst the Jamison/Brereton translation renders this rather unresonantly as ‘mace’ – the Griffith translation is superior in its decision to hail it for what it actually, truly is. Thunder. A quality – weaponized or otherwise – that we should, of course, expect to find in connexion with the Indo-European Sky Father. For what would Jupiter be in our popular imagination sans His Thunderbolt.
In any case, as I considered in rather greater depth in “DE-MIST-IFYING PARJANYA – DISTANCING PERKWUNOS” – it is true that the Striker/Thunderer and the Sky Father both make use of Thunder weaponry. Which does NOT make these the same Deity. It simply expresses that there is a Thunder characteristic to the expression of Both’s rage and power. Just as the bearing by Devi of a Vajra , or indeed another Vajra-equivalent device such as the Trishula Itself or the Khatvanga occasionally depicted borne by Kali , does not render these Goddess-forms as Indra. Or, in the realms of the Greek Mythology, Athena’s wielding of the Thunderbolt [specifically, the direct equivalent of the Thunderbolt utilized by Zeus – it is interesting to note that She is also hailed as wearing the Gorgoneion and Aegis also borne by Zeus] does not somehow make Athena to be Hercules – even despite both being present at and playing integral role in the Hydra-Slaying.
The World-Spear is quite literally that. It is the Axis Mundi in weaponized form – and is piercing in its character. The Per-cussive weapon of the Striker/Thunderer manifests differently. Both are, after a form, charged with a similar energy, from the same ultimate (and that is exactly the right word) source.
Although speaking of Vajras … there is one way that the assertion of Indra and Shiva equivalency is almost … accidentally semi-correct.
Namely, the figure of Bajrangi – that is to say, Lord Hanuman.
Hanuman is Son of Shiva (Vayu) , and is also regarded as an Avatar of Him .
And, as we know from a certain RigVedic Hymnal upon the subject , the Monkey God and Indra are one and the same. As if the name and parentage and other such features were not direct clue enough already.
However, that is not at all the sort of coterminity being pushed by the proponents of Indra as Shiva . Indeed, it is quite the opposite in some ways – as it recognizes that Hanuman is a descendant of Shiva. Perhaps implicitly referencing (in somewhat truncated format) the Patrilineal Reincarnation concept so familiar to us from the Nordic mytho-metaphysics.
In any case, I am not quite sure why this suggestion of “Indra as Shiva” keeps being made. There is no good evidence for it. There is quite a lot of evidence pointedly against it. The major place people seem to be getting it from (Wikipedia) is not actually presenting a viable argument for it – it is not even representing the source-material it is drawing from to try and make such a claim accurately. And said source material – at least as applies Doniger’s “contribution” is … worrisome in the extreme.
In order to actually try and believe, much less openly advocate, for Indra as Shiva – you need to blatantly ignore a rather appreciably substantial array of the actual and direct Vedic and later Hindu theology upon the matter , as well as the broader Indo-European comparative analysis and modelling which confirms the accuracy of the Vedic model.
Which should prove no trouble for these sorts of people. They would much rather, it seems, bask in the false-radiance of the notoriety of making ‘controversial’ claims and presenting things that needlessly upend orthodoxy so as to be ‘in on the secret’, rather than exploring our mythology – our religion(s) with accuracy.
I WOULD say that “they can safely be ignored” by the pious in consequence – except that is not really true. The number of people in or adjacent to religious circles, who are making well-meaning enquiries and propositions of this nature demonstrates that there is some degree of influence for these voracious voice-holes upon people undertaking genuine and good-faith (in aspiration) efforts within the religious sphere.
They are less “Edgy” than they are “Ergi”; and fundamentally, foundationally “Egregious” all the way down.
And therefore, responding to their calumny is required – so that others are not lead astray in consequence.
Hail To The Sky Father – And Also To His Son.
Bajrang Bali Ki Jaye !
ॐ नमः शिवाय