The exercise of the sincere reconstruction of the archaic Indo-European mythology is an art. Its major formulations, have become fragmentary – and it is only via the re-alignment of several spheres that we are able to more truly glimpse what our more distant ancestors believed.
However, this is not an entirely abstract pursuit – it has tangible relevancy and saliency also for the understanding of the rather more recently congealed mythoi of the descendant Indo-European peoples, as well. We provide the structures which facilitate the interpretation, and chart the developed course, for these younger faiths from far more ancient foundations. And in so doing, we shed light upon quandaries which have conflicted minds for centuries when considered only in isolation.
So it is with RV IV 18 – well, certain lines therein, at any rate.
We shan’t look at the full Hymnal, nor at the grand scoping mythology of Indra from whence it hails. But rather at one feature in particular contained therein – which is also a shared feature of the ‘origin stories’ of both Perseus and Krishna, as well as Karna. And, I should therefore surmise, presents quite a strong candidate for a feature of the more archaic Proto-Indo-European mythology of the Striker/Thunderer deific.
That is the notion that this deific, as part of His early circumstances, is set adrift upon the waters – as the result of some circumstance in which His Mother is ‘shamed’.
We see this most clearly via the origins of Perseus, wherein Perseus’ Mother (Danae – a name which, itself, is suitably ‘watery’ via etymology) is first imprisoned in order to prevent the conception of such a powerful figure (a Son of Zeus, as it turns out), and then when this fails … both mother and child are set adrift upon the storm-tossed waters by their would-be captor, as he fears the consequences of killing them directly himself.
In the case of Krishna, similar events transpire. A female with a certain meaningful name (Devaki – ‘Celestial’ or ‘Divine’, and Herself identified as a resonacy of Aditi … the Wife of the Sky Father and Mother of Indra in Vedic perspective) is imprisoned in order to prevent the conception of a youth Who shall set things back to rights. The Father here is Vasudeva – a name with clear resonancy with the Sky Father deific when we consider both the meaning of ‘Vasu’ (‘Light’) and the identities of many of *the* Vasus elsewhere in Vedic understanding. And, once again, once the conception has been brought to fruition, the infant Krishna is set adrift upon the waters of a nearby river, in a storm.
And then there is Karna – Son of the Sun (Surya), by the Mother Pritha (a clear resonancy of Prithvi (‘Earth’), even despite ‘Pritha’ ostensibly meaning ‘Hand’), set adrift upon a river due to the self-perceived shame of the young mother at the out-of-wedlock pregnancy which has thusly occurred.
Yet how does this pertain to Lord Indra ? Well, read on …
Now before we proceed further, I should note that we shall *not* be going into significant depth about these various figures just aforementioned. Interested parties are directed to my earlier work: ‘Perseus , Krishna , Karna – Three Perspectives Upon The Origin Myth Of The Indo-European Striker/Thunderer’.
With that out of the way … the relevant lines of RV IV 18, Griffith translation:
“5 Deeming him a reproach, his mother hid him, Indra, endowed with all heroic valour.Then up he sprang himself, assumed his vesture, and filled, as soon as born, the earth and heaven.
6 With lively motion onward flow these waters, the Holy Ones, shouting, as ’twere, together.
Ask them to. tell thee what the floods are saying, what girdling rock the waters burst asunder.
7 Are they addressing him with words of welcome? Will the floods take on them the shame of Indra?
With his great thunderbolt my Son hath slaughtered Vṛtra, and set these rivers free to wander.
8 I cast thee from me, mine,—thy youthful mother: thee, mine own offspring, Kusava hath swallowed.
To him, mine infant, were the waters gracious. Indra, my Son, rose up in conquering vigour.
9 Thou art mine own, O Maghavan, whom Vyaṁsa struck to the ground and smote thy jaws in pieces.
But, smitten through, the mastery thou wonnest, and with thy bolt the Dāsa’s head thou crushedst.
10 The Heifer hath brought forth the Strong, the Mighty, the unconquerable Bull, the furious Indra.
The Mother left her unlicked Calf to wander, seeking himself, the path that he would follow.”
The Jamison-Brereton translation may make things somewhat clearer – although I am not entirely sure, some of the time, how they have chosen to assign some of the ‘speakers’ for various verses elsewhere:
“5. [Narrator:] Thinking him somehow a disgrace, his mother concealedIndra, who overflowed with heroic strength.
But he stood up on his own, clothing himself in a cloak. He filled the
two world-halves as he was being born.
6. [Indra:] These (waters) flow, babbling, like truthful women together
shouting their witness.
Ask them! What is this they are saying? What rock, what barrier are the
7. [Indra’s Mother:] What did they say as invitations to him? Do the waters
intend to take on Indra’s disgrace?
It was my son who set loose these rivers, after having smashed Vr̥tra with
his great murderous weapon.
8. [Various voices of the waters:] It was not because of me that the young
woman cast you aside. It was not because of me that Kuṣavā (Evil
Birth) swallowed you.
But it was certainly because of me that the waters would show mercy
to the child. It was certainly because of me that Indra stood up with
9. [Indra’s Mother:] It was not because of me that the cobra, having
pierced you down, smashed apart his jaws (to swallow) you, o
Then, (though) pierced down, having gotten the upper hand, you utterly
crushed the head of the Dāsa with your murderous weapon.
10. [Narrator:] The heifer gave birth to the sturdy, powerfully charging,
unassailable bull, the brawny Indra.
The unlicked calf—his mother impelled him to wander, seeking by
himself a way for himself”
Now, straightaway we have the clear elements of the typology.
The Mother of Indra is forced to set the infant Indra out upon the waters due to some perceived ‘disgrace’ which has been incurred by Her.
This Mother, entirely unsurprisingly, is referred to as a Cow – logical because, of course, the Son is a Bull (as was and is the Father).
The Son is set to ‘wandering’ following the circumstances of His Birth and Exile – in a similar manner to particular great heroes of myth aforementioned.
Before eventually, as the result of a combat against a Demon-Dragon to be found proximate to said Waters , finding the means to engage in a successful Homecoming.
Now, of course, various details of this fundamental account are altered in various presentations subsequent thereto.
For example, Herakles is indeed exposed by His Mother, Alcmene … but not set out upon the Waters. The situation *may* be dimly recalled in the name of Herakles’ stepfather, Amphitryon, although more usually his name is understood to mean something not notably compatible with notions of “amphibious”, even though the same root is involved. Karna does not, unless I am incompletely informed, have a duel with a demon-dragon of the waters (although *does* wield a particular arrow which has serpentine power). Other derivations and incomplete renditions no doubt abound.
But that is the nature of a core myth which has evidently been repeated and re-loka-lized so very often over the preceding five or six millennia or so. It is, of course, going to have had some elements emphasized or de-emphasized down across the ensuing span of time and space. Hence why we must make use of so many tellings, across so many individual Indo-European spheres, in order to approximately triangulate what the more original, archaic forms of these narratives ought surely to have resembled more closely.
The utility of this approach is that, with a primary Vedic expression of this element to the myth in question identified, my earlier suppositions around Perseus, Karna, and Krishna representing ‘expressions’ of the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific are therefore rendered more plausible as the inexorable result.
This is not to discount the value of the later renditions of this myth, of course – they have validity and viability, too, as far more than ‘mere literature’. We might also postulate that various of the differences were quite intentional – placed there, and *kept* there, between different versions of the myth for ritual or other understanding purpose. It would certainly not do to attempt to ‘collapse’ the entire spanning sphere of Indo-European diversity down to a single figure or figures as the result of such probing!
Yet nevertheless – the mutually interrelating, mutually supporting character of these narratives helps us significantly when it comes to understanding otherwise obscure elements (like RV IV 18 5-8, etc.) which have previously caused significant difficulty for researchers.
It would be tempting to attempt to read this development in light of other elements we know about the Story of Indra – whether the ‘disgrace’ mentioned, the ‘Shame of Indra’, is the same as the Brahmahatya sin incurred as the result of the slaying of Trisiras, for example; thus situating this ‘birth’ as actually more of a ‘re-birth’ from the stalk of a reed in the similar manner as the Armenian version of the telling.
But for now, it is enough.