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The Humbling of Indra - a story from the Brahma-vaivarta Purana

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The Humbling of Indra - a story from the

Brahma-vaivarta Purana

(Part One)



S. Jayanarayanan’s Post in Advaita-L

He has used two books to type this story:

(1) "Brahma Vaivarta Puranam", translated by Rajendra

Nath Sen.

(2) "Myths and symbols in Indian art and

civilization", by Heinrich Zimmler.




brahma vaivarta purANam,

kR^ishhNa janma khaNDa, 47.50-161



Narada asked Narayana, "O ocean of compassion, what

further questions were put by Radha to Lord Hari when

their amorous pastimes were over? What was said by

Hari to her? Please reveal this matter to me."


Narayana replied, "Lord Hari and radha sat down at the

root of the graceful fig tree. Then Radha questioned

the smiling, lovely Hari about the pleasing,

mysterious account of the humiliation of Indra. Sri

Krishna said: 'Listen to the story of the humiliation

of the king of the Devas, celebrated throughout the

three worlds. It is as pleasing as a drop of nectar to

the ears.'




Indra, the vanquisher of demons, with a view to

chastise his enemy Vritrasura, constructed the

thunderbolt with the bones of the great Muni Dadhichi

and killed Vritrasura who was a thorn in the way of

the Devas.


During the period of the supremacy of Vritrasura, the

majestic mansions of the lofty city of the Devas had

cracked and crumbled. Indra on his part deputed the

divine architect Vishvakarma to reconstruct heaven.

Within a year, Vishvakarma completed the construction

with excellent gems and wonderful diamonds. There were

marvelous palaces, gardens, lakes and towers. It

looked very lovely indeed, nay, it was incomparable in

the world. But Indra was not, even then, satisfied.

The demands of Indra became more exacting and his

unfolding visions vaster. He required additional

terraces and pavilions, more ponds, groves, and

pleasure grounds. Whenever Indra arrived to appraise

the work of Vishvakarma, he developed vision beyond

vision of marvels remaining to be contrived.


Vishvakarma, unable to leave without Indra's command,

sought the protection of Brahma, who, knowing his

purpose, addressed him, "Tomorrow, you will be freed

from your ask." Hearing this, Vishvakarma soon went

back to heaven. On the other hand, Brahma went to

Vaikuntha, bowed to the Supreme Being Hari, and

announced his will. In beatific silence Hari gave ear,

and by a mere nod of the head let it be known that the

request of Vishvakarma would be fulfilled. Consoled,

Brahma returned to Brahmaloka.


Early next morning, a Brahmin boy, carrying a staff

and a parasol, dressed in white, with a bright mark on

his forehead, made his appearance at the gate of

Indra, bidding the porter announce his visit to the

king. The gateman hurried to the master, and the

master hastened to the entrance to welcome the

auspicious guest. The boy was about ten years old,

dwarfish, smiling, and radiant with the luster of

wisdom. Indra discovered the boy amidst a cluster of

enraptured, staring children. The kind bowed to the

holy child and the boy cheerfully gave his blessing.

Having greeted the boy with oblations of honey and

milk, Indra asked him, "Tell me the purpose of your



That Brahmin who was the Guru of the Guru even of

Brihaspati, when he heard the words of Indra, replied

with a voice that was as deep and soft as the slow

thundering of auspicious rain clouds, "O king of the

Devas, I have heard about the construction of your

wonderful city, and have come to refer you the

questions in my mind. How many years will it require

to complete this rich and extensive residence? What

further feats of engineering will Vishvakarma be

expected to accomplish? O Highest of the Devas, no

Indra before you has ever succeeded in effecting such

a construction."


Full of the wine of triumph, the king of the Devas was

entertained by this mere boy's pretension to a

knowledge of Indras earlier than himself. With a loud

laugh, he asked, "O Brahmin boy, Tell me! Are they

then very many, the Indras and Vishvakarmas whom you

have seen, or at least heard of?"


The wonderful guest calmly nodded and addressed Indra

using words delightful to the ears like nectar, "My

dear child, I knew your father, Prajapati Kashyapa and

your grandfather Marichi, the saint whose wealth

consisted in his devotion. Marichi was begotten of

Brahma, who in turn was brought forth by Vishnu from

His navel. And Vishnu Himself, the Supreme Being,

supporting Brahma in his creative endeavor - Him too,

I know.


"O king of the Devas, I have known the dreadful

dissolution of the universe, turning it into a huge

mass of water void of all sign of animate being. I

have seen all perish again and again, at the end of

every cycle. Who will count the universes that have

passed away, or the creations that have arisen again

and again, from the formless abyss of the vast waters?

Who will search through the wide infinity of space to

count the universes side by side, each containing its

own Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva? Who will number the

Indras in them all, reigning in all the innumerable

worlds; those others who have passed away before them;

or even the Indras who succeed each other in any given

line, one by one, ascending to kingship, and one by

one, passing away? O king of the Devas, there are

among your servants who maintain that it may be

possible to number the grains of sand on earth and the

drops of rain that fall from the sky, but no one will

ever number all those Indras. This is what the Knowers



"The life and kingship of one Indra endure seven

yugas, and when 28 Indras have expired, one day and

night of Brahma has elapsed. But the existence of one

Brahma, measured in such Brahma days and nights, is

only one hundred and eight years. Brahma follows

Brahma, one sinks, the next arises; the endless series

cannot be told. There is no end to the number of

Brahmas, to say nothing of Indras.


As delicate boats float on the waters of the world,

the Brahmandas (egg of Brahma - the genesis of

creation) float on the fathomless, pure waters that

form the body of Vishnu. Out of every pore of the body

of Vishnu, a universe bubbles and breaks. Will you

presume to count them? Will you calculate the gods in

all those worlds - the worlds present and the worlds



While the best of the beings was speaking thus, a

procession of ants had made its appearance in the

hall. In an array, in a column four yards wide, the

tribe paraded across the floor. The boy noted them and

laughed loudly, but immediately subsided into a

profoundly indrawn and deep silence.


Indra, when he heard the ballad of the Brahmin boy and

witnessed his laugh, was astonished. The king's

throat, lips and palate had gone dry, and he

stammered, "O Brahmin, why did you laugh? Who are you

in the disguise of a boy? You seem to me an Ocean of

Virtues, enshrouded in deluding mist."


The magnificient boy resumed, "I laughed because of

the ants. The cause is mysterious. Do not ask me to

disclose it. The seed of woe and the fruit of wisdom

are enclosed within this secret. It is the secret that

smites with an axe the tree of worldly vanity, hews

away its roots, and scatters its crown. This secret is

a lamp to those groping in ignorance. This secret lies

buried in the wisdom of the ages, and is rarely

revealed even to saints. This secret is the living air

of those Yogis who, versed in the Vedas, renounce and

transcend mortal existence; but it crushes the pride

of foolish worldlings."


The Brahmin boy, having said so, paused with a smile.

Whereupon Indra regarded him, unable to move, and with

his lips, throat and palate parched again, asked, "O

son of a Brahmin, I do not know who you are in the

guise of a boy. You seem to be Wisdom incarnate.

Reveal to me this secret of the ages, this light that

dispels the dark."


Thus requested to teach, the boy opened to the god the

hidden wisdom rarely acquired even by the Yogis, "I

saw the ants, O Indra, filing in long parade. Each was

once an Indra. Like you, each by virtue of Karma once

ascended to the rank of an Indra. But now, through

many rebirths, each has become again an ant. This army

is an army of former Indras.


"Piety and high deeds elevate the inhabitants of the

world to the glorious realm of heaven or the domains

of Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva, but wicked acts sink them

into the worlds beneath, into pits of pain and sorrow,

involving reincarnation among birds and vermin, or out

of the wombs of pigs and animals of the wild, or among

trees, or insects. It is by Karma that one attains to

the position of a Brahmin or a god or Indra or Brahma

or acquires happiness or sorrow. It is through Karma

that one becomes a master or a servant, acquires

beauty or deformity, or is reborn in the condition of

a monster. This Karma is subservient to character

which in its turn is controlled by habit.


"This is the whole substance of the secret. This

wisdom is the ferry to happiness and beatitude, across

the ocean of hell.


"Life in the cycle of the countless rebirths is like a

vision in a dream. The animate and inanimate objects

of the world are like apparitions in this phantasy.

But Death administers the law of time. Ordained by

time, Death is the master of all. Perishable as

bubbles are the good and evil of the beings of the

dream. Hence, the wise are attached to neither,

neither good nor evil. The wise are not attached to

anything at all."


The great Vipra (learned person) concluded the

appalling lesson and quietly regarded his host. The

king of the Devas, for all his celestial splendor, had

been reduced in his own regard to insignificance.

Meanwhile, another amazing apparition had entered the

hall. It was a very old ascetic, great in wisdom and


(Concludes in Part Two)







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