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Stories. 
The Fun of Being Indra
by Kumud Biswas
Original in Bengali by Upendrakishore Raychaudhury
Translated

Indra was the king of the Devas. He had one thousand eyes and his beard was green. His real name was Sakra and his father’s name was Kashyap.  Sachi was his queen, while Jayanta his son, Airavat his elephant, Uchchaisrava his horse and the driver of his chariot Matali.  His court was known as Sudharma, his garden Nandan and the name of his weapon was Vajra or thunder.  In his court sang the Gandharvas and the Apsaras danced.

He lived in great style and everybody thought that he was very happy. But at times he had to face difficulties. There was great enmity between the Devas and the demons (Asuras). Because of this now and then the Devas used to be heckled by the demons. In course of one such battle a demon called Vritra had swallowed Indra entirely. It was by great skill that the Devas could save him at that time. At Vritra they shot a weapon called Jrimbhika which made him yawn, giving Indra an opportunity to escape through his mouth.

This battle was hardly over when Indra was threatened by another danger. Sometime earlier he had committed the sin of killing a Brahmin.  Now this sin began to haunt him and chase him from place to place. To escape from it he assumed the form of thread and took shelter within the stem of a lotus flower that bloomed in the middle of a big pond. So this sin could not catch up with Indra, but it did not give up so easily.  It waited on the bank for 35 million years.  It is a long time to mortals and even according to the calendar of the Devas it was not less than one thousand years.  Unable to see their king for so long a time the Devas began to search for him.  Though they could trace out his whereabouts with the help of Brahma they were afraid to bring him back, because his sin was still lying in wait for him.  They planned to bath their king in some sacred river to wash away his sin.  So they took him for a bath in the river Gautami where there was the hermitage of the great Rishi Gautam.  Gautam became very angry at the plan of the Devas and threatened to curse them.  He told them to clear off soon or he would reduce them to ashes.  The Devas then planned for the bath in the river Narmada.  Here again the Rishi Mandavya was against it and asked the Devas to leave the place.  At last they could mollify the Rishi and succeeded in bathing Indra in the river Narmada.  After this they could bath their king in Gautami also.  In addition to this Brahma sprinkled some water from his kamandalu on Indra’s head and the Devas were happy.

In fact to be Indra was not all fun, though people thought otherwise.  So many meditated hard to become Indra.  This was the reason why whenever Indra saw anybody meditating he used to become afraid of losing his position and tried his best to spoil his meditation.  Inspite of this sometimes some people used to succeed in becoming Indra.  Thus once king Nahush was able to become Indra.  As soon as he occupied that position he caused a lot of commotion. He was not happy to travel mounting either Uchchaisrava or Airavat but took a fancy to travel in a palanquin to be carried by the munis.  These munis were physically very weak because they lived only on fruits and vegetables and never worked as bearers of palanquins.  Naturally Nahush was not at all happy with their performance.  Soon after getting into the palanquin he therefore used to bluster and bully these hapless creatures.  Once he became so angry with them that he kicked with a thud on the head of Agastya muni.  He got the reward instantaneously – the muni cursed him and he immediately lost the position of Indra.  He became a large python and lived the life of a creeping creature in the Himalayas ever after.

Once again there was a war going on between the Devas and the demons in which none could emerge victorious.  At that time there was a king named Raji on the earth who was very powerful.  Both the parties thought that if they could enlist the support of this king they would be able to defeat their enemy.  So the Devas went to him and told, ‘We cannot defeat the demons unless you join us and kill them’.  Raji told the Devas, ‘I can help you if you make me Indra’.  The Devas replied, ‘Of course we shall make you Indra’.  As soon as the Devas left the demons came to Raji and told him, ‘O great king, please join our side’.  Raji told them as he had told the Devas, ‘I can do that if you make me Indra’.  But the demons rejected the proposal outright saying, ‘We don’t need your help. Prahlad is our Indra and we do not recognize anybody else as Indra’.  So Raji joined the Devas and began to kill the demons with a vengeance and the Devas became victorious. 

Indra now realized that he would have to vacate the throne. So before Raji could ask for it he told him, ‘O great king, it is said that one who saves from danger is akin to a father. You have saved me from danger and hence you are my father. Thus being the father of Indra you are no less than Indra’.  Befooled by Indra’s flattery Raji became highly pleased and left for his kingdom without uttering a single word about becoming the king of heaven.

But this Raji had five hundred sons who were great warriors.  After Raji’s death they told among themselves, ‘The Devas cheated our father, let us take revenge’.  So saying they started a great war with the Devas and within a very short time succeeded in driving out the Devas along with Indra and occupied both the earth and the heaven.  But these sons were not as intelligent as they were brave.  Had it been so then Indra would never have the chance to return to his kingdom.  Instead of ruling like a righteous ruler they indulged in all kinds of vices and in no time lost their wealth and power.  And Indra was able to drive them out and re-occupy his kingdom.

There is another story to illustrate what great fun it is to become Indra.  Once when in a battle the demons had made the lives of the Devas miserable they approached king Puranjay of the sun dynasty, ‘O king, please fight the demons on our behalf’.  Puranjay told them, ‘I am ready to do that if you agree to my proposal.  I shall fight taking my seat on the shoulder of your Indra’.  To this Indra and the Devas replied in one voice, ‘Yes, it will be done as you wish’.  The war resumed and Indra became a big bull and took Puranjay on his back.  It pleased the king so much that he took only a few minutes to kill all the demons.  As the shoulder of a bull is called ‘kakud’ so the king came to be known henceforth as ‘kakutstha’ because he had fought the battle mounting on the shoulder of a bull.  Ram, the son of Dasarath, was also often called ‘kakutstha’ because he belonged to the same dynasty.

We shall conclude our tale of the fun of Indraship with yet another story. There was a famous muni named Atreya, son of Atri.  He had done many jajnas and was able to go to any place he liked.  One day in course of his wanderings he came to the court of Indra which fascinated him by its beauty and festivities.  He thought that no other place could be more pleasant and he wanted it with all his heart.  His modest hut could not please him any more.  He called his wife and told, ‘What sort of rubbish are you giving me to eat?  Does it taste good?  Your fruits and vegetables cannot come anywhere near the sweetmeats I ate at Indra’s court’.  So saying he called Viswakarma and asked him to make his hermitage like Indra’s palace.  If you do not do as I tell I shall reduce you to ashes by curse.  The buildings, the court, the gardens, the elephant, the horse, the chandelier, the music, the food, the courtiers – all these must be as they are in Indra’s palace.

Afraid of the curse, Viswakarma forthwith built a palace which could rival Indra’s palace. Much pleased the muni said, ‘This is the very thing I wanted’.  After some time however the demons began to frown at the place and said, ‘Look, that fellow Indra has surreptitiously left the heaven and built up a home on earth.  Let us go and give him a good thrashing for killing our Vritra’.  Shouting, ‘Kill Indra! Kill Indra!’ the demons in a body laid that palace under siege.  The muni was happily reclining on his bed.  But when he heard the shouts of the demons he became mortally afraid.  Within minutes using all kinds of weapons the demons reduced the place to a heap of rubbles.  The muni himself did not escape some minor injuries.  He came out trembling and going to the demons he told them with folded hands, ‘I swear, I am not Indra, I am a muni, a Brahmin and a very poor and innocent man. Why are you so angry with me?’  ‘Then why have you been posing like Indra?  Remove your trappings at once’, said the demons.  ‘At once I am doing as you say.  I must have lost my head and did these foolish things.  I shall never do it again.’  Viswakarma was summoned and was told by the muni to replace the palace with his modest ashram.  He told him, ‘Do it soon, or I shall die at the hands of these demons.’

Realizing that the muni was in grave danger Viswakarma readily obeyed and the huts and the forests reappeared where a short while ago a palace stood.  However, before he left Viswakarma enjoyed a hearty laugh at the predicament of the muni.

Upendrakishore Raychaudhury was the grandfather of famous film maker Satyajit Ray.

27-Nov-2005
 
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