Why Indra is a demon in the Avesta???

The preeminent god of the Rig Veda is Indra, preeminent as much by the number of hymns addressed to him as by the wealth of the myths about him. Some 250 hymns are dedicated to him, while he shares honors with Vedic deities in 50 other hymns. Almost a third or more of the Rig Vedic hymns are concerned with Indra.

According to Georges Dumezil, Indra is a personification of the warrior class and as such he should be considered the Vedic homologue to the Greek Ares and Latin Mars.

Indra’s portrayal is that of a scorcher of the earth, the god inherent in the savagery of warfare, slaughtering, dealing out death and destruction at random.

From the Vedas we get an orgiastic, violent and cruel picture concerning Indra’s cult. Bloody animal sacrifices and ritual blood offerings were closely associated with the cult of Indra. This is well illustrated for example in Rig Veda 10.27. In the aforementioned verse the Vedic singer makes a promise to Indra of cooking a vigorous bull and pouring a sharp libation of soma for 15 days for him. The idea was to obtain Indra’s aid as the god of war by slaughtering a bull and mixing the blood with sóma/the wine offering.

(It is important to mention though that RV 10.27 is a critic toward those who sacrifice animals egoistically, for their own consumption and not in ritual sacrifice for the gods, Courtesy of Didier Calin.)

Indra’s special animal symbol was the bull and his name is mentioned during the midday oblation in the Agnishtoma and other sóma rites.

This daævic or demonic rite of mixing blood offering with the sacred wine (sóma) is most vehemently reviled in the poetic gathas, (See Yasna 48.10, 2nd rhymed verse line or Yasna 32.12, 2nd rhymed verse line.)

Furthermore, the idea to kill/murder a bull during sacred wine offering (sóma) to avert death and injury is alluded to and vigorously denounced in the poetic gathas, (See Yasna 32.14, 3rd rhymed verse line.)

The Rig Veda describes how Agní (to ignite FIRE) and Sóma (Avestan haômá SACRED WINE) were passed from the side of Varuná to that of Indra. (See Verses 2 to 4 of hymn of hymn 10.124 of the Rig Veda.

As for the transit of the sóma, haômá SACRED WINE from the side of the ásuras/Avestan ahûra, Old Norse æsir, to that of devás look up Rig Veda 9.71.2 and 9.97.41.)

In the Rig Veda Varuna is the head of ásuras and Indra the head of devás. The vedic ásuras are the Avestan ahûrá and Old Norse æsir.

It is NOT the haômá (sacred wine) that prophet Zarathûshtrá so vehemently reviles but the killing of the bull and the demonic blood offerings and animal sacrifices associated with it in the blood libation rituals.

Another fascinating subject in the Vedas is the antagonism of the ari toward Indra. Thanks to the pioneering research of Renou, we know that ari has other derivatives such as áryá, aryamánAri in the Vedas are the “foreign Aryan lords or masters” the lordly foes of Indra. Ari are those ancient Aryans who still clung to their pristine worship of ásura or ahûrá religion.

(Herodotus (7.62) mentions that the Medes called themselves Arioi; Eratosthenes apud Strabo (15.2.8) speaks of Arianē as being between Persia and India; Eudemus of Rhodes apud Damascius (Dubitationes et solutiones in Platonis Parmenidem 125 bis) refers to “the Magi and all those of Iranian (áreion) lineage”; Diodorus Siculus (1.94.2) describes Zoroaster (Zathraustēs) as one of the Arianoi.)

Indra’s chief epithet is Vritrahán, a term associated with the Avestan Verethra-ghna, “to triumph over obstacles, be victorious, overcome.”

In the poetic gathas Verethrem-já is the charm/sacred formula of Victory (See Yasna 44.16,) it is also the most popular hymn in the Yasht collection of the Avesta.

The epithet vrthrahán does appear in RV 1.186.6c, 2.20.7a, 8.96.20a,21a, 10.74.6b as vṛtrahéndraḥis, (Courtesy of Didier Calin.) According to Rig Veda 10.24, Vrtra is the father ásura.

Apparently Indra has started to assume the function of a proto Aryan ásurá/ahûrá in the Vedic period.

Indra is ásura AND devá. Indra – as the continuation of the Proto-Indo-European Thundergod – becomes an asura (like Hittite Tarhunnas is a hassus!), and called so in RV 1.174.1ab “you, O Indra, are the king, O asura (râjendra … asura)!”, RV 8.90.6a+c asura … indra (in the vocative: “O Indra, O asura!” (Courtesy of Didier Calin.)

After the period of the Rig Veda, Vritrá becomes a Brahman, and by killing Vritrá Indra commits a crime for which he has to expiate.

However, the cult of Indra, prominent at the time of the composition of the Rig Veda, waned considerably under the influence of post-Vedic period. This diminution in Indra’s celebrity coincided with the rise of cults associated with Shivá “the auspicious one.”

It is erroneously assumed that Shiva is a pre Aryan god-power. That Shiva was the god of the Harappans, is based on a single Harappan finding, the so-called Pashu-pati seal. It depicts a man with a strange headwear sitting in lotus posture and surrounded by animals.  Though not well visible, he seems to have three faces, which may mean that he is a three-faced god (like the famous three-faced Shiva sculptures.) The common speculation is that this is Shiva in his Pashu-pati (protector of peaceful cattle) aspect.

Truth is that shivá (the bright, auspicious one) is an epithet of Rudra and other Vedic gods. Indra himself is called shivá several times (Rig-Veda 2:20:3, 6:45:17, 8:93:3).  Shiva is by no means a non-Aryan god-force. But shivá might go back to the older cult of ásuras and/or ahûrá.

The association of shivá with “crescent moon, powers of fertility, growth and his role as protector of peaceful cattle” is very much reminiscent of Aryan Zoroastrian symbolism. In the poetic gathas speñtá (auspicious, bright) is the epithet of ahûrá, See Yasna 51.16, 3rd rhymed verse line for example.)

I shall add that the poetic style of speñtá mainyü gatha (auspicious mind force, bright power of the spirit) is the same as Indra poetry in the Vedas that in later times is taken over by the auspicious lord shivá.

Among other ásura/ahûrá epithets that Indra might have acquired later in the Vedas is yuvan “young.” For he is young, and has a youthful nature and at the same time has existed from time immemorial.

Above all his other epithets, is maghavan “great, the magnanimous, eminent in wisdom.” Magavan “great, eminent in wisdom” is the very term for the fellowship of Zarathûshtrá in the poetic gathas.

Indra is mentioned only twice in the Avestan commentaries of the poetic gathas, e.g the süd-kar commentary of Yasna 32. He is also mentioned twice in Vendidad 10.9 and Vendidad 19.43. He is the demon that stands opposed to “excellence, virtue, truth.” Indra in the Avesta is renowned for his opposition to the sacred belt; for the sacred belt is the symbol of the determination/fight to restore, renew and prosper the worlds.

Indra might have acquired some of the superb qualities of the older ásura, ahûrá cult during the Vedic period. However, he is a demon in essence because of his lust for blood sacrifice. For a true god-being never asks for the killing of innocent animals or other acts of ritual cruelty and sadism.

In Zoroastrianism, godhood is “virtue, excellence, goodness, triumph of spirit and boundless creativity.”

God-beings are NOT tyrannical, sadistic, spiteful, gloomy and arrogant autocrats. If so they are demons.

To be God means to be “good, mindful, wondrous, auspicious and bright.” And that is why devás such as Indra are not gods but demons, because they lack “mindfulness and virtue.”


I like to sincerely thank Mr Didier Calin for his most valuable contributions/corrections, citations and linguistic advise!!!

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9 Responses to Why Indra is a demon in the Avesta???

  1. Wei De-Li says:

    Great article! Thought provoking as usual. Do want to point out two typos “It cult of Indra” and the ; ) has transformed itself into a winking smiley face. I have an amateur question also: how does Mithra figure into this comparison? I have read that some compare and see equivalence between Indra and Mithra…

  2. zaneta garratt says:

    very interesting comparisons here -just love the ending-this is so very very true-“For a true god-being never asks for the killing of innocent animals or other acts of ritual cruelty and sadism.

    In Zoroastrianism, godhood is “virtue, excellence, goodness, triumph of spirit and boundless creativity.”

    God-beings are NOT tyrannical, sadistic, spiteful, gloomy and arrogant autocrats. If so they are demons.

    To be God means to be “good, mindful, wondrous, auspicious and bright.” And that is why daævá such as Indra are not gods but demons, because they lack “mindfulness and virtue.””

    • Keshav says:

      Interesting Indra himself is controversial in text like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Krishna himself said one should worship god out of love and never fear. Also to me Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Sarswati, Parvati, and other Hindu gods are merely expressions that manifest of the 1 true god. I love Zoroastrians though and their teachings while I slightly disagree with them on certain things they’re quite peaceful and kind people. I’ve spoken to some too.

  3. Dirk Anderson says:

    The essential myth in the Rig-Veda forming the basis for Indra’s character is described frequently: Exhilarated by Soma (Most likely, Ephedra) and generally escorted by the Maruts Indra attacks the demon of drought: “Vrtra”
    One must look constantly to the forces of nature for the inspiration of the Vedic Deities. In fact, an actual drought may form a historical basis for the Indra myth and perhaps the disintegration of the Indus Valley Civilization as the Aryans migrated Easterly.
    In addition to his warlike qualities, Indra is primarily a god of the thunderstorm who vanquishes the demons of drought and sets free the waters (aerial).
    Indra’s constant companions the Maruts are said to be generated by: “Vayu” the wind god, the sound of the wind being referred, as well as thunder and lightening. Their (Maruts) rain is figuratively called milk, ghee, honey. their song (the wind) is conceived as the hymn of praise.
    A.A. Macdonell, “A Vedic Reader for Students”

  4. John Easter says:

    Indra is also mentioned in the Pahlavi texts, Greater Bundahishn 1.55, 5.1, and 34.27, and Wizidagiha i Zadspram 35.37, as one of the six arch-daevas(demons) and antitheses of the Amesha Spentas(Bounteous Immortals) of Ahura Mazda. Indra, also called Indar in Pahlavi, is said to freeze or hinder the practicing and growth of Asha(truth/goodness/art) but it can be overcome.

    Indra appears directly through variant names in Kalash religion, from Pakistan, and the Shramana religions/philosophies, Buddhism and Jainism, from India. Indra, as Indara, is also mentioned in an Indo-Aryan Mitanni treaty with the Hittites from ancient Anatolia, which is modern Turkey and northern Syria today. The Kalash religion version is similar to the Rig-Vedic version and is called “Indr” or “Varendr” and has other names as well. The Kalash Indra is associated with the rainbow just as the Vedic Indra’s bow is which is called Indra-dhanus.

    Shramana religions are ascetic philosophies indigenous to northeastern India, including the Magadha Kingdom, and may be of Dravidian, Austroasiatic(Munda), Tibeto-Burman, or other non-Indo-European origin. However they heavily borrowed much from Indo-European terms and myths through the Vedas while rejecting their authority. Shramana thought also influenced the development of post-Vedic Hindu texts such as in the Upanishads.

    The main Shramana schools were Buddhism founded by Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni or the Buddha, Jainism reformed by Vardhamana, also known as Mahavira, the Ajivika school(fatalism) taught by Makkhali Gosala, the Carvaka school(materialism) taught by Ajita Kesakambali, and the Ajnana school(agnosticism) taught by Sanjaya Belatthaputta. Other Shramana leaders during the time of Buddha and Mahavira include Pakudha Kaccayana who taught eternalism and Purana Kassapa who taught amoralism. All Shramana schools are atheistic in that they reject a supreme god behind the gods or creator god such as Brahma.

    Jainism is the oldest Shramana group while Buddhism is the newest. However they are more similar to each other than either are to the other groups. Both Buddhism and Jainism are missionary religions but Buddhism became more widespread because of the propagation of it by Emperor Ashoka of the Mayrya Empire, which absorbed the Magadha Kingdom. Interestingly Ashoka refers to himself as Deva-nampiyadasi(Beloved of the Devas) in his edicts that promote Buddhism. Ashoka’s grandson, Emperor Samrat Samprati, propagated Jainism instead but it didn’t become as widespread. Ashoka’s grandfather, Emperor Chandragupta, was a Jain and Ashoka’s father, Emperor Bindusara, followed the Ajivika school of Shramana.

    Indra’s role diminished in post-Vedic Hinduism with Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Maha-Devi becoming more prominent. However Indra did not disappear and has also been incorporated into Buddhism and Jainism. In Buddhism and Jainism he is called Sakra or Sakka in Pali. In the Rig-Veda Sakra(mighty/powerful) is an epithet of Indra while in Buddhist texts Sakra/Sakka is considered his real name with Indra(chief/lord) being his epithet instead. The full Buddhist title is Sakra Devanam Indra or Sakra Lord of Devas. Another Hindu epithet includes Deva-pati or Lord of Devas. Indra is also called Saudharmendra in Jain texts.

    In Buddhism Indra is the deva king of Trayastrimsa or Tavatimsa(in Pali) Heaven similar to how Indra is the king of Svarga Heaven in Hinduism. Both realms are associated with Mount Meru. Indra as Sakka talks to Buddha and is portrayed as having converted to the Buddhist religion becoming its most zealous deva follower and a dharma-pala or protector among other devas and deva kings who are said to have done the same. Including Brahma Sahampati whom Indra is shown together with in the Samyutta Nikaya and Maha-pari-nibbana Sutta of the Theravada Buddhist Pali Canon and Japanese Buddhist art as well.

    Brahma Sahampati is classified as a Maha-Brahma(Great Brahma) and one of the many Brahma class devas or creator gods in Buddhist cosmology which are stressed to not have the eternal life or power of the single Brahma described in Hinduism. Like the Brahmas there are also many Indras in Buddhism from other ages and worlds similar to the multiple Indras mentioned in the Brahma-Vaivarta Purana and Vishnu Purana of post-Vedic Hinduism. In the older Shramana religion, Jainism, Indra closely serves the tirthankaras or arihants, such as Mahavira and Parshva, who are the equivalents of the buddhas(enlightened beings) in Jain philosophy.

    Although Indra’s violent characteristics and association with animal sacrifice disappear for obvious reasons the basic figure is clearly the same deva chief. Indra fights the Asuras in the Theravada Buddhist Pali Canon and Jataka tales just as in the Hindu Vedas and post-Vedic Puranas. His weapons, Indra’s Net, originally described in Atharva Veda 8.8.6-8 as a weapon that deludes and catches all enemies, and Indra’s Vajra(club), originally described in the Rig-Veda, are used in Buddhism as metaphors for the Buddhist concepts of Shunyata(zero state, emptiness), Pratitya-Samutpada(dependent origination), and Upaya(expedient means or two truths doctrine).

    Shunyata, Pratitya-Samutpada, and the two truths doctrine, are important concepts in schools of Mahayana Buddhism. Particularly through Nagarjuna’s philosophy and the Madhyamaka school. They have been used to distinguish Buddhist philosophy from Hinduism and even Jainism. They are also used to argue against the concept of the single Brahma and Ishvara, or Hindu forms of God(Brahma-n) behind the gods, as well as theism in general. Indra’s Net is mentioned in the Mahayana Buddhist Avatamsaka Sutra, which was a major influence on Buddhist schools in East Asia through the Nagarjuna influenced Huayan school in China also known as Hwaeom in Korea and Kegon in Japan.

    The Vajra is also an important symbol in the esoteric Vajra-yana Buddhism which includes Tibetan Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Vajra is called Dorje in Tibetan. Vajra-pani, also known as Maha-sthamaprapta in Pure Land Buddhism, is the chief dharmapala or protector of Buddha among the bodhisattvas(buddhas in training) just as Indra is the chief dharmapala among the devas. Vajrapani also represents the power of the Buddha and is associated with Indra by Buddhaghosa the Theravada Buddhist commentator. Other important figures have vajra as a part of their name including Vajra-dhara, the primordial buddha in the Gelug and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and Vajra-sattva the chief bodhisattva in Shingon Buddhism.

    In China some identify the Buddhist Indra(Di-shi-tian or Shi-ti Huan-yin in Chinese) with the Jade Emperor(Yu Huang or Yu Di) who is a chief god in Taoism and Chinese folk religion. Both are celebrated on the ninth day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calender. The Jade Emperor is called Okhwangsangje(Great Shining Emperor) in Korea where the Buddhist Indra(Je-seok-cheon in Korean) and Buddhism are also known.

    In Japan Indra/Sakra appears directly under his Japanese name Tai-shaku-ten in the esoteric Shingon Buddhism. Indra as Taishakuten is a well known figure in Japan outside of Shingon as well. Shingon helped shape the basic Japanese Buddhist pantheon of buddhas(enlightened beings), bodhisattvas(buddhas in training), and devas(gods) in general.

  5. space odyssey says:

    Great & insightful article. Only a few know this truth about Indra.

  6. „For a true god-being never asks for the killing of innocent animals or other acts of ritual cruelty and sadism”

    True. And neither Vedic Indra nor any of the Vedic gods or Devas are such.

  7. Also I wondered if instead of using Western sources (which always lack the understanding of Vedas and other Eastern traditions) why wouldn’t you use the native and traditional understanding of Vedic Indra as per scholars such as Aurobindo Ghosh, Shrikant Talageri, Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, etc.? All who on the basis of authentic and traditional Vedic Sanskrit grammar sources and lexicons proved that there is no animal or human sacrifice anywhere in the Vedas (i.e. the 4 Samhitas).
    Indra in Avestan may mean something else, but it has nothing to do with the Vedic Indra as the word Indra in Sanskrit means ‘Idam-drah’ or “to see, to perceive, judge, rule, be present” and the word Indra may mean the Sun, any ideal King, the Mind (and as the senses derive from the mind, they are called as ‘Indriya’ in Sanskrit), Electricity, power and is also an attributive name of the Supreme Impersonal God- Aum of the Vedas. The Might and Sovereignty of God has been called Indra.

    So taking authentic translations of the Vedas, we can conclude that the Vedic Indra is not the same entity described as the demonic Indra of the Gathas and other Zoroastrian scriptures. Rather, the Vedic Indra = Ahura-Mazda.

    Also, the vrittra means clouds, darkness and ignorance according to the Nirukta and Nighantu. So as Aum is believed to remove spiritual darkness and ignorance its called Indra, and as the Sun causes the dark clouds to burst open and result in rains it is also called as Indra.

  8. Arlo says:

    Hi! Thanks fo this fascinating account of Indra in Zoroastrian perspective. But I can’t help but notice some discrepancies. The word ‘Asura’ is used as an adjective in Vedas to denote powerful and mighty qualities. So all deities including Indra are by default Asuras. The classification of Asuras as good Asuras(Devas) and bad Asuras(demons) happened later in Puranas.

    Also, the etymology of the word Vrtraghna is Vrtra+ghna – killer of Vrtra. Just like Shatrughna (Shatru(enemies) + ghna) means killer of enemies. So the epithet of Vrtraghna is used to refer to Indra as killer of Vrtra(bad asura).

    Therefore it is incorrect to claim that “Indra has started to assume the function of a proto Aryan ásurá/ahûrá in the Vedic period.” based on this epithet.

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