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Airavat, produced at the churning of the ocean, and holding in his hand the vajra or thunderbolt. He is depicted, like Argus, covered with eyes, and is thus called the thousand-eyed god : which distinction was not conferred upon him in consequence of his good deeds; for having become enamoured of Ahilya, the wife of the pious rishi Gotama, he endeavoured to seduce her. The rishi having discovered his intentions in time, bestowed on the god his curse, that his body should be covered in a very extraordinary manner, which, on the contrition of the offending deity, he changed into eyes. The heaven of Indra is Swerga; a beautiful description of which has been given, in the English language, by a native Hindu youth (Kasiprasad Ghosh, educated at the Anglo-Indian College of Calcutta), who has not only made himself proficient therein, but has greatly distinguished himself, as a poet far above common pretensions. The opening lines of his description of Indra's heaven accord so well with the nature of this work, that the insertion of them here will need no apology. I will simply premise, that this heaven, made by Vishmakarma, the architect of the gods, is represented in the Mahabharat to be eight hundred miles in circumference, and forty miles high; its pillars are formed of diamonds, its palaces of gold, and it is said to be so resplendent with gems as to exceed in radiance the blended brightness of a dozen suns. Flowers of delightful perfume shed their fragrance around, and all that can fascinate the oriental sensualist are to be found in the heaven, which the youthful Hindu poet thus describes:—
“Great Surya" smiles with lustre gay,
* The sun. + Indra.
In which by many a gurgling stream,
Unto the ears of mortals, blessed,
For pious deeds, with heavenly rest.
The garden's edge is compassed round
Like morning's light in winter's sky,
* The north-west wind.
Ere the resplendent Surya rears
With looks cast on the ground below.
With royal mien and royal pride,
This Olympus of Indra is on Mount Meru, or the North Pole. He is the Jupiter Fulminator of the Romans; and is thus betokened by the vajra or thunderbolt in his hand.
Indra, however, performs a secondary part only among the gods of the Hindu Pantheon, the omnipotent Jupiter being the Triad, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Indra was frequently deprived of his kingdom in the wars between the gods and the demons, and obliged to wander about the world in a state of mendicity. But the imperial Jove himself was once compelled to hide from the persecution of his enemies. To account for these various transitions, astronomy, the ready expounder of mythological extravagancies, has been called in aid, and found highly useful in solving many of these heterogeneous enigmas.
Indra is the regent of the east, and the supreme ruler of winds and showers.” Among the magnificent sculptures in the cavern temples at Ellora, he is represented on his elephant Airavat. The animal is reclining under a tree, which shades Indra. Upon the branches of this tree are four peacocks; two attendants with chawries are in the back ground. Another sculpture represents his consort, Indrani, seated on a lion under a tree, with a child in her arms, and four attendants with chawries in the back ground. Figs. 5 and 6, plate 23, exhibit them in a similar manner, but without the trees, or attendants. Fig. 4 represents them on the elephant Airavat.
The character of Indra is not in accordance with his dignified situation among the Hindu deities. In addition to the profligate attempt made by him on the virtue of Ahilya, the wife of Gotama, as already related, he availed himself of another opportunity and succeeded in seducing her, which drew upon them the curse of the Rishi. Indra, in consequence, became an eunuch; which part of the anathema was, on the intercession of the gods (as occurred on a former occasion), mitigated, and his virility was graciously restored. The frail Ahilya was condemned to lie in ashes, in pain, and invisible, for a long series of years, till the coming of Rama. On beholding that deity without desire, she was purified, and restored to the bosom of the sage Gotama.
Numerous other instances are related of the profligacy of Indra. He stole a horse from king Suguru as he was about to perform the aswamedha, or sacrifice of a horse, for the hundredth time; which ceremony would have deposed Indra, and elevated Suguru to the sovereignty of the immortals in his place. On another occasion, in the form of a shepherd's boy, he robbed the garden of a peasant. In this theft he was detected and bound with cords, but released by the aid of the subordinate genii of the winds. This incident is thus beautifully related by Sir William Jones. The peasant
“Seized, and with cordage strong
* This would appear to be an encroachment upon the attributes of Pavana. + Indra, the regent of showers and of the east wind. f Varuna, regent of the west.