4. Miscellaneous aspects of the Aryan invasion debate
4.7. Indra and Shiva
4.7.1. Indra stands accused
A central Vedic myth is the killing of the dragon or snake, Vrtra, by the Vedic thunder god Indra. Here is a beautiful occasion to demonize Vedic religion to its core, considering that ‘the duel between Indra and Vrtra, officially the symbol of the eternal fight between good and evil, is the central element of the Vedic sacrificial rite.’1 For Dravidianist agitators and other anti-Brahmin writers, the central Vedic myth of the dragon-slayer is but an allegorical report of the Aryan invasion and defeat of the pre-Aryan natives, a commemoration of an ancient crime against humanity.2
In reality, the slaying of the dragon is a pan-IE myth, attested even in the remote Germanic tradition, where it was later christianized into Saint George’s and Archangel Michael’s dragon-slayings. In Iranian this dragon-slayer is actually called Verethraghna, a form eroded in Armenian to Veragn (remark that while the rejection of Indra was a central concern of Zarathushtra, Indra’s epithet Verethraghna remained as a separate deity in the Avesta). Obviously, the Iranians and Armenians did riot have a history of conquering North-India from the Harappans, as per the AIT itself, so we may safely assume that the Vrtra myth has nothing to do with an Aryan-Harappan war.
Nor is there any evidence that there ever was any war between Aryans and Harappans in the first place. No large-scale destruction of Harappan cities has been noticed. Contrast this with the IE expansion in the Balkans. From linguistic evidence, we understand that the Hellenes (Greeks) along with the Illyrians and Thracians supplanted or absorbed a highly civilized non-IE native population, whose culture is known as the VinCa culture (after its richest excavation site near Belgrade). These natives had used an as yet undeciphered writing system reportedly going back to 5300 BC, and disappearing along with the Old European culture in about 3500 BC. So there it really was an advanced civilization being overrun by barbarian invaders who largely destroyed it.
That model is being projected onto the Vedic-Harappan history: a literate urban and agricultural civilization being overrun by semi-nomadic horsemen. But the crucial difference is that in the Balkans, this violent scenario is attested by archaeological findings: ‘The existence of archaeologically attested burnt layers at many settlements is evidence for military confrontations between the native farmers of Southeast Europe and the cattle-breeding nomads from South Russia.’3 The same thing happened when, according to most specialists, the Greeks entered mainland Greece in 1,900 BC, driving the last remains of Old European culture to their last refuge on Crete: ‘numerous destructions’, ‘widespread destruction on the mainland, but no destruction on Crete or the islands’.4 This testimony of many settlements having been burnt down is absent at the Harappan sites.
All the same, a whole superstructure of invasionist readings of Indian symbols and mythology has been erected on the invasionist suspicion that, in Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s famous words, ‘Indra stands accused’ of destroying the Harappan civilization.
4.7.2. Continuity between Indra and Shiva
Once Indra had been identified by the AIT as a deified tribal leader of the invaders, an antagonism was elaborated between the ‘Aryan’ sky-god Indra and the ‘pre-Aryan’ fertility god Shiva; Indra being the winner of the initial military confrontation, but Shiva having the last laugh by gradually winning over the conquerors to the cult of the subdued natives. As I heard a Catholic priest from Kerala claim, ‘Shiva is not a Hindu god, because he is the god of the pre-Aryans.’
That Shiva was the god of the Harappans, is based on a single Harappan finding, the so-called Pashupati 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 sculpture in the Elephanta cave), or that he is a four-faced god with the back face undepictable on a two-dimensional surface. The common speculation is that this is Shiva in his Pashupati (‘lord of beasts’) aspect. Ever since the discovery of the Gundestrup cauldron in Central Europe, which depicts the Celtic horned god Cernunnos similarly seated between animals, this Pashupati seal is actually an argument in favour of the IE character of Harappan culture.
Let us, nevertheless, go with the common opinion: Shiva for the Harappans, Indra for the Aryans. Those who see it this way have never explained why the dominant Aryans have, over the centuries, abandoned their victorious god (Indra is practically not worshipped in any of the temples manned by Brahminical priests) in favour of the god of their defeated enemies. At any rate, when we study these two divine characters, we find that they are not all that antagonistic.
Shiva is usually identified with the Vedic god Rudra. It so happens that Indra’s and Rudra’s domains are more or less the same: both are thundering sky gods. In mythology, Indra is, like Shiva, a bit of an outsider, who is in conflict with the other gods, shunned by them (and even by his mother), left alone by them to fight the Dragon, doing things that disrupt the world order. Christians who picture Jesus as the friend of the outcasts, may like to know that the despised ‘Aryan racist god’ Indra is in fact on the side of the outcasts: ‘Indra, you lifted up the outcast who was oppressed, you glorified the blind and the lame.’ (Rg-Veda 2:13:12) As David Frawley has shown, Indra has many epithets and attributes which were later associated with Shiva: the dispeller of fear, the lord of mAyA (enchantment), the bull, the dancer, the destroyer of cities (Indra purandara, Shiva tripurahara).5 Both are associated with mountains, rivers, male fertility, fierceness, fearlessness, warfare, transgression of established mores, the Aum sound, the Supreme Self.
Shiva and Indra are both associated with intoxication. Indra is praised as having a tremendous appetite for the psychedelic soma juice. Shiva has Soma-Shiva as one of his aspects, a name containing one of those Brahminical etymology games: Soma is the Vedic intoxicant, and also the moon (as in SomwAr, ‘Monday’), which is part of Shiva’s iconography (hence his, epithet SomanAtha).
The now-popular theory that Shiva is a non-Vedic and anti-Vedic god, is partly based on the Puranic story of the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice. Daksha is the father of Shiva’s beloved Sati: he rebukes Shiva, Sati commits suicide, and Shiva vents his anger by disturbing the sacrifice which Daksha is conducting. Daksha refuses to worship Shiva because Shiva is vedabAhya, ‘outside the Vedas’; as in a fit of anger, mortals also call their relatives all kinds of inaccurate names.
As David Frawley shows, the Daksha story is quite parallel to the Vedic story of Indra stealing the soma from Twashtr and even killing the latter, and to the Vedic story of Rudra killing Prajapati. In each case, a god who disrupts or ‘destroys’ the world order, is seen to defeat a god representing the process of creation, which is equated with the process of the Vedic sacrifice (the Creator creates the world by sacrificing). The destroyer-god, himself a cornerstone of the created world, disrupts the creative sacrifice. David Frawley restores these stories to their traditional metaphysical interpretation: ‘Both Indra’s and Shiva’s role of destroying Prajapati or his son relate to their role as eternity (absolute time) destroying time or the year (relative time) represented by Prajapati and the sacrifice.’6 Personally, I prefer the more physical explanation given by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and in consonance with modem insights into mythology, viz. that the victory of the one god over the other may simply refer to the replacement of one constellation by the next as the stellar location of the equinox.
The outsider role of Shiva in the Puranic pantheon is the continuation of Indra’s role in the Vedic pantheon, which in turn is only the Indian version of a role which exists in the other IE pantheons as well, e.g. the Germanic fire god Loki or the Greco-Roman warrior-god Ares/Mars. Shiva also continues Indra’s role of warrior-god. Till today, many Shiva sadhus are proficient in the martial arts. The Shaiva war-cry Hara Hara Mahadev is still used by some regiments of the Indian army as well as by Hindu demonstrators during communal confrontations.7
Finally, shiva, ‘the auspicious one’, is an epithet of not only Rudra but of Vedic gods in general. Indra himself is called shiva several times (Rg-Veda 2:20:3, 6:45:17, 8:93:3). Shiva is by no means a non-Vedic god, and Indra never really disappeared from popular Hinduism but lives on under another name.
Andre. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.25. ↩
A very elaborate interpretation of the whole Rg-Veda as a report on the destruction of the Harappan ‘Asura Empire’ by the Aryan invaders is Malati Shendge: The Civilized Demons. The Harappans in Rg-Veda. ↩
Harald Haarmann: Universalgeschichte der Schrift, p.80. ↩
William F. Wyatt, jr.: ‘The Indo-Europeanization of Greece’, in Cardona et al., eds.: Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, p.89-111, specifically p-93. ↩
D. Frawley: Gods, Sages and Kings, p.224-225, and in more detail: Arise Arjuna, p. 170-181. ↩
D. Frawley: Arise Arjuna, p. 177. The symbolism of eternity and time is very clear in the iconography of Shiva’s consort KAli. Representing all-devouring time, she dances on Shiva’s unconscious body: the world of change and destruction exists and affects us as long as the timeless self-consciousness of the Self has not awoken. ↩
In the Chanakya TV-serial, broadcast in truncated version on Doordarshan in 1992, the Hara Hara Mahadev sequences were censored out for fear that they might arouse communal passions. ↩