Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Indra and the ants

After the defeat of Vritra, Indra had no interest in ruling the kingdom of the Devas. However the other Devas convinced Indra that he had done a great service to all people everywhere. Vritra was an evil asura. Indra being the King of the Devas, had done his duty to defeat Vritra, by hook or crook.

Though Indra was not convinced at first, subsequently he saw all the Devas looking at him with pride for his accomplishments. I guess what I have done is not that bad a thing...Vritra was an asura and I killed him by cunning...I had no choice. I had to do what I had to do, otherwise the Vritra would have kept the waters of the earth imprisoned...People would be died without water...

Finally Indra agreed to stay on as the King of the Devas. The Devas were happy. They felt proud of having such a brave man like Indra as their leader. They worshiped him and adored him. For some time, Indra resisted all this. But after some time, all this got into his head. He began to feel that he was the only person in the whole world who could have killed Vritra. Soon Indra again grew proud and arrogant.

As Vritra had overthrown Indra, the Devas decide that Indra had to again be crowned as the King. The Devas performed elaborate yagnas and ceremonies. The festivities went for a long time and finally Indra was again crowned as the King of the Devas.

After being crowned as the King, Indra went to his palace. However now everything had changed in his eyes. He felt that his huge palace was no longer sufficient for him. I am the King of the whole world. People pray to me for their victories. I control the rains and I am the King of the Devas...I cannot live in such a pathetically small palace.

He called Vishwakarma, the architect of the Devas. 'Vishwakarma! To celebrate my victory over Vritra, I am going to built a big palace...'

Vishwakarma nodded, 'Is there any specific design you have in mind, my Lord?' He asked Indra.

Indra said carelessly, 'The palace should be very big...much bigger than this..' Indra said pointing at his own palace...And it should be grand...I want the fountain area to be bigger. My main court is so small...I want it to be ….

Indra spoke vehemently for a long time as Vishwakarma listened. After Indra finished, Vishwakarma nodded and set about designing a big palace.

He showed the plans to Indra. Indra looked at them and nodded appreciatively. Vishwakarma started the building and a year later had completed the palace. Vishwakarma proudly asked Indra to come and see the construction.

It was a huge palace by any stretch of imagination. However Indra was now ruled by greed. He still found the palace small. He angrily turned to Vishwakarma. 'You call this grand....! Why my private room is so small....' Vishwakarma looked dejected as Indra angrily continued to find faults in the palace.

Vishwakarma agreed to rebuilt the palace. This time he spent more and more time decorating the palace lavishly. After he had painstakingly finished, he felt as if he had fulfilled Indra's wishes. He again called Indra to look into the palace.

However Indra was far from satisfied. He wanted the palace to be more and more grand. Unhappy Vishwakarma set about reconstructing the palace for the third time. He made the palace bigger than anything he had ever designed. Finally when the palace was over, he fearfully called Indra. Just as he had feared, Indra was still not satisfied with the palace. He wanted it bigger...

Vishwakarma realized that he could never satisfy Indra. No matter how grand the palace was, Indra would want it bigger. Desperately Vishwakarma went to Lord Brahma for help 'My Lord! I need your help...' He fell on Lord Brahma's feet almost weeping.

'What is the matter Vishwakarma?' Lord Brahma asked concerned. Vishwakarna told about Indra's palace. Lord Brahma got more and more angry as he heard Vishwakkarma's story. Indra still has not understood to become humble. He has to be taught a lesson...VIshwakarma looked desperately at Lord Brahma, 'Lord! I am immortal...Indra is immortal...If this goes on Indra would have me building his palace for all eternity...Nothing seems to satisfy him...Please...'

Lord Brahma held up his hands and looked at Vishwakarma, 'Go forth in peace son! Go home and and don't worry about this. I will take care of this...'

Vishwakarma left Lord Brahma's place a relieved man.

Lord Brahma then went to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. He told them the whole story, 'Lords, Indra has not yet learnt to control himself. His pride needs to be humbled...'

Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu looked at each other with tight lips. They both nodded.

The next day, outside Indra's palace was a beautiful dark boy admiring Indra's palace. He admired the beauty of the palace and spoke greatly of it. Indra who was passing by called the boy. He looked at the boy and told him proudly, 'Do you like my palace? I am having it built to celebrate my victory over the asura Vritra.' Indra said, 'Of course it is not yet the way I want it...It has to be bigger...See how small the front garden is...'

The dark boy listened to everything and nodded. He looked around and said, 'Well Indra, I have to tell you..This is by far the biggest and grandest palace built by any Indra so far...'

Indra's throat constricted in his chest when he heard this, 'What...' He crocked and said again, 'What did you say?'

The dark boy said quietly, 'This is the biggest palace built by any Indra...'

'Other Indras?...' Indra asked feebly.

'Yes.' The boy said frowning as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 'Each time Brahma wakes up, he creates the universe and an Indra to rule over it. Every time Brahma goes to sleep, the universe is destroyed with everything on it. Even Lord Brahma himself has a life cycle. After 4,32,000 years, he will also cease to exist. Then another Brahma comes into existence.' The dark boy looked at Indra puzzled, 'I have seen all the Indra till date. Have you never seen them?'

Meanwhile a row of ants were marching inside Indra's palace. Looking at them, the boy started laughing. Indra was now feeling afraid. Hearing the boy laugh terrified him. He swallowed and opened his mouth but no words came out. He slowly got out the words, 'Wh...Why do you laugh?'

The boy looked at Indra with narrowed eyes, 'Are you sure you want to know?'

Indra hurriedly nodded his head finding that he was not able to talk. 'They are all former Indras.' Indra looked aghast as the boy continued. 'They begin from the smallest creatures and become the most enlightened people. And you know what happens after that...' The boy continued looking at Indra, 'They destroy one monster and they suddenly think they are the King of the Universe...' Indra winced as the boy continued, 'And then they start from the beginning as ants...'

Indra was looking as if somebody had slapped him. The boy turned at that time to see an ascetic come in. Indra if anything looked even more alarmed then before. The ascetic had some hair on his chest in a circular pattern. The hair in the centre had fallen off. However there was still some hair on the circumference on the chest.

The boy saluted the hermit, 'Great sir! What are you doing here?'

'I am just roaming, young sir!' The hermit said.

The boy asked, 'What is the hair in your chest sir?'

The ascetic shrugged, 'Well every time an Indra dies, a hair falls of. All the hair in the centre have fallen off...Soon all of this would be gone too..'

'Stop! Please stop!' Indra yelled. 'I have learnt my lesson. Who are you? Please tell me...' I was an ignorant fool. I thought I was great because of something I had done...I am sorry. There are so many things I need to know...' Indra glanced at his feet. 'I have been so silly. I have been thinking...'

The boy and the hermit vanished and Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva appeared in their place. Indra fell on their feet. He got up and looked at them. 'Sir, I have become proud and arrogant. I want to go away from all this.' Indra said pointing at his unfinished palace...'I want to understand so many things. My Lord, I wish to go away and meditate and repent for my sins.'

Both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu nodded as Indra gave up his kingdom and went to repent for his mistakes.

After Indra left, the Devas elected Nahusha as their next Indra. However that is another story!


  1. good lesson to Indra as well as to me

  2. One of my favorites! I first heard this from a Joseph Campbell video, and he retells it wonderfully too!

  3. Thank you so much for your beautiful retelling of Indra and the ants. I will read it again and again.