Hymn 18 of Mandala IV of the Rig Veda appears to be an allegorical account of the end of the last ice age. It is recounted as a story of the birth of Indra and his slaying the dragon Vrtra immediately upon his birth and echoes of this story are found throughout the Rig Veda. But Hymn 18 in particular, is entirely dedicated to this account.
I present the hymn with the order of verses changed to reflect the sequence of events.
4 What strange act shall he do, he whom his Mother bore for a thousand months and many autumns?
No peer hath he among those born already, nor among those who shall be born hereafter.
5 Deeming him a reproach, his mother hid him, Indra, endowed with all heroic valour.
Then up he sprang himself, assumed his vesture, and filled, as soon as born, the earth and heaven.
The greatest god of the ancient world is about to be born. A god, without peer among those born already or among those who shall be born hereafter. Vrtra, the dragon, had imprisioned all the waters in the world. None of the gods, could free the waters and had given up this task as a lost cause. Only a cataclysmic event could achieve what even the gods could not. It needed the arrival of a god more powerful than any that existed or would come later – it needed the arrival of Indra.
8 I cast thee from me, mine,-thy youthful mother: thee, mine own offspring, Kusava hath swallowed.
To him, mine infant, were the waters gracious. Indra, my Son, rose up in conquering vigour.
The goddess Earth, who bore him for a thousand months and many autumns, hid him, for reasons not known, deeming him a reproach . She passed his embryo, and it was swallowed by Kushava (a river?) in whose womb it developed favorably, since “the waters were gracious to the child”.
1. THIS is the ancient and accepted pathway by which all Gods have come into existence.
Hereby could one be born though waxen mighty. Let him not, otherwise, destroy his Mother.
2 Not this way go I forth: hard is the passage. Forth from the side obliquely will I issue.
Much that is yet undone must I accomplish; one must I combat and the other question.
Indra defied the ancient and accepted way by which all gods have come into existence. “Not this way go I forth, hard is the passage. Forth from the side obliquely will I issue”, he proclaimed, even as he lay in the womb of his mother. His time had come, and ominously he declared, “Much that is yet undone must I accomplish; one must I combat and the other question.” The god was aware of the immediate task be had to accomplish – slaying of the dragon Vrtra and releasing the waters held by him.
9 Thou art mine own, O Maghavan, whom Vyamsa struck to the ground and smote thy jaws in pieces.
But, smitten through, the mastery thou wonnest, and with thy bolt the Dasa’s head thou crushedst.
3 He bent his eye upon the dying Mother: My word I now withdraw. That way I follow.
In Tvastar’s dwelling India drank the Soma, a hundredworth of juice pressed from the mortar.
10 The Heifer hath brought forth the Strong, the Mighty, the unconquerable Bull, the furious Indra.
The Mother left her unlicked Calf to wander, seeking himself, the path that he would follow.
11 Then to her mighty Child the Mother turned her, saying, My son, these Deities forsake thee.
Then Indra said, about to slaughter Vrtra, O my friend Vrtra, stride full boldly forward.
Indra, of his own volition, insisted on being delivered the unusual way, eventually resulting in the death of Kusava. Kusava, so incapacitated, was unable to care for the newborn. Allegorically, Vamadeva the composer of this hymn, says, “The Heifer hath brought forth the Strong, the Mighty, the unconquerable Bull, the furious Indra. The Mother left her unlicked Calf to wander, seeking himself, the path that he would follow.”
7 Are they addressing him with words of welcome? Will the floods take on them the shame of Indra?
With his great thunderbolt my Son hath slaughtered Vrtra, and set these rivers free to wander.
6 With lively motion onward flow these waters, the Holy Ones, shouting, as ’twere, together.
Ask them to. tell thee what the floods are saying, what girdling rock the waters burst asunder.
Worse still, Kusava’s husband, Vyamsa, did everything he could to ensure the newborn was put to death. Vyamsa struck to the ground and smote Indra jaws in pieces. Undeterred, Indra seized a bolt and crushed Vyamsa’s head. After all, even at birth, Indra was endowed with all heroic valour. As soon as he was born, he sprang himself, assumed his vesture, and filled the earth and heaven.
Having widowed Kusava, Indra took one last look at her, even as she lay their dying and hurried towards Tvastar’s dwelling and drank an enormous amount of Soma. What was ordained had to be fulfilled and even a dying mother could not bind the god. The orphanded god, forsaken by the other gods, now turned to his only friend Visnu, “O my friend Visnu, stride full boldly forward”. Thus saying, Indra slew Vrtra, liberating the waters, which burst forth from the mountain stronghold where they had been imprisoned. With great pride, the goddess Earth exults, “With his great thunderbolt my Son hath slaughtered Vrtra, and set these rivers free to wander”. And given the single handed accomplishment of her son, then mocks the other gods, “Are they (the gods) addressing him with words of welcome? Ask them (the gods) to tell thee what the floods are saying, what girdling rock the waters burst asunder”.
This extraordinary account of events must be a record of an ancient epochal milestone in the history of humankind.
The imprisionment of waters in the world, the capture of the sun god, and long lasting nights – a recurring theme in the Rig Veda, related to the Vrtra legend, point to a period in the history of humankind similar to conditions that would have existing during an ice age.
Only a cataclysmic event would have reversered conditions. What we do know is around 13,000 years or so ago, a global meltdown resulted in the birth of several rivers and rise in sea levels the world over. The composers of the Rig Veda, linked an ancient human memory with the birth of their great god Indra. While this particular hymn, gives no clues to what the exact cause of the meltdown might have been, the association is apparent. From this hymn, we may infer that the cause is earth bound – for his mother “bore him for a thousand months and many autumns”. We are told of the gargantuan scale of the event because at its occurence it was “endowed with all heroic valour”. “Then up he sprang himself, assumed his vesture, and filled, as soon as born, the earth and heaven.”
The result of this event is the demise of Vrtra, the demon, that no other gods were able to put an end to and the release of waters the world over.
Evidence to support the notion that one of the accounts of the birth of Indra and the destruction of Indra are allegorical accounts of the end of the last ice age is available in several other hymns and over the next few weeks, I will attempt to present more of these.