Vrtra Myth – A political interpretation – Creation of a hero?

Consider the political situation during early Rig Vedic history. Faced with new challenges,  perhaps as a result of migration to a new land (debatable), they have to deal with a new foe – the Dasa – for supremacy over water, land and wealth (cattle). Or perhaps, there is a silent power struggle, one school of seers and their patrons seeking to replace the establishment. A new generation of ambitious seers and their willing patrons, seeking to expand into new territory, not afraid to aspire for wealth and fame, but having to confront the established order based on the more sedate deities – Varuna and Mitra.

Changing times call for changing role models. No, the old guard of Varuna and Mitra would just not do. A young, militant hero had to be manufactured, that could aspire the masses and under whose name and authority, the new set of seers and their patrons could formulate a new order.

That young and militant hero was Indra. Now he had to be “sold” to the masses.

The four things that mattered most to society then were – sunlight (yes, the insecurity remained), water, offspring and wealth (measured in terms of cattle).

It is not surprising therefore that the two oft repeated and glorified deeds of Indra are centered around sunlight and water, over time these have come to be known as the Vala and Vrtra myths respectively.

The core of the Vrtra myth deals with Indra’s slaying of Vrtra, which means the “obstructer” and in this case, of water, and of the Vala myth deals with the slaying of Vala, which means “enclosure”, and in the context of the myth of sunlight.

Some of the events surrounding the actual slaying in both cases do lend support to the political interpretation as laid out in the initial paragraphs. Let us examine the relevant events.

RV 6.017.08
Yea, Indra, all the Deities installed thee their one strong Champion in the van for battle.
What time the godless was the Gods’ assailant, Indra they chose to win the light of heaven.

This verse clearly suggests that the entire pantheon of Vedic deities chose Indra to as their one strong champion to do battle with the demon in the fight for sunlight. Read between the lines, and the deities include the old order of Varuna and Mitra. Read another way, if the Gods themselves had appointed Indra their leader, then people on earth must accept that as well.

This is further buttressed in RV 6.020.02. The Gods have indeed entrusted all power to Indra. Not to miss the involvement of Visnu, another emerging deity and representing the new order. Further down, there is the mention of Pusan as well, not surprising as he is the household deity of the Bharadvajas and had to find representation in the new order.

RV 6.020.02
Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted,
When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters

Indra’s defeat of Vrta (aka Ahi) was a cause of much joy not just for people on earth, but the Gods as well.

RV 6.018.14
In thee, O God, the wisest of the Sages, all Gods were joyful when thou slewest Ahi.
When lauded for thyself, thou gavest freedom to sore-afflicted Heaven and to the people

And finally, with victory achieved, for slaying Vrtra, Indra is accorded the high dominion (amongst the Gods) for evermore.

RV 6.025.08
To thee for high dominion hath been for evermore, for slaughtering the Vrtras,
All lordly power and might, O Holy Indra, given by Gods for victory in battle

So, is this a plausible explanation for the battle between Indra and the demons Vala and Vrtra? Perhaps. However, if we are able to associate or determine actual events, then surely, this interpretation must be turned on its head, i.e. Indra was indeed involved in deeds of enormous significance to the Vedic people and hence grew in prominence and thereby accorded a position of pre-eminence amongst the Vedic deities.

The search continues…And other interpretations shall follow….

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