Indra Festival in the Vedas and Tamil Epics

By London Swaminathan (my posts are simultaneously uploaded into five websites)

(This article is available in Tamil as well in my blogs.)

Worship of God Indra was popular in ancient Tamil Nadu. The oldest Tamil Book is Tolkappiyam, which is dated to 1st century BCE. Vedic gods Indra and Varuna were among the four Gods mentioned by Tolkappiam as Gods of the Tamils. Interestingly, Shiva was not one of them. That book was written by a Brahmin by name Trundadumagni and launched in the court of Pandya king under the chairmanship of Athankottu Asan, who was well versed in the four Vedas. Today we see the amazing continuity of Indra worship in India and Nepal. Brahmins worship Indra and Varuna three times a day in their Sandhya vandhana. Nepalese celebrate Indra Festival every year. Hindu Temple priests around the world invoke all the Vedic Gods in their day to day rituals.

Indra Festival was a very popular festival in ancient Tamil Nadu according to twin Tamil epics Silappadikaram and Manimekalai. It was first mentioned in Mahabharata and Ramayana. But in the Vedas we have some information which is interpreted by scholars as Indra festival. Atharva Veda mentioned Indra Dwaja (banner or flag of Indra). Rig Veda hinted at it.

At present Indra festival is celebrated as a grand Royal festival in Nepal. Gunabhadra, a king of 10th century CE started this festival in Nepal. They call it Yenya or Indra Jatra. Bengalese also celebrated it.

Raksha Bhandan celebrated all over India and the Water Festivals celebrated in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma has got some links with Indra, the god of rain.


Picture: Elephant dance in Indra Festival,Kathmandu, Nepal

All the important Hindu scriptures like Bhagavatha, Ramayana and Mahabharata and Jain and Buddhist scriptures refer to Indra festival. This shows that Indra was held in high esteem from the southernmost tip of India up to Nepal in the Himalayas. Jains and Buddhists competed with each other in praising Indra by saying that “even Indra” worshipped the Buddha or Jain Tirthankara. Ramayana used the simile of Indra Dwaja in many places. Bringing down Indra Dwaja (flag)on the last day of the festival was a ritual used very often by Valmiki.

2000 year old Sangam Tamil literature refers to Indra (Pura Nanuru 182 and 241, Ainkuru. 62, Tirumurugu. 155-59 ) and Amruta (ambrosia of Indraloka) in a lot of places. Didactic books including Tirukkural also refer to Indra and Amruta.

The rare coincidence between the Tamils and the Nepalese is that both of them install a pole and hoist the Indra flag. In Nepal it is celebrated for 8 days but in Tamil Nadu it was celebrated for 28 days.

Another rare coincidence of Indra Festival in north and south is that they believed stoppage of the festival would result in a natural catastrophe. When Krishna stopped it, it was raining incessantly and Krishna had to lift the Govardhana Hill to protect his people. When the Choza king stopped it, the harbour city of Kaveripumpattinam in Tamil Nadu was devoured by the sea. Both of them believed Indra was in charge of rains and water.


Who Started the Festival?

Mahabharata says it was started by Uparichara Vasu. The life story of Uparichara Vasu itself is interesting. He was given an aeroplane and a garland of never fading lotus flowers by Indra. He married Girika but he was asked to go to a forest where his seed (semen) fell at the thought of his wife. It was devoured by a fish and Matsya (satyavati) was born to the fish. Each one of his sons started a separate dynasty in India. He was credited with some engineering feats  such as breaking down a hill to create a new river (Please read my post GREAT ENGINEERS OF ANCIENT INDIA).

Jain scriptures link Indra festival with Rishabadeva, the first Thirthankara. Tamil epic Silappadikaram (Kathai 5) says that one choza king Thungeyil  Erintha Thodithot  Sembiyan started this festival. Both may be correct if we take one started it in the north and another started in the south of India. Interestingly Chozas themselves claimed that their ancestors ruled north India. All their ancestors were mythological characters mentioned in Mahabharata and Ramayana. The very word Sembiyan came from Sibi Chakravarthy of the famous pigeon story  (Sibi=Saibya=Sembiya). The story of Sibi is in Sangam Tamil literature, Pancha Tantra and Tamil epic Silappadikaram.

The details of the celebrations were given in Silappadikaram  (5: 141-4) and Manimekalai (1:27-72, 2:1-3, 1:1-9, 24: 62-69, 25: 175-200). The drummer will announce that the festival began and then people will assemble to hoist the Indra Dwaja (Banner). The whole town wore a festive look with lot of decorations. Indra was bathed with holy water. It started on a full moon day in Chitra month (coinciding with April). Other deities were also decorated. Dance and Music were the highlights.

According to Maimekalai, Agastya asked the Sembian (Choza) king to start this festval. In Nepal, it is celebrated in September. In Tamil Nadu, the festival Bogi, celebrated on the eve of Makarasanranti/ Pongal also linked with Indra. Bogi itself means Indra.


In the Vedas

Indra is said to have shaken in front of Maruts in the Vedas. Actually it means that Indra Flag was fluttering in the Wind (Maruts are wind gods; The word Maruti/ Anjaneya came from it). Vedic scholars Dange and Meyer have written about the festival in detail.

In the Rig Veda it is said that Indra shook in the company of his followers. His companions Maruts were the wind god. Vedas also say, “ priests have raised you up on the high, O, Satakratu like a pole” (RV 1.X.1). Vedic poets used symbolic language to convey the message that the Indra flag was hoisted and it was fluttering in the wind. Meyer gives more evidence from Atharva Veda.

In Kuchipudi and other dance performances a victory flag and staff are installed in the name of Indra. In ancient Tamil Nadu a big honour in the name of Indra’s son Jayanta was given to the court dancer. It was called Talai kol.

Tamils celebrate Bogi festival on the eve of Pongal (Makara Sankaranti). Bogi is another name of Indra. Indra and Varuna are worshipped by the Brahmins in their day to day Sandhayvandana (thrice a day water oblation to Sun God) and in all the temples during Puja and Abhisheka (ritual bathing of Gods). It is amazing to see the same custom is followed for more than at least 3500 years.


Nivedita and Indra Flag

Swami Vivekananda asked his Irish disciple Nivedita alias Margaret Noble to design a Hindu flag. She came with a design of Indra’s  weapon Vajrayutha and word “Vandemataram” in Bengali language. South East Asian countries had Indra’s vehicle Iravatha elephant on their flags or on their national emblems. Now we see lot of Indra Idols and statues in the museums around the world.

Now we realise that the theory of Aryan Dravidian divisions proposed by the Western “scholars”  were utter lies. Indians had one culture from time immemorial though out India. We have seen the same festival celebrated from Vedic days to modern days in Nepal via Krishna of Mathura and Chozas of Tamil Nadu.

(Read other posts Indra Seal in Indus Valley, Vishnu Seal in Indus Valley by Swaminathan. Contact for more information: or


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  1. Chapter : 8 – Tri hari Garh/ Teamhrach (Tara Hill ) / Tramira samghata/ Tuatha de Dannan:Roots in Sarswati civilization : ThadAdagai (Minakshi Devi) | Chandrakant Marwadi

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