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


Flags of Ancient Indian Kings

Picture: Tiger Flag of Chola Kings of Tamil Nadu

My research into Vahanas and Flags show that the Vahanas or Mounts of Gods and Goddesses came from their flags. For instance Lord Skanda had peacock and Sanaiswara had Kaka( crow) in their flags first. When the sculptors wanted to make the sculptures or idols it became easier for them to show as Vahanas instead of flags. If we accept this theory, it becomes logical that Lord Ganesh had mouse as flag first and then it was made in to Vahana. Another proof for my theory is the oldest Ganesh statues are found in South East Asian countries like Indonesia and Laos. They did not have mouse (Mushika) as vahana.

But we see the oldest Vahanas in Babylonia where most of the gods had lion as their vahanas. Deer and bull also figure as Vahanas in the Middle East.

*Oldest Flag: Egyptians carried a standard (3000 BC)
*Phonician Ships carried double cone flag like the Hindu Bhagavat Dwaja in 700BC
*Garuda dwaja-Vishnu: The concept of Garuda seems to have evolved in the Vedic age. Suparna Garudman is in RV I-164-46
Garuda bringing Soma plant (RV III-43-7; VII-26-6)

*Indus valley dwaja: The type of flag/dwaja popular with the people of Mohanjo-Daro comprised a staff, a bowl like receptacle and a cage. John Marshal says it carried a bird in the cage.

*Indus Valley: The most frequently represented ox-like beast with a single horn usually described as unicorn (Eksringa) may be identified with Sringa-Vrisha (Rig Veda VII-17-3;AV 20-5-7) according to VS Agrawal. It might have become Rishaba Vahana (Bull).
*On a seal discovered from Chanbu-daro, two nude women are represented carrying a standard each. Chanbu-Daro excavations Pl 11-36 ,pp149/50

Picture: Hindu Flag


*Kapi dwaja- Arjuna (monkey flag) or Vanara dwaja
In the Vanaparva there is a story that Hanuman assured Bhima that he will make terrible sounds staying in the dwaja of Arjuna (MB, Vana.150)
*Yudhistra- pair of Mrdanga
*Bhima- a simha
*Nakula- sarabha
*Sahadeva- Hamsa (swan)
*Abhimanyu- Saranga
*Duryodhana- snake
*Bhisma- Tala (Palmyra)
*Dronaa- an altar covered with a deer skin & kamandalu
*Karna- elephant chain
*Krpacharya- bull
*Asvattama- Lion Tail
*Jayadratha- Boar
*Somadatta- yupa
*Salya- plough
*Bhoja- elephant
*Alayudha- band of jackals
*Vrsasena- peacock
*Bhurisrava- yupa
*Brhadbala- lion
*Kalingaraja- a flame
*Pradyumna- crocodile
*Uttara- lion

KETU (flag) suffix in Mahabharata (nine kings)
Viraketu and more.


*Malayadwajan- Pandya King , Father of Meenakshi, husband of Kanchanamala ( Surasenan’s daughter)
*Chakradwaja Pandya (Drona Parva sloka)=kodi ther cheziyan
*Babruvahanan= Hamsa flag
*Chera Kings- Bow and Arrow
*Choza kings- Tiger flag
*Pandya Kings- Fish flag
*Pallava- Bull flag
*Parameswara Varman- Katwanga Ketu
*Nandhivarma Pallavan- Katwanga Ketu (Skull inserted in a hand bone)
*Chalukya Vikramadityan boasts of capturing Pallava Katvanga ketu

*During coronation ceremonies Flag Hoisting was an important event
*Flags were fluttering in every part of the country till the boundary
*One of the ten symbols of Kings is a flag (Kural etc.)
*Kalingatu Parani describes how the flag was taken in the forefront when the army marched into another kingdom
*Parankusa Maravarman- Thunder flag (pandi Kovai mentions it in 3 places)
*Pallavas and Pandyas had extra flags in addition to their Fish and Bull flags.
*Nandhivarman’s commander Uthayachandran defeated a hunter king Udhayanan and captured his Kannadi flag ( it is made up of peacock feathers, probably decorated with glass)
*Chalukya king- boar flag (Rajendra chola II boasts of capturing varaha flag of chalukyas

Kushana king Kumara- Cock flag, Kukkuta Dwaja.

*Velalar- kalappaik koti (plough)

Above facts about SOUTH INDIAN FLAGS were taken from Dr R Nagasamy’s book Yavarum Kelir)

Jaffna Royal Family (Sri Lanka) –Bull,Conch,Sun,Moon and Parasol
Samudragupta- Garuda (eagle)
Huna king Mihirakula- Recumbent bull
Rashtrakuta king Govinda II captured as many as 13 standards from his enemies.
Nandhivarma captured Mirror flag
Vinayaditya’s father- Pali dwaja

Sanskrit words for Flag : Ketu, Dwaja, Pathaka, Vaijayanthi

*Vijaya Ven Koti =Victorious white flag (puram 462)
*Visaiyam Vel Koti ( Mullai 91),
*Venrezu Koti ( Malaipadu. 582),
*Vaanthoy vel koti ( Pathtru. 67-1)


Skanda- peacock
Shiva- bull
Vishnu- Garuda
Brahma- Swan/ Hamsa
Indra- Vaijayanta dwaja or Airavata
Balarama- Palmyra
Durga- Peacock
Manmatha_ Makara Dwaja

Sun/Surya- Asva/Horse
Moon/Chandra- Padma/ Lotus
Mars/Angaraka- Vira /Spear?
Mercury/ Budha- Gaja/Elephant
Venus/Sukra- Asva/ Horse
Rahu- Naka

Gahtotkacha and other Rakshasas- Vulture dwaja
Ravana- human head or Veena

Meganada- lion
Atikaya- Rahu
Prahasta- snake
Kamba- seshanaga

Yakshas- Owl ,Alayudha- jackal,Yama-buffalo, Yamuna-Fish, ,Jyesta- Kaka Dwaja, Sura and Vatsarasa_ Pigeon,Bhisma- Palmyra flag,Tala Dwaja, Rama’s brother Bharata,Drstadyumna- Kovidara tree flag, Several sages_-Kusa Dwaja (kusa grass), Brahmanas- Lotus flag, Kinnaras- Lotus stalk/nala dwaja, Yaksha in Kalidasa’s Meghaduta- Cloud flag, Gupta king Chandra Gupta- Crescent moon,Ramagupta- Chakra Dwaja. Kumara Gupta, Yaudeyas,, Vrsa sena- Peacock Dwaja, Siki Dwaja

Picture: Flag of Cheras of Tamil Nadu
Pradyumna- Makaradwaja (Besnagar temple had this flag from 2nd Century BC)
(Also read my earlier post Country Names and Flags: India showed the way)

Flags & Country Names: India showed the way

India that is Bharat…..begins the preamble to the Constitution of India. India is the first country in the word to name a country after a man. India is the first country in the world to use flags as well. Maha Bharata, the longest epic in the world, has proof for this. We are all descendants of King  Bharata.

All those born in this land before Bharata,

All those born after, are called after his name

(Mbh.: I.69.49)

Bharata means he who bears, protects and sustains the world. This is the role of India in the world. As long as India survives, Dharma, Truth, Morality and Honesty will survive. India is the only country in the world with the motto “ Truth alone triumphs “ (Satyameva Jayate from Mundakopanishad)

India is called Bhara Varsa after the great king Bharata, son of Shakuntala and King Dushyanta. He was called Sarva Damana=All Tamer. Kalidasa, the greatest poet India praised Bharata sky high:

He will be a Sovereign of the World, Know this too

Crossing the oceans in a chariot gliding smooth

He shall conquer and rule unopposed

The rich earth with her seven continents

Named All Tamer here, because he subdues all creatures

By his strength, the future will see his name

Proclaimed Bharata: He who bears the world (Shakuntalam VII-33)

We may take these lines as a poet’s prediction about the future of our great country-Bharat. India will rule the world, a Super Power for ever, not by sword but by the sword of wisdom. The great Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati also said the same about India: he sang that India will liberate everyone in the world by showing the right path. He repeated the line three times in a verse to make it more emphatic.

There are more than one Bharata in Hindu Mythology. Rishabadeva’s son was also called Bharata. And Jatabharata was also mentioned in the Hindu mythologies. Rig Veda mentions a tribe called Bharatas. Tamil Sangam literature also mentioned sea faring tribe Bhatratavar.

The Hindu priests always mentions in their Sankalpa (Intention to do a Puja or ritual), the time they perform and the place where they perform the ritual, which is unique in the world. No culture has this historical and geographical sense except Hindus. The priest says “ Jambudwipe, Bharata Varshe, Bharata Kande——“ when he mentions the geographical location. So Bharata’s name is repeatedly used even today.

Many people think that India was united by the British and there was no single country before that. But the Tamil Sangam literature and the oldest of the Puranas, Vishnu Puranam clearly said that it was one country from the Himalayas to the southern oceans. There are innumerable references in ancient Tamil works. Here is the Vishnu Puranam reference:

– Vishnu Purana (2.3.1)

uttara yatsamudrasya himādreścaiva dakiam
a tadbhārata nāma bhāratī yatra santati


उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।

वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।

“The country (varam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata.”


India was the first country in the world to use flags. Unlike today, even individual leaders used flags in ancient India. We have proof for this even in Indus-Sarawathi  Valley civilization. The seals show some people carrying a standard in a procession. Some scholars identified the standard with a bird and others a bowl. Vedas also talk about flags and symbols . Ketu, Dwaja, Pathaka are the Sanskrit words used for the flags. Several mythological characters have these words as suffixes. e.g Asva Ketu, Kusa Dwajan


Temple Dwajarohana

All the Hindu temple festivals (in South India) start with Dwajarohana (raising the flag). The flag will be lowered ceremonially at the end of the festival. Every temple has a Dwajasthamba (Flag pole). All these show that the flags are part and parcel of Hinduism.

Poles known as Yupas were installed wherever Yagna or Yagas (fire ceremonies) were held.


Even Phoenician ships flew double cone flags in ancient times. Now we can see saffron coloured double cone flags on top of Hindu temples. Some temples have Aum or Swastik symbols on these flags. This is the most ancient flag. Dwaja is the Sanskrit word for flag (Tamil: Kodi).


Flags of Hindu Gods and Kings:

Shiva- Bull Flag

Vishnu/ Krishna- Garuda/ eagle flag

Skanda- peacock or cock

Hindu Gods were given various flags with symbols. When laymen asked questions about the logic behind such symbols they started telling various stories and eventually those symbols became Mounts of Gods-Vahanas. First there were only flags, later came the Vahanas.  Even Indo- Greek king Heliodorus in the North Western India built a Garuda Sthamba for Vishnu and he called himself Parama Bhagavata- a great devotee of Vishnu !


We have lot of references about flags from the Mauryan period. Paurava who fought against Alexander carried the flag of Heracles, says the Greek ambassador. By Heracles he meant Krishna or a Hindu God equal to Hercules.


Tamil kings Chera –Bow and arrow flag

Chola –Tiger flag

Pandya- Fish flag

Pallavas –Bull –Vrsa Dwaja

Other Pallavas- Khatwanga (Skull) flag

Some Pandyas-  Thunder and Lightning flag

(From page 45 of Yavarum Kelir by Dr R Nagaswamy)


Indra-Elephant called Erawan (Airavata )

Even today Laos and Thailand use this flag of Airavata, elephant of Indra

Kamadeva/Manmatha- Makara or Karkadwaja

Duryodana- Snake

Ravana – Veena (musical  instrument)

Arjuna- Hanuman/ monkey (Kapi Dwaja or Vanara Ketu)

Sanaiscara (planet Saturn)- Varaha Dwaja (Boar)

Indus King Jayadratha- Varaha Dwaja

Krupacharaya- Vrsabha Dwaja

Bhoja- Gaja Dwaja (elephant)

Lion flag was used by lot of people Meghanada (Ravana’s son), Bhima, Brhadbala, Varuna, Sri, Budha, Durga, Agni and Toya.

Sahadeva- Hamsa Dwaja

Nakula-Sarabha Swaja

Kumara Gupta, Yaudeyas,, Vrsa sena- Peacock Dwaja, Siki Dwaja

Pradyumna- Makaradwaja (Besnagar temple had this flag from 2nd Century BC)

Kushana king Kumara- Cock flag, Kukkuta Dwaja

Gahtotkacha and other Rakshasas- Vulture dwaja

Other flags:

Yakshas- Owl ,Alayudha- jackal,Yama-buffalo, Yamuna-Fish, ,Jyesta- Kaka Dwaja, Sura and Vatsarasa_ Pigeon,Bhisma- Palmyra flag,Tala Dwaja, Rama’s brother Bharata,Drstadyumna- Kovidara tree flag, Several sages_-Kusa Dwaja (kusa grass), Brahmanas- Lotus flag, Kinnaras- Lotus stalk/nala dwaja, Yaksha in Kalidasa’s Meghaduta- Cloud flag, Gupta king Chandra Gupta- Crescent moon,  Dronacharya- Vedika ( fire altar), Yudhistra/Dharma- Mrdanga drums, Ravana- Kapala/skull and Veena,Ramagupta- Chakra Dwaja.

Minor deities and Navagrahas are attributed with various flags.  Apart from animals and birds, other objects like swords, ladles, flowers were also used as flags. We can compare them to the modern day election symbols of the candidates. India can be proud of showing a very useful technique for illiterates and neo literates. They can easily remember symbols rather than words or names.


Tamil reference:


எல்லாரும் அமர நிலை எய்தும் நன்முறையை

இந்தியா உலகிற்களிக்கும்- ஆம்

இந்தியா உலகிற்களிக்கும்- ஆம் ஆம்

இந்தியா உலகிற்களிக்கும் வாழ்க (பாரதி)

Tamil References about flags from Dr R Nagaswamy’s book “Yavarum Kelir”

விசைய வெண்கொடி (புறம் 462),  விசையம் வெல் கொடி (முல்லை 91) வென்றெழு கொடி (மலைபடு 582), வான் தோய் வெல் கொடி (பதிற். 67-1)

அடலேறு வலத்துயர் வைத்த பிரான் (தெள்ளாற்றெரிந்த நந்திவர்மனின் கொடி), இடியுருவேந்திய கோன்(பாண்டிக்கோவை 242).