The Rig Veda And Greek Mythology: Indra And Zeus

The Rig Veda and Greek Mythology have helped to provide a narrative behind the creation of the world. These texts developed the various deities and customs that would play a role in the development of mankind and society. In The Rig Veda, “the earliest of the four Hindu religious scriptures,” one deity who helps to shape the stories is Indra. Likewise, in Greek Mythology, the deity who plays a large role in the stories’ is Zeus. Although Indra and Zeus exist in different mythological accounts, they both share similar characteristics that make it seem as if the deities are synonymous with one other.

In The Rig Veda, Indra is seen as the governor of the atmosphere. “In my vastness, I surpassed the sky and this vast earth,” Indra makes it clear that his power and strength topples that of the forces that exist below him. The idea that he exists above suggests that he is a supreme being who can control the atmosphere, storm, rain and thunder. “Deeds of Indra…the thunderbolt wielder”, continues the development of Indra’s connection to the atmosphere by suggesting that his weapon is a thunderbolt, and thunder exists above the sky and it has the power to be dangerous. Indra also receives strength and power from “the drug Soma” a natural plant that gives him power and strength along with the power of immorality.

In Greek Mythology, Zeus’s powers stretch further than those than can exist only on Earth. “Zeus, the cunning god, whose thunder and lightning batter the wide world,” has the power to alter the world’s atmosphere and sky. Using thunder and lightning, Zeus has the power the change the Earth’s surface. He can bring storms, rain, floods and fire to the world and he could also preserve the world. Much like Indra, Zeus wields a thunderbolt, “Zeus freed his Cyclops uncles: Thunder, lightning and Flash… In gratitude, they gave Zeus what were to become his trusty weapons,” The thunderbolt can be seen as a source of divine power, since it’s helpful and harmful. Helpful in the way that it can be used to bring warmth, but harmful because it can bring destruction. Both Indra and Zeus use the thunderbolt as their main weapon against their respective enemies.

In the Rig Veda, Indra had a unique birth due to the power and strength that he was born with. “His mother kept him in the womb for many years… for Indra’s sake – i.e. to protect him”, by keeping him in her womb, Indra’s mother, Aditi, looked to protect him from his father who was jealous of his power. When born, Indra exits his mother’s womb by bursting through her side. Bursting through his mother’s side signifies that Indra was not a normal, but rather godly since he wielded the power to rip through her side. “I will come out cross wise, through the side. Many things yet undone must I do…”, Indra’s birth is also unique because although he was kept in his mother’s womb for a long period of time, he longed to exit because he knew he had a duty to fulfil. In this case, Indra was referring to his obligation and need to stop the world from suffering by freeing is waters from Vrtra, the dragon.

When Zeus was born, Zeus’s mother kept him a secret from his father, and this is similar to the way Aditi kept Indra in her womb to protect him from his father. Madden with power and fearful that his children would overthrow him “when each of his children were born, Kronos swallowed the child whole.” When born, Zeus’s mother instead gave Kronos a stone. Zeus’s father, Kronos, is similar to Indra’s father because they both envied the power that their children held. This power would prove deadly to each father as both Indra and Zeus grew older, they were tasked with defeating their fathers. The birth and struggle between son and father presented in both The Rig Veda and Greek Mythology help strengthen the idea that Indra and Zeus are Gods, they aren’t normal beings so their faiths are divine and in order to fully grasp it they must defeat the other powerful role present in their lives, their father.

“With his great weapon my son killed Vrtra and set these rivers free”. Using his wielding thunderbolt, Indra when after the dragon who droughted the world by holding all the waters. Once again connecting Indra to the idea of rain and water, he must use his power to defeat the dragon, which is sometimes seen as his father, and save the world’s waters. Without water the world and its beings cannot survive. Water allows the world to be fertile, allowing for growth on the Earth’s surface in the form of oceans, trees, plants. Furthermore, it plays a role in the lives of human beings by offering a way to drink, farm and keep clean. Indra defeats Vrtra and frees the waters for his worshippers.

Zeus also helped his worshippers by brining peace to the world following the period of fighting between the titans led by his father, Kronos, and the younger gods lead by Zeus. The struggle between father and son is once again brought up and similar to the one faced by Indra and Vrtra. “Ten years they battled one another… with no end in sight.” Guided by Gia, Zeus once again frees those, the cyclopes and hundred handers, who were imprisoned by his father. These allies help Zeus and the younger god defeat the old regime and end the war. The actions of Zeus towards those who were harmed by his father played an advantage to him, and it was helped him win. Zeus also brough a flood upon his worshippers because he saw that they were being disrespectful to the Gods. “It was decided that the age that produced Lykaon must perish… Using fire was too dangerous… so water seemed the best”

“He rules the people as their king, encircling all this as a rim encircles spokes” Indra is seen as a savior by his people because he took action to defeat Vrtra who was holding the world’s water hostage. Also “He himself… with songs released the rosy cows” and it pays homage to his Hindu worshippers who see cows as divine beings. Cows provide milk and ghee, oblations that further help connect devotees to gods and by preserving this ritual Indra’s followers have profited beneficially.

Unlike Indra, when it came to deal with mortals, Zeus and “The Olympian gods could not be bothered much about humans.” Mortals were seen as a burden by the Gods because they needed to be maintained and cared for. Zeus sent Pandora with a box to Earth, and when “Pandora... lifted the lid. Out flew disaster, voiceless sickness that haunt the night and then thousand other ills.” These ills proved harmful to humans and it threatened the faith of their lives. To some extent, Zeus was ruder to mortals than Indra was.

Although written in different places and time periods, both the Rig Veda and Greek Mythology share a similar deity in that of Indra and Zeus. Both of these powerful Gods rule the atmosphere and divine touch of storms, rain and thunder. Born in unique ways, they both looked to overcome the forces that led to their prolonged and hidden births. Rising up and conquering their own fatherly figures, Indra and Zeus ushered themselves upon the stage as supreme divinities and they showed their courage during their respective battles, Indra when he fought Vrtra and Zeus against Kronos and the old gods. Although some differences may exist between the stories and journeys lead by Indra and Zeus, it is clear that these thunder wielding Gods are synonymous with one another. 

16 August 2021
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