Books: Thundergod: The Ascendance Of Indra
Author: Rajiv G Menon
Indra, a vedic god, is a fascinating mythological character. The king of the devas commands rain clouds and thunder, is brave in battle against asuras who torment earth and its inhabitants, and has a lust for power that sometimes overpowers his better judgement.
Thundergod is part one of what’s been titled the Vedic trilogy. It’s a modern interpretation of the character and combines mythology with history. The devas are one of the many tribes that inhabit Eurasia and they share their lineage with Ikshvaaku, Yavana, Aditya and Asura tribes.
Indra is born of the union of Daeyus, king of a tribe, and a celestial being. He has golden hair, which further emphasises his Eurasian roots. According to a prophecy, Indra is the warrior destined to unite the Devas, Ikshvaakus, Yavanas, and Adityas, and then lead them in battle against the Asuras.
Daeyus is killed when Indra is just a baby. A sage called Mitra, who before renouncing the world was a renowned warrior of the Aditya clan, brings up Indra and four other orphans — Vayu, Agni, Varuna and Soma — at his ashram. The five grow up to be close friends and develop superhuman abilities when they kill a group of cursed beings called Pisachas. These abilities, however, have to be strengthened from time to time by drinking a brew that Soma perfects — not surprisingly, this brew is called “soma”.
While most of the book deals with magic and mythology, Thundergod does touch upon events that suggest historical authenticity. For instance, Indra attacks and conquers the city of Harappa. While there are many gaps in our knowledge of the Harappan civilisation, the coming of the Aryans and the vedic age, to depict Indra as the man who led Aryans into the Indus Valley is more than reinterpretation. It changes historical facts.
That criticism apart, the story is gripping. Though the Deva leadership is his by birthright, Indra has to prove himself to be a worthy leader. He challenges the regent’s son, who stakes claim to Deva leadership. His relationship with his wife, Sachi, is complicated since Indra is forced to kill her brother and (by accident) her father. Even after becoming king and raising a massive army, Indra nearly loses everything in his fight with the Asuras.
These changes of fortune, in fact, are reminiscent of Babur, who hailed from the same region and after several attempts to carve a kingdom in present-day Afghanistan, ultimately founded the Mughal empire in India.
Indra’s violence and vanity are brought out well by the author. For instance, after conquering Harappa, Indra, drunk on soma, orders the sacking of the city. When the chief priestess refuses to yield, Indra orders his commanders to rape her and worse, he watches as they obey him.
The deed doesn’t go unpunished. A vishkanya sent by the patron goddess of Harappa poisons Indra. Indra and his horde are forced to retreat to the Himalayas, where their task is to defeat the danavas (portrayed as dragons) who have dammed the rivers of the Indus valley. The book ends with the defeat of the danavas and the Devas meeting Manu.
There is an interesting twist in the end, which we will not spoil for you. Suffice to say that we look forward to read the next part of this trilogy.