Girivalam shrines: Ashtalingams – Indra lingam (East)
The anthropomorphic god Indra is an important god in the Hindu religion. He is also known as Śakra in the Vedas and is revered as the leader of the Devas or gods and the King of paradise or Devaloka. For the Aryas, he was their national god and he was regarded as the protector of the military aristocracy and the Kshatriyas warriors. The formidable thunderbolt-wielding Indra strikes an imposing figure but as king of the gods he is generally benevolent, being generous to his worshippers, guaranteeing peace and prosperity and delivering beneficial rainstorms to end droughts. He can also be called upon in times of war to give support with his divine weapons and favourable intervention. In later tradition Indra is transformed from a worshipped god into a mythological figure involved in various, sometimes unflattering adventures, whilst gods such as Vishnu and Shiva replace him at the head of the Hindu pantheon. Nevertheless, Indra continued to be associated with storms, rain and he is notably the reigning deity of the cardinal direction East.
God of Thunder & Storms: In the Hindu creation myth Indra was born (along with his brother Agni) from the mouth of the primordial god or giant Purusha whose various other body parts gave birth to the other members of the Hindu pantheon. These new gods then brought order to the cosmos and Indra, seated on his throne within the storm clouds of the svarga or third heaven is ruler of the clouds and skies alongside his wife Indrāni. In Hindu mythology, the clouds are equated with divine cattle and the sound of thunder during storms is Indra fighting with the demons who are forever trying to steal these celestial cows. In addition, the rain is equated with Indra milking his divine herd and the god is seen as a protector of earthly cattle belonging to his worshippers. Indra encompasses and controls the universe, balancing the earth in the palm of his hand and manipulating it according to his whim. He also created the rivers and streams by shaping the mountains and valleys with his sacred axe.
Indra has a favourite companion, his pet ape Vrishakapi, but his fondness for the creature did once incur the jealous wrath of Indrāni who then displayed amorous intentions towards Vrishakapi which were reciprocated and when the couple were discovered by Indra, the angry god drove the animal away. However, the tables were turned when, later, Indra himself was discovered in the arms of Vrishakapi’s wife by his once faithful pet. Thus being equal in their unfaithfulness, the pair’s great friendship was restored.
Here on Arunachala Girivalam, the Indra lingam shrine is located at the centre of Tiruvannamalai town in the main market area. Esconced between two jewellery shops, it is hardly visible from the main road. A little passage leads to the antechamber of the shrine from where one descends a small flight of stairs to the inner sanctum built on an underground level. And thus one is rewarded at last with a darshan of the eastern Ashta lingam, the lingam of Indra!