Since the 1920s, fragments of a lost civilization have been unearthed at dozens of sites within the Indus Valley. The culture dates back as far as 7000 BC (9,000 BP). They were masters of civil engineering, having irrigation systems, drought and famine management strategies, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, waste water disposal and organized housing for over five million inhabitants. They were commercially successful, trading with their contemporaries in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, China and Southeast Asia. They were artisans and craftsmen, fashioning exquisite jewelry out of gold, precious stones and coral. They were physicians, performing surgery and dentistry. They practised yoga and recited the Vedas, but they didn’t build temples and they didn’t build a social hierarchy that elevated some to the status of gods, while subjecting others to menial subservience. They didn’t use the caste system, intrinsic to later Vedic culture. In the culture of the IVC (Indus Valley Civilization) there was no place for warrior kings and supernatural priests. And for want of these latter qualities they were exterminated.
Throughout the Rig Veda, the Mahabharata and the Puranas is a wealth of information dealing with Vedic culture, geography, history, genealogy and, of course, wars. If there is but one word that describes the Vedic culture it is ‘violent’. Revealed within these texts is the legend of how Indra destroyed the IVC.
The people of the IVC are referred to in the Vedic texts as ‘Daityas’, ‘Danavas’, ‘Asuras’ and by several other tribal names. The word ‘asura’ is not a tribal name, but rather a term that refers to the collective of Daityas and Danavas. The ‘sura’ and ‘asura’ division of kindred is well-documented in early Vedic texts, such as the Ramayana 1.45.
Oh, descendent of Raghu, then the heaven sent damsel Vaaruni came up from Milky Ocean searching for her espousal, who is the daughter of Varuna, and who incidentally is the presiding deity of hard liquors and also called as Sura. Oh, Rama, the sons of Diti, namely Asuras, have not espoused that daughter of Rain god, but oh, brave Rama, the sons of Aditi on their part, namely Suras, have espoused that impeccable Vaaruni. Thereby the sons of Diti are called asuraas, and the sons of Aditi are called Suras, and gods are delighted and rejoiced on espousing Vaaruni.
The word ‘sura’ means ‘wine’ in Sanskrit. Those who use wine, meath and soma ritually are ‘Suras’ and those who don’t are ‘Asuras’. The Suras were the Vedic sages, who first ordered their cultural system near Pragjyotishpura, Assam. (MBH 5.108)
The gods of the Suras were the 12 Adityas, named Dhatri, Mitra, Aryaman (Aryyaman), Sakra (Indra), Varuna (Varna), Ansa, Vaga (Bhaga), Vivaswat (Vivasvat), Usha (Pushan), Savitri, Tvashtri (Tashtri, Twashtri, Tvastar), and Vishnu (Visnu).
The Vedic kings and priests propitiated and deified their ancestors. The Adityas were originally the human ancestors and for generations after their deaths, stand-in actors – living idols – were assigned to represent the ancestors, receive sacrificial offerings and lend the living their spiritual power. The Aditya ‘god jobs’ had vacancies and recruitments (MBH 12.342). The parents of the original Adityas were Kasyapa and Aditi. In the Vedic text, these deified personages, are collectively called Devas and Celestials.
The Asuras, belonging to the Daitya tribes, were descended from Kasyapa and Diti, whose children were Hiranyakasipu, Hiranyaksha and Sinka, their daughter. (VP 1.15)
The Asuras belonging to the Danava tribes were descended from Kasyapa and Danu and their names were Dwimurddha, Sankara, Ayomukha, Sankusiras, Kapila, Samvara, Ekachakra, Taraka, Swarbhanu, Vrishaparvan, Puloman and Viprachitti. (VP 1.21) When these Asuras died, they were gone forever. There were no Asura ‘god jobs’. But there was a religious imperative to worship deceased ancestors. (MBH 12.342)
Devas are the progeny of Aditi by Kasyapa. Daityas are the progeny of Aditi by the same Kasyapa and this earth originally belonged to Daityas. Notwithstanding the fraternal relationship between Devas and the Daityas (their mothers Aditi and Diti also being sisters the daughters of Daksha by Dharani) the Devas got the Daityas killed through Vishnu and got this earth also and became the Lords of all the three worlds. (VRM 7.11)
The Daityas and the Danavas, the ‘Asuras’, were not foreign invaders, demons or dragons, insane with the urge to kill and devour people. They were simply demonized and maligned by the Vedic texts, written by Vedic Sutas, who were patronized by Vedic Brahmanas and Vedic Kshatriyas. In every single documented conflict between the Asuras and Suras, the aggression of the Asuras was lawful, defensive or retaliatory against the ‘contrivances’, ‘acts’ and ‘means’ of the Suras.
Vasudeva (Krishna) said, With thy own powers of illusion, O Bharata (Yudhishthira), destroy this illusion of Duryodhana who is an adept in it! One conversant with illusion should be slain with illusion! This is the truth, O Yudhishthira! With acts and means and applying thy power of illusion to these waters, slay, O chief of the Bharatas, this Suyodhana, who is the very soul of illusion! With acts and means Indra himself slew the Daityas and the Danavas! Vali himself was bound by that high-souled one Upendra (Indra), with the aid of many acts and means! The great Asura Hiranyaksha, as also that other one, Hiranyakasipu, was slain by the aid of many acts and means. Without doubt, O king, Vritra also was slain by the aid of acts! Similarly was the Rakshasa Ravana of Pulastya’s race, with his relatives and followers, slain by Rama! Relying upon acts and contrivances, do thou also display thy powers! (MBH 9.29)
Even Ravana’s abduction of Sita was lawful, according to Vedic customs and Krishna, who said,
In the case of Kshatriyas that are brave, a forcible abduction for purposes of marriage is applauded, as the learned have said. (MBH 1.220)
The animosity (and double standards) grew between the Suras and Asuras because ‘earth originally belonged to Daityas’. Indra (Sakra) was particularly jealous of Asura wealth and spiritual merit. The vast majority of hymns in the Rig Veda illustrate the envy that Vedic kings and sages aired while offering sacrifices of butter, soma mead and other foods to the gods in exchange for help in slaughtering their foes and securing the wealth they wished to pillage. The hymns that laud the victories of the gods, like Indra, boost their egos, sense of power and superiority over foes. There are very few instances where gods are praised for creating peace or contributing to the well being of human beings at large. All that was ever gained seems to be at the expense of enemy tribes, who were, in fact, fraternally related to the Vedic priests and kings who prayed the gods to slay their brothers.
If Indra’s behaviour was assessed by psychologists today, he would be classified as a neurotic psychopath. Anyone who excelled in religious practice or acquired too much wealth intimidated him and he, at once, secured the resources to exterminate the threat. Indra’s brother, Tvashtri, had a particularly devout son named Viswarupa, who threatened Indra in this way.
And beholding the austerities, courage, and truthfulness of this one possessed of immeasurable energy, Indra became anxious, fearing lest that being should take his place. And Indra reflected, How may he be made to addict himself to sensual enjoyments; how may he be made to cease his practice of such rigid austerities? For were the three-headed being to wax strong, he would absorb the whole universe.
And endued with intelligence, he fixed upon a contrivance for destroying the three-headed being. And he said, Let me today hurl my thunderbolt at him. By this means he will speedily be killed. Even a strong person should not overlook a rising foe, contemptible though he may be’ And thus reflecting upon the lessons inculcated in treatises of learning, he was firmly resolved upon slaying that being. Then Indra, enraged, hurled at the three-headed being his thunderbolt which looked like fire and was terrible to behold, and which inspired dread. And forcibly struck by that thunderbolt, he was slain and fell down, as falls on the earth the loosened summit of a hill. (MBH 5.9)
As violent as Indra’s murder of an unsuspecting victim is, Indra wasn’t yet satisfied that the threat was eliminated, so he forced a carpenter who was passing by to cut off Viswarupa’s head with an axe. When the carpenter asked Indra if he felt shame for the inhumane act of slaying the son of a saint, Indra said, ‘I shall afterwards perform some religious ceremony of a rigorous kind to purify myself from this taint.’
Ironically it was the weapon (thunderbolt) that Tvashtri made that Indra used to kill Tvashtri’s son. (MBH 3.100) Tvashtri plotted vengeance and ‘created’ Vritra, who may actually be Tvashtri’s son named Ahi (MBH 12.207), or his cousin Vritra, who was the son of his aunt Danayu. (MBH 1.65) The slaying of Vritra by Indra is well documented in the Mahabharata. One of Indra’s epithets is ‘Vritra Slayer’.
The contrivance that Indra used to kill Vritra was recommended to him by his brother, Vishnu, who advised:
I shall, therefore, tell you of a contrivance whereby he may be annihilated. Do ye with the Rishis and the Gandharvas repair to the place where Vritra that bearer of a universal form is and adopt towards him a conciliatory policy. You will thus succeed in overthrowing him. By virtue of my power, victory, ye gods, will be won by Indra, for, remaining invisible, I shall enter into his thunderbolt, that best of weapons. (MBH 5.10)
Vritra accepted the peace agreement with conditions for his own protection from attacks. However, the Sura Devas had no intention of keeping peace. Their design was to bring down Vritra’s guard.
Thus peace having been concluded, Vritra was very much pleased. And Indra also became pleased though constantly occupied with the thought of killing Vritra. And the chief of the deities passed his time in search of a loophole, uneasy in mind. (MBH 5.10)
As the Mahabharata tells us, Indra succeeded in killing Vritra, who had been living and working in the city of Hiranyapura (Ranyil) within the Kashmir Valley. The headwaters of the Jhelum (Vitasta) river pass through this valley, exiting at Baramulla (Varahamula) and the Indus passes to the north of the valley.
There are local legends that speak of the Baramulla pass as having been blocked by natural moraine dams and controlled by man. By local accounts, the name ‘Kashyapa’ is historically and traditionally connected with the draining of the lake.
That the valley of Kashmir was once a vast lake, known as “Satisaras”, the lake of Parvati (consort of Shiva), is enshrined in our traditions. There are many mythological stories connected with the desiccation of the lake, before the valley was fit for habitation. The narratives make it out that it was occupied by a demon ‘Jalodbhava’, till Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a boar and struck the mountain at Baramulla (ancient Varahamula) boring an opening in it for the water to flow out. Kashmir and It’s People: Studies in the Evolution of Kashmiri Society
Rig Veda 1.32 recounts the whole story of Indra’s victory over Vritra. Ahi, Vritra and his mother, Danayu (Danu), tried to guard the dam that regulated the glacial meltwater flow through the Baramulla pass. Indra, while intoxicated after drinking ‘three sacred beakers’ of soma, destroyed the dam, hacked Vritra’s hands and feet off, attacked his mother, then watched as the raging river washed their bludgeoned bodies down stream. He let loose the flood waters of the seven rivers, rending forts (RV 10.104) and breaking nine-and-ninety castles down (RV 8.82). Indra destroyed the IVC settlements.
Settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization, who – through ideal water management practices – had greened the desert and established sophisticated civil engineering feats – were flooded, buried in silt and abandoned. And that’s how we find them today, 7,500 years after Indra destroyed the first Indus Valley settlements of the Daitya and Danava peoples.
After the flood waters abated and the former Daitya and Danava inhabitants had perished or fled away from their settlements, the Vedic people moved in and took possession of the land. Any Asuras remaining in the region would have been absorbed into the Vedic culture as Vaishyas and Shudras. The reservoirs and irrigation channels the Asura architects had built and managed were gone, leaving the Sura inhabitants with a new challenge.
Right after Indra had won this ‘victory’ over the Asuras, the Vedic culture fell into economic and social disorder. Bharatavarsha entered into a 12-year drought, crops were failing, people were starving, cities, commerce and even the Vedic practices had all been abandoned. The renowned rishis left their wives and children to fend for themselves and headed to the mountains for refuge. Parents were selling their own children and kings were buying them to sacrifice to the gods. People had taken to eating dead dogs and their sacred cows. Cannibalism was rampant, making forests unsafe to venture through. Even the Kshatriya nobility began turning away Brahmanas soliciting alms or offering their services to perform merit-earning sacrifices. Bharatavarsha was in decline and Vedic culture nearly extinct. In fact, if it had not been for the sage Sarasvata, the Vedas would likely be unknown today.
There, during a drought extending for twelve years, the sage Sarasvata, in former days, taught the Vedas unto many foremost of brahmanas. (MBH 9.49)
As the legends tell us, Vedic culture was only reinvented in the Tungaka forest along the Sarasvati after mass genocide of the Indus Valley Civilization at the hands of Indra, the Vritra Slayer. (MBH 3.85)