An Invocation: "𝔽𝕠𝕣 𝕀𝕟𝕕𝕣𝕒 𝕊𝕦𝕣𝕖𝕝𝕪 𝕀𝕤 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝔽𝕣𝕚𝕖𝕟𝕕 𝕠𝕗 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕋𝕣𝕒𝕧𝕖𝕝𝕖𝕣"
A part of this story is well-known to the students of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, as it — along with Schleicher's Fable — is periodically retold in reconstructed PIE. You can hear it told at the Archeology website: https://www.archaeology.org/exclusives/articles/1302-proto-indo-european-schleichers-fable But there are other important parts of this story that are, perhaps, not as well known.
The Harishchandra-Rohitashva legend appears to refer to human sacrifice (Puruṣamedha पुरुषमेध or Naramedha नरमेध), similar to the practice mentioned in the Abrahamic scriptures. The sacrifice was promised by King Harishchandra to Lord Varuna in return for a son. Varuna periodically reminded the king of his promise, but the king was able to stall him. It should be noted that the sacrifice, ultimately, failed to happen. The image below is that of a Mughal-era depiction of the Ramayana's version of this story.
But my article today is centered on yet another interesting aspect of this story. If I were to ask you to name the RigVedic patron deity of travelers, you'd probably think of Pushan (पूषन्). (Pushan may be cognate with the Greek Pan, from the PIE root *peh₂-, to protect or shepherd.) But the Varuna-Harishchandra-Rohitashva legend firmly ensconces Lord Indra in that role. Hence the title of this article, drawn from the RigVeda itself. The image below depicts Indra riding the four-tusked and seven-trunked white elephant Airavata.
As we get ready to embark on "An Epic Journey", I thought it was apropos to invoke Lord Indra in his capacity as the traveler's friend. As Rohitashva roams the forest, year after year, looking for a volunteer to take his place in the sacrifice promised by his father to Varuna, Indra exhorts him to "wander, wander":
"The fortune of him who is sitting, sits;
it rises when he rises;
it sleeps when he sleeps;
it moves when he moves.
Therefore, wander! …
"The wanderer finds honey and the sweet Udumbara [उदुम्बर] fruit;
behold the beauty of the sun,
who is not wearied by his wanderings.
We are now ready, with Lord Indra's blessing, to set off on our own journey -- consisting of 101 articles and videos -- to explores the wandering of our Bronze Age ancestors!
Images credits: All images are public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia.