An Invocation: "๐”ฝ๐• ๐•ฃ ๐•€๐•Ÿ๐••๐•ฃ๐•’ ๐•Š๐•ฆ๐•ฃ๐•–๐•๐•ช ๐•€๐•ค ๐•ฅ๐•™๐•– ๐”ฝ๐•ฃ๐•š๐•–๐•Ÿ๐•• ๐• ๐•— ๐•ฅ๐•™๐•– ๐•‹๐•ฃ๐•’๐•ง๐•–๐•๐•–๐•ฃ" 

By Seven Rivers

In Vedic mythology, King Harishchandra is a paragon of truth and virtue. India's first-ever full-length feature film, produced in 1913, is dedicated to him (see image below). How Harishchandra received a son, Rohitฤล›va, from Lord Varuna (and Rohita's own trials, tribulations, and travels) is an important story for several reasons. This story is recounted in Aitareya Brahmana (เคเคคเคฐेเคฏ เคฌ्เคฐाเคน्เคฎเคฃ, 7.13-18), part of the oldest recension or theological school (ล›ฤkhฤ) of the RigVeda, and repeated in other ancient texts including the epic Rฤmฤyana.

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: 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 (Puruแนฃamedha เคชुเคฐुเคทเคฎेเคง or Naramedha เคจเคฐเคฎेเคง), 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.

This and similar Vedic legends have been the subject of much scrutiny and debate. Did the Vedics ever engage in Purushamedha? Is the sacrificial act mentioned in these stories purely symbolic? Are the stories evidence of a practice that once existed but was on the wane? Or are they morality tales intended to discourage Purushamedha? Those are good questions for discussion in a later post.

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 (เคชूเคทเคจ्). (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 [เค‰เคฆुเคฎ्เคฌเคฐ] fruit; 
behold the beauty of the sun, 
who is not wearied by his wanderings. 
Therefore, wander!"

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.