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Indra and Surya across epics

By Utkarsh Patel

Indra and Surya are both important deities of the Vedic times. However, both are pitched against each other in the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Let me explain this with the help of two myths from the two epics.

The first one is from the epic Ramayana, related to the Kishkindha episode. Sugriv and Vali were brothers and Vali was the king of the vanars in the kingdom of Kishkindha. He had a boon, that he would absorb half the strength of his opponent in a fight/battle. Once a demon by the name of Dundubi threatened him to a duel, but when Vali accepted it, the demon developed cold feet and ran away. Both Vali and Sugriv chased him till he entered into a cave. Before going inside the cave, Vali asked Sugriv to wait for him outside the cave and in case he saw blood coming out of the cave, then he should assume him to be dead and return to the kingdom and crown himself the King. After Vali had gone inside the cave, Sugriv heard loud sounds and soon he saw blood coming out of the cave. Sugriv assuming that his brother was dead, bolted the entrance of the cave with a boulder and came back to the kingdom to inform all that their King was dead and assumed the throne.

Soon Vali managed to kill the demon, and came back to his kingdom to see Sugriv crowned as a king. This enraged him and he rushed to kill Sugriv. When Sugriv tried to explain that he had done as instructed to him, Vali would not hear and rushed to kill him. Sugriv had no option but to escape from there and live in exile. Vali in the meanwhile also forcefully took Sugrivs’ main wife Ruma. Later when Ram and Lakshman came there in search of Sita, they met Sugriv and assured him of their support.

As planned, Sugriv challenged Vali to a duel in the forest and while the two were fighting, Ram hid behind a tree and shot an arrow and killed Vali.

In the epic Mahabharata, during the war of Kurukshetra, again two brothers were pitched against each other, Karna and Arjun. During the war, when Karna gets off the chariot, to release its wheel which was stuck in the ground, Krishna coaxes Arjuna to kill Karna, even though Karna was unarmed.

In the first tale, Vali and Sugriv were brothers because they were born of same mother, Aruni, but not the same father. Vali was the son of Lord Indra and Sugriv was the son of Lord Surya. In this case, Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, sides with the son of Lord Surya to kill the son of Lord Indra.

In the second tale, Karna and Arjun are again bothers because they were born of the same mother, Kunti, but not the same father. Karna was the son of Lord Surya and Arjuna was the son of Lord Indra. In this case, Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu again, sides with the son of Lord Indra, to kill the son of Lord Surya!

The first epic was written by Sage Valminki and the second was written by Sage Vyasa, but the similarities are too glaring.

  • In both the cases, the fathers are Lord Indra and Lord Surya, the most important Vedic deities.
  • In both cases, the driving force was Lord Vishnu in different incarnations

What is more important is that what was done in the Ramayana was reversed in an effort to balance in Mahabharata, a poetic justice of sorts for the fathers, Indra and Surya!

Finally to conclude, Vali before dying is supposed to have told Ram that shooting him from behind and that too when he was fighting someone else was unfair. To avenge this unfairness, Ram allowed Vali to be reborn as the hunter Jara during the dwapar yuga (Mahabharata) who shoots an arrow at Krishna’s feet thinking him to be a deer, leading to the death of Krishna!