Vritra and Vala, Part Two

BY: SUN STAFF - 22.4 2021

Vritra Triumphant: The Waters and Sun Confined (Varuna's Tree and Waters)
Illustration from 'The Artic Home in the Vedas' by L.B.G Tilak

A study of the asura brothers, Vritra and Vala.

In a narration given by King Yudhisthira in Mahabharata there is a description of how Tvasta avenged the death of his son Visvarupa, who was killed by Indra, by creating the demon Vritra as Indra's foe. And just as Vritra had been created from the fire by Tvasta's potencies, likewise, Tvasta had created his son Visvarupa in the desire that his progeny would bring fatal harm to Indra:

"Once Twashtri, the lord of creatures and the foremost of celestials, was engaged in practising rigid austerities. And it is said that from antipathy to Indra he created a son having three heads. And that being of universal form possessed of great lustre hankered after Indra's seat. And possessed of those three awful faces resembling the sun, the moon, and the fire, he read the Vedas with one mouth, drank wine with another, and looked with the third as if he would absorb all the cardinal points."

When Tvasta heard that his trimukha son had been slain by Indra, he made this oath:

"'Since Indra hath killed my son who had committed no offence at all, who was constantly engaged in the practice of austerities, who was merciful, possessed of self-control, and of subdued passions, therefore, for the destruction of Indra, I will create Vritra. Let the worlds behold what power I possess, and how mighty is the practice of austerities! Let that inhuman, wicked-minded lord of the gods also witness the same!'

And saying this, that enraged one, famous for his austerities, washed his mouth with water, made offerings on the fire, created the terrible Vritra, and spoke to him, saying, 'O destined slayer of Indra, grow in might even from the strength of my austere rites.' And that Asura grew in might, towering towards the firmament, and resembling the son of fire. And he asked, 'Risen like the doomsday sun, what am I to do?' 'Kill Indra,' was the reply. And then he departed towards the celestial regions."

Sometime later, there ensued a great fight between Vritra and Indra:

"And there took place a terrible combat, O best of Kuru's race. And the heroic Vritra seized the celestial lord who had performed a hundred sacrifices. And filled with wrath, he whirled Indra and threw him into his mouth. And when Indra was swallowed up by Vritra, the terrified senior gods, possessed of great might, created Jrimbhika to kill Vritra. And as Vritra yawned and his mouth opened the slayer of the Asura, Vala contracted the different parts of his body, and came out from within Vritra's mouth. And thenceforth the yawn attaches itself to the living breath of animated beings in three worlds. And the gods rejoiced at the egress of Indra."

Although Indra had escaped from the belly of Vritra, his dominance was short-lived as the battle continued.

"And once again commenced the terrible fight between Vritra and Indra, both full of ire. And it was waged for a long while, O best of Bharata's race. And when Vritra, inspired with the mighty spirit of Twashtri and himself endowed with strength, got the upper hand in fight, Indra turned back And on his retreat, the gods became exceedingly distressed. And all of them together with Indra were overpowered by the might of Twashtri. And they all consulted with the saints, O descendant of Bharata. And they deliberated as to what was proper to be done, and were overwhelmed with dread. And seated on the top of the Mandara mountain, and bent on killing Vritra, they only bethought themselves of Vishnu, the indestructible one.'"

Lord Vishnu and the rishis thus brokered a truce between Indra and Vritra, with Indra swearing that he would not attack Vritra with anything made of metal, wood or stone, nor anything that was dry or wet, or during the day or the night. Instead, Indra used the foam of the waves of the ocean to kill the demon at twilight. Vishnu Himself had entered the foam to ensure victory.

Vritra Slain: The Waters and Sun are Set Free to Move (Vritra as Naga and Sun)
Illustration from 'The Artic Home in the Vedas' by L.B.G Tilak


Vritra is also identified as Ahi in the Vedas. He appears as a dragon-like form who blocks the course of the rivers. Rg Veda describes that Vrtra held the world's waters captive until he was killed by Indra, who destroyed all of Vritra's ninety-nine fortresses before liberating the rivers.

Rg Veda 6.020.02:

Even as the power of Dyaus, to thee, O Indra, all Asura sway was by the Gods entrusted,

When thou, Impetuous! leagued with Visnu, slewest Vrtra the Dragon who enclosed the waters

Rg Veda 6.017.11-12 tells how Indra, accompanied by the Maruts, slaughtered Vrta and set free the waters that caused the rivers to flood. He paved the courses of the rivers, which hurtled down steep slopes, rushing to the ocean:

He dressed a hundred buffaloes, O Indra, for thee whom all accordant Maruts strengthen. He, Pusan Visnu, poured forth three great vessels to him, the juice that cheers, that slaughters Vrtra.

Thou settest free the rushing wave of waters, the floods' great swell encompassed and obstructed. Along steep slopes their course thou tumedst, Indra, directed downward, speeding to the ocean.