The Shelter of Caves, Part 7


BY: SUN STAFF - 17.1 2023

Indra Shakes Vala's Cave
Painting by A. Fantalov

A study of famous caves in ancient Bharat.

The Cave of Vala

Today we will discuss a cave that is perhaps the oldest sastric reference to such a place -- the Cave of Vala from Rigveda. This cave plays a prominent part in one of Lord Indra's exploits. The demon Vala had concealed some cows in a mountain cave, along with Surya and Ushas (the Sun and the Dawn), and Indra forcefully shook the cave to release them.

Vala is not only the name of the demon, but also a term for the cave in which the cattle were concealed. The term 'vala' means 'enclosure' in Sanskrit, and that same name is given to the asura of Rigveda and Atharvaveda fame -- Vala, the brother of Vrtra. The word Vala has the same origin as Vrtra, being derived from the same root. Varuna also comes from that root: val-/var - 'to cover, to enclose' - just as caves are structures that cover and enclose.

While Vrtra is 'the blocker' -- a stone serpent slain by Indra to liberate the rivers -- Vala is a stone cave, split by Indra in order to liberate the cows and Ushas, hidden there by the Panis. In this pastime, Indra is intoxicated and strengthened by Soma. He is also identified with Brhaspati (Rg 4.50 and 10.68) or Trita (1.52), aided by the Angirasas ( 2.11).

Traces of these Sanskrit terms and sastric references have been traced by historians to other cultures and languages, such as the Greek. For example, the Greek term 'triptolemos' is a variant of 'trigw-t-welumos', or 'terpsimbrotos', a compound term for 'cracker of the enclosure'. The Greek (w)elumos refers to the casings of grain, coming from the same root, wel. Thus in Greek literature, a rock or mountain, 'welos' or 'welumos' is split by a heroic deity (like Indra), liberating Dawn or the Sun.

In Rigveda 2.24, Lord Indra's part is associated with Brahmanaspati, who split Vala with prayer (brahman) rather than with a thunderbolt.

Vala is mentioned 23 times in the Rigveda, in the following hymns: RV 1.11, 52, 62; RV 2.11, 12, 14, 15, 24; RV 3.30, 34; RV 4, 50; RV 6.18, 39; RV 8.14, 24; and RV 10.67, 68, and 138. Among the central verses about Indra and Vala are the following:

Vala's cave

Who slew the Dragon, freed the Seven Rivers, and drove the kine forth from the cave of Vala, begat the fire between two stones, the spoiler in warriors' battle, He, O men, is Indra.

Praised by the Angirases he slaughtered Vala, and burst apart the bulwarks of the mountain. He tore away their deftly-built defences. These things did Indra in the Soma's rapture. [The Angirasas, a primeval families of seers who appear to have helped Indra in this endeavour.]

In Soma's ecstasy Indra spread the firmament and realms of light, when he cleft Vala limb from limb.

Brhaspati, when he with fiery lightnings cleft through the weapon of reviling Vala, consumed him as tongues eat what teeth have compassed: he threw the prisons of the red cows open.

Lord of the thunder, thou didst burst the cave of Vala rich in cows. The Gods came pressing to thy side, and free from terror aided thee,

Indra kills Vritra, the dragon Ahi. [Ahi is the personification of a glacier, frozen water destroyed by Indra to release the captive water.]

Indra smites Dasa and opens the caves where cows were imprisoned

Mid shout, loud shout, and roar, with the Navagvas, seven singers, hast thou, heavenly, rent the mountain; thou hast, with speeders, with Dasagvas, Indra, Shakra, with thunder rent obstructive Vala.

Indra after having consumed a few drops of Soma, burst the enclosures of the cave and shook it by its very foundation – a feat no human or God could have performed. The Sun and Ushas (Morning or Dawn) were released and thus, through his grace, that they obtained their splendour.

There is another pastime that took place between Indra and Vala, but this one does not involve the cave of cows. Garuda Purana (68) narrates the pastime:

"Sri Suta Goswami said: I shall now expound the science of gemology. Long ago, in ancient times, there lived a great demon name Vala. Overpowering the King of Heaven, Indra, Vala became the tyrannical ruler of the entire universe. By deceit, however, the oppressed demigods tricked Vala into acting as the sacrificial animal in a ritual performance. But once Vala was tied to the sacrificial stake, the demigods suddenly abandoned their mock sacrifice, and immediately killed the powerful demon. In fact, for the benefit of the demigods and the universe, Vala had allowed himself to be slain.

The demigods then severed his various limbs which transformed into the creative seeds of precious gems. As the potent body of Vala was dismembered, a tumultuous roar sounded through the celestial regions, and all the deities, demons, mystics, and serpent-gods anxiously rushed to gather up the gem seeds. The demigods clamored to secure the gem seeds, but the shock waves generated by their celestial chariots pushed some of the mystical essences down into the earthly sphere.

Some of these seeds fell into rivers, some into the oceans, and some into the forests and mountains. There they germinated as mother lodes of the various gems, each one imbued with its own intrinsic potency. All these gems posses talismanic powers. The fine, auspicious stones can counteract poison, snake venom, diseases, and other dangers. Poor quality, inauspicious gems act in the opposite manner.

Ruby, emerald, blue sapphire, cat's eye, yellow sapphire, diamond, pearl, hessonite, coral, bloodstone, quartz, jade, and red garnet are the foremost species of gems, and they should be selected only under the expert guidance of a learned gemologist.

The value of a gemstone is established by reference to the authoritative gemological texts. Quality is analyzed according to weight, cut, color, and clarity."