Indian Mythology

The Hindu Pantheon

What is the Parade of Ants?

The Brahma Vaivarta Purana tells how Indra, as an overly demanding monarch, commanded the divine architect Vishvakarman to build him the most splendid of palaces. As the architect proceeded with his work, Indra demanded more and more, until finally Vishvakarman appealed for help to the creator god Brahma. Brahma, in turn, appealed to an even higher source, Vishnu. Vishnu agreed that something had to be done about the avaricious Indra, and so came about the parade of ants.

One morning a Brahmin boy came to Indra and said he had heard of the king’s plans to build a great palace and wondered how long the project would take to complete. He pointed out that no other Indra had ever succeeded in building the kind of palace envisioned by the king. Indra was shocked. “How many Indras could there have been,” he asked. Now the boy revealed himself as a wise and ancient man, an emissary of Brahma and Vishnu, who had witnessed many creations, destructions, and re-creations of the universe, and many Indras. The comings and goings of twenty-eight Indras was the same as a single day of Brahma. Now a seemingly endless parade of ants appeared and the boy revealed that each ant had at one time been an Indra who attached himself to vain and selfish pursuits. So it was that Indra learned about karman (karma), the principle that past actions will affect the individual in future incarnations. Life, he learned, is a series of deaths and rebirths determined by past actions.


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