Once Indra was seated on his throne in all opulence. The lordship of the world had made him arrogant. When Brihaspathi, the preceptor of the gods enters the court, Indra behaves indifferently. Brihaspathi feels
disrespected and walks out. Indra realises his folly committed in a fit of pride. He rushes to Brihaspathi to
seek forgiveness, but Brihaspathi disappears using his powers of illusion (yogamaya). Thus deserted by his
preceptor, the gods become vulnerable.
The asuras, hearing about the predicament of the gods, prepare to strike when the opponent was weak, as advised by their guru, Sage Shukracharya. The gods were attacked and injured with sharp arrows. The gods, led by Indra seek refuge in Brahma. Brahma, rebukes Indra for his unworthy behaviour against Brihaspathi and asks them to immediately seek protection from the learned sage Vishwaroopa, the son of Twashta (the architect of the gods).
Viswaroopa agrees to be their preceptor in the absence of Brihaspathi. Viswaroopa discharges his role diligently as a priest. He teaches Indra a prayer, Narayana Kavacha, invoking the protection of Lord Vishnu. This improves the fortune of the gods. The Narayana kavacha acts like a shield against the asuras. The gods emerge victorious.
But Indra comes to know that Vishwaroopa, had also offered a share of the sacrificial oblations to
the asuras in secret, as he sympathised with the asuras (through affection to his mother Rachana). Angered at this breach of faith on the part of Viswaroopa, and suspecting that he would bring about the destruction of the gods, Indra cuts off Viswaroopa's head.
Twashta, Vishwaroopa's father, retaliates by offering oblations in the sacred fire, to procure a mortal enemy
to slay Indra. (The priests, who wanted the gods to win, stealthily changed the intonation
of the mantra, which reversed the intent). Vrithrasura, fearful in form, rises out of the fire, threatening the
gods. Each of the host of missiles hurled by the gods were swallowed by Vrithra. Dejected, the gods mentally extoll Lord Narayana and appeal to him for protection.
The Lord replies: "Without any delay, seek the sage Dadhyan (popularly known as Dadichi) and beg of him the gift of his body. Dadhichi's constant repetition of Narayana Kavacha and his asceticism has made him
exceptionally strong. It is he, who had taught the Narayana Kavacha to Twashta, and the devas, in turn, got to know this through Twashta's son Vishwaroopa. The sage Dadichi, who knows the essence of dharma, will part with his body in favour of his foremost disciples, the twins Ashvinikumaras (the physician of the gods). Out of the limbs of his body, a thunderbolt (Vajra), the best of weapons will be forged by Viswakarma, the artisan. With this ultimate weapon, also strengthened with my power, you will slay Vrithra and regain your glory. Enemies can never destroy those who are devoted to me."
The devas approach sage Dadichi with this terrible request to cast off his body. The sage, replies as though in
jest: "O Gods, have you no idea of the pain caused to living beings at the time of death? The body is the
dearest to any being, hence always eager to survive. Who would have the courage to part with it at a mere
asking?" The gods reply that for magnanimous souls like him, compassionate to all living beings, nothing would be difficult to part with, if it were intended for the benefit of one's fellow-beings. Dadhichi says, "I asked you about the pain of parting with life, as I wanted to hear from you about Dharma. I will cast off my body, which is coveted by you, and which is sure to leave me one day."
Sage Dadhichi controlled his senses, and fixing his mind on the Supreme reality, identifies himself with the
Lord. He did not know when the body fell.
The Vajra was prepared from the bones of sage Dadhichi. Armed with the Vajra, Indra resumes the
battle with the asuras. The asuras flee at the onslaught, deserting their leader Vrithra. Vrithra's appeals to
his men to fight were in vain. He fights valiantly, stiking terror and crushing the gods under his feet.
Vrithra holds the mace hurled by Indra, and hurls it back, breaking the mouth of Airawatha (Indra's
elephant)and sent reeling away. Vrithra does not aim again at his fallen opponent. Healing the injured
Airavatha with his mere touch, Indra rejoins the battle. The noble soul Vritra, recollecting the sinful deed
of Indra of killing his brother Vishwaroopa, laughingly vows to avenge the death of his brother or be slain
like a true warrior. Knowing that Vajra has the blessings of Srihari and the ascetic power of sage Dadichi,
Vrtra prompts Indra to strike. He mentally prays that he may be born as a servant of devotees who have taken refuge in the Lord. Preferring a warrior's death, he rushes with his trident to strike at Indra. The trident
and the arm that held it, was struck down with the Vajra, a weapon with hundred joints and as thick as the snake Vasuki. Vrtra hurls a club and strikes down the Vajra from Indra's hand. A fierce one-to-one battle ensued, where the charitable disposition, guileless words and the fair-play of Vrithra, were appreciated by Indra and others who were present.
Indra appreciates him : " O Asura chief, you're blessed with such a devout mind that you have reached the end of the insurmountable Maya of Lord Vishnu." Thus speaking to each other where the nature of Dharma was revealed by both of them, the battle raged on. Both the hands of Vrtra were cut off by Indra. But the gigantic Vrtra, swallows Indra along with Airavatha. Indra, protected by the Narayana Kavacha, cuts the belly of the Asura from within and emerges. Whirling with great speed, he also lops of Vritra's head. The soul of Vrtra merges with the Lord.
All were happy at this triumph except Indra, who was burdened by the sin of slaying of a Brahmin. He suffered untold agony and hides himself under the Manasa lake pondering the means of absolution from the great sin. The king Nahusha officiates as the king of gods, until the time Indra redeemed himself. Marichi and other sages perform the great Ashwamedha sacrifice, which ultimately washes away Indra's blot and re-establishes his glory.
(a note about the painting:1. Due to space constraints of the canvas, the Airavatha, shown beside Indra, also forms part of the mount of Shiva, Nandi 2. The tree behind Dadichi hints at the spine and limbs of the sage).