Insects don’t often make appearances in poetry, so the indragopa and khadyota merit special mention. Both appear in varṣā and capture the imagination of many poets; the indragopa for its vivid red and the khadyota or firefly for the solitary light it provides in nights blackened by the season.
The indragopa, literally ‘he who has Indra for his protector’, is often the subject of comparison with blood – usually that of travellers or their wives, so cruelly separated in the season when love is to be enjoyed – or jewels. In Kālidāsa’s Vikramorvaśīya, King Purūravas mistakes indrogopas upon a dark green stretch of grass for his lost beloved’s shawl, stained with red-tinged tears.
इन्द्रगोपैर्बभौ भूमिर्निचितेव प्रवासिनाम्।
Indragopair babhau bhūmir nicit’ eva pravāsinām |
anaṅga-bāṇair hṛd-bheda-sruta-lohita-bindubhiḥ ||
The earth glistened with indragopas as if covered with Love’s arrows, dripping blood from ripping apart travellers’ hearts.
1719 Subhāśitāvali, attributed to Vararuci
Khadyotas – ‘lights of the sky’ – are sometimes also involved in tormenting the separated lover but more often they are welcomed and wondered at for the bright light they shed in the absence of the moon and stars. Magnificent when night falls, their glory vanishes at the rising of the sun, just like the white-rayed moon whose place they have taken.
The indragopa or indragopaka is also known as the surendragopa or jiṣṇugopa; both surendra (king of the gods) and jiṣṇu (the victorious one) are alternative names for Indra. Monier Williams calls it a cochineal, a red insect that seems to be native to the Americas, and tells us that it can also be used to mean a firefly. Apte says it can be either red or white – although the poets don’t seem to talk about the white variety – but doesn’t otherwise identify it. It seems to have been used as a red dye, as the cochineal is today.
The kha-dyota or kha-jyotis (‘jyotis’ also means ‘light’) also goes by the name jyotir-iṅgana – ‘moving light’, and is identified as a firefly.