Navagunjara: Stories they don’t tell you.

A very less known trope from the Mahabharata. Once, when Pandavas were in vanaprastha (in exile to forest). Arjuna encountered a strange composite being which is a combination of nine different animals. It is a part rooster, part lion, part snake, part peacock, part elephant, part bull, part deer, part horse and part human. It was a Navagunjara. Arjuna was mesmerised but felt equally frightened and unsettling to look at this complicated being. He raised his bow deciding to shoot at it. That is when he hears a voice, an Ashareeri (an anonymous voice) telling “What cannot exist in the human imagination, can exist in the imagination of the Universe. So lower you bow, submit to it”. As Arjuna is hearing, he sees the creature is picking up a lotus, holding in its hand and turning towards him, asking “Don’t you recognise me?”. Aruna suddenly realises that he knows this form. It is Krishna. Arjuna drops down his weapon, bows before the Navagunjara, realising it in the form of Mahavishnu.

Arjuna bowing to Navagunjara

This story can be found in the Odia Mahabharata written by Saaraladas in the 15th century. It is also associated with Puri Jagannath temple and can be seen in its temple art. It is interesting how a form or being that is a composition of nine different species is considered to be divine but not a monster, which is very much in contrast with the greek narratives. There are creatures in greek stories, like the seven headed snake called Hydra or a composite of lion, goat and snake called Chimera. To quote from Iliad, they are considered to be of immoral make. They are clearly monsters and they are to be destroyed. Hence Bellerophon killing the Chimera and Hercules slaying the Hydra are the ideal greek hero figurines, the one who brings order and makes world less complicated or less different. Which is in despair to the idea that the anonymous voice telling to Arjuna about the mind which has the ability handle differences, hence not to harm the creature, but to submit to it. Because it is also divine as you. Two very different worldviews.