Here’s two depictions of a most particular encounter between Arjuna and … a certain Hunter (and His Wife), in the course of the Mahabharata.
First, an illustration by Shobha Rajagopalan. This depicts both Arjuna and the Kirata (Who should be looking pretty familiar) engaged in the hunting of a (demonic) Boar.
Now, of course, the Kirata (‘[Mountain / Barbarian] Hunter’) is none other than Rudra, and a dispute ensues between Arjuna and Rudra over Who has actually killed the Boar.
It should be noted that Rudra is in disguise (accompanied by Parvati, Who is likewise; along with, in similar fashion of Huntresses, Their Retinue – a ‘Royal Hunting Party’, we might suggest, and more upon that in a moment) – and had rather pointedly ordered Arjuna not to shoot the Boar, on grounds that He had seen the quarry first and ought have the right to its slaying and consequent glory.
However, it should also be noted that the Boar-demon had been bearing down upon Arjuna in charge, and that Arjuna’s shooting of the creature had been also a logical act of self-defence.
So, both having shot the boar in such circumstances – an argument breaks out. Followed by Arjuna … straight-up getting into a fist-fight with the Lord (having previously hurled arrows, rocks, even trees, and whatever else to hand).
This goes on for some time, (even despite Arjuna beginning to … wonder as to the identity of his opponent – noting that surely only Lord Shiva Himself would be up to withstanding such an assault, and that the Gods do sometimes appear in disguised form, down from the Celestial Realm) … the Kirata weathering the storm of everything that Arjuna can throw at Him and still standing – before eventually knocking out His assailant.
When Arjuna regains consciousness, He carries out worship of a small clay effigy of Lord Shiva, garlanding the effigy with flowers … that then proceed to appear upon the form of that mysterious Hunter Whom Arjuna had just unsuccessfully fought.
Arjuna realizes the truth … and indeed, Rudra is pleased. Declaring:
“And Hara, beholding the wonder of Arjuna and seeing that his body had been emaciated with ascetic austerities, spake unto him in a voice deep as the roaring of the clouds, saying, ‘O Phalguna, I have been pleased with thee for thy act is without a parallel. There is no Kshatriya who is equal to thee in courage, and patience. And, O sinless one, thy strength and prowess are almost equal to Mine. O mighty-armed one, I have been pleased with thee. Behold Me, O bull of the Bharata race! O large-eyed one! I will grant thee eyes (to see Me in My true form). Thou wert a Rishi before. Thou wilt vanquish all thy foes, even the dwellers of heaven; I will as I have been pleased with thee, grant thee an irresistible weapon. Soon shall thou be able to wield that weapon of Mine.”
[Mahabharat III 39 , Ganguly translation]
The weapon being referred to is, of course, the famed Pashupatastra – correlate with the Trikanda (‘Three-Arrow’) that we would identify with the Three Stars of Orion’s Belt (in Hindu – Jyotisha terms, these are the Three-Arrow, still protruding from the Deer shot by Rudra (Sirius – Ardra) in the course of a certain mythic deed we have often referenced elsewhere).
And, as some will also instantly recall – the Pasupatastra is that weapon which, later in the Mahabharat, Lord Krishna helps Arjuna to obtain … via the mechanism of both of Them going on a dream-journey of astral projection all the way to Kailash to worship Lord Shiva ‘in person’ there, with the famed Rudrabhishek Stotram.
This encounter between Arjuna and Rudra was, of course, a test – to see what would happen when Arjuna encountered a seemingly implacable and (‘frustratingly’) invulnerable foe that was not going down easily nor swiftly to his arms nor his assault.
Would Arjuna quit, try to retreat? Or would Arjuna keep fighting – even though it might seem he was up against a God Himself.
These are understandable questions for a God contemplating bestowing a seriously powerful weapon – whether the human in question is truly worthy of wielding it.
As it happened – Arjuna passed this test admirably.
However, I am not quite content with the art we had lead with – it does not quite capture the sense of Parvati too, as a Huntress … and so therefore, subsequently, sculpture from the exterior of the Gopura of Kapalishvara Temple, Mayilapur.
Which also, handily, features Arjuna performing Tapas (‘Austerities’, ‘Penance’ – although the better translation would be ‘exertion’, perhaps .. devotional efforts, and generating quite the ‘energy’, the ‘heat’ (‘Tapas’ and ‘Tepid’, etc. are cognate) as you can see with the flames about the feet of Arjun in both images, the right in more overt posture) in pursuit of the requisite Boon.
Rudra , as we have said, is accompanied by Parvati – and we note the rather greenish complexion on show to go with the Wildlands, the Forest. But also, as we have explored in grander depth in previous efforts, a Retinue of Huntresses.
To quote from one of those (A)Arti-cles –
“Elsewhere in the scriptural canon, we find Rudra in the form of a Kirata – a barbaric mountain hunter – and likewise accompanied by Uma and a legion of women similarly arrayed [MBh 3 39]. These constitute a ‘hunting party’ of sorts – there to slay a demon, Muka, in the form of a most formidable boar. And whilst it is frequently simply taken-as-read that ‘Kirata’ must mean those particular Nepali tribesmen, the Kirati – we instead subscribe to quite a different view. At the root of ‘Kirata’ is Sanskrit ‘Kr’ – कॄ . This effectively produces a term for ‘Thrower’, ‘Caster’, ‘Injurer’ – a suite of conceptry quite apt for an archer or a spear-equipped person, especially acting as a Hunter. And one which must fit better – as we have it in quite archaic attestation in the Vedas themselves, describing an evidently near-pan-Indo-European phenomenon rather than one which could only have developed in reasonably direct contact with the realms of eastern Nepal. Effectively, in this way, it is a term somewhat similar to ‘Sarva’ – ‘Archer’, ‘Injurer’, and a well-known Shaivite theonym of demonstrable antiquity given its co-occurrence within the names of the Zoroastrians’ ‘Daevas’. “
That was from our ‘Rudraganika’ effort from earlier this year.
And we are quoting it because, of course, that retinue of Huntresses … are the mythic figures that the Rudraganikas Themselves thence embody in sidereal terms in a mythic re-enactment in the Mrgayatra [‘Wild Hunt’] rite of the Agamas.
To quote from our previous work:
“Performed upon the eighth day of the Mahotsava, the form of Rudra that is invoked is either Tripurantaka (’Destroyer of the Three Forts’ – and importantly, Pashupati) or Kirata (Mountain Barbarian ’Hunter’) – although He may also appear as Bhikshatana (’The Wanderer’).
The Mrgayatra is often thought of as a ’Hunting Expedition’ – indeed, I would slightly figuratively render it as ’Wild Hunt’ (running ‘Mrga’ backwards to its sense of ‘wild’ rather than ‘wild animal’, and ‘yatra’ as an ‘expedition’).
However, it also has a potent martial aspect to it. Shiva is mounted upon horseback, and the coterie of RudraGanikas who ride with Him can include not only the archers one might expect upon a hunt, but women wearing armour and carrying shields, equipped with swords and spears. The spectacle of the God surrounded by His well-armed retinue, martial rhythms beaten out upon the drums as Bull banners flutter behind would certainly put one in the mind of ”an army is setting forth for an invasion”, as Manasataramgini had put it.
This observance is not merely a ceremonial procession in the sense of a modern-day military ‘parade’. Despite its contemporary cousin merely entailing the shooting of a coconut, in older times, the hunt appears to have been a literal one featuring wild animals indeed captured or killed; whilst the martial display also incorporated a mock battle against demons.
Intriguingly, Manasataramgini has also noted mention from the reign of the Vijayanagara ruler Bukkadeva of an attempt by Muslim interlopers to interfere with the Mrgayatra – being met with deadly force by the embodied Retinue of Rudra and killed or driven off in the ensuing combat. Sometimes, it would appear, ‘myth’ takes on a life of its own in terms of ‘filling itself out’ via sidereal participants – witting or otherwise.
In terms of the rite itself, the invocation of Shiva as Tripurantaka here is interesting – as the Shruti establishes that it is this form of Rudra Who is accorded the title of Pashupati; elsewhere linking this with His shooting of Prajapati in Deer (Mrga) form. AV-S X 2 11, meanwhile, invokes alongside Pashupati and His (Hunting) Dogs the Vikesi whom we had met earlier.
Clearly, then, in the course of the MrgaYatra the RudraGanikas are embodying their mythic forerunners. Something which, assumedly, they have and had been doing since the approximate time that these Shruti scriptures were first composed to express them with. “
One does not need to be one of those rare women hailed as a Rudraganika, an on-earth ’embodiment’ and ‘resonancy’ of one of Rudra’s Own Daughters, to seek to emulate the lessons of the myth.
One does not need to be Arjuna in order to undertake pious propitiation of Shiva in pursuit of demonstrating oneself to be worthy of His Favour.
Nor does one (necessarily) need to run into the Wild Hunt whilst out in the Forest, in order to encounter Him.
But it certainly helps – to have the mythic templating for us to follow and to aspire to, if we are in need of It.
A ‘Pointing Arrow’. Even amidst the Trackless Wilds and the Stars.
Hara Hara Mahadev
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