In the Holy book of Mahabharata, there is mention of Navagunjara as a creature composed of nine different animals. The animal is a common motif in the Patachitra painting. Pattachitra is one famous art form of Odisha. Navagunjara is considered as a form of Lord Vishnu or Lord Jagannath.
It is considered a variant of the Virat-rupa (Omnipresent or vast) form of Lord Krishna, that he displays to Arjuna, as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita a part of the epic Mahabharata. The version of the Mahabharata, written by the Odia poet Sarala Dasa narrates the legend of Navagunjara, no other version has the story.
Once, when Arjuna was doing penance on a hill, Lord Vishnu emerges him as Navagunjara. Navagunjara has the head of a rooster and stands on three feet, those of an elephant, tiger and deer or horse, the fourth limb is a raised human arm carrying a lotus or a wheel. The beast has the neck of a peacock, the back or hump of a bull, the waist of a lion, and the tail is a serpent. Initially, Arjuna was terrified as well as mesmerized by the strange creature and raises his bow to shoot it. Finally, Arjuna realizes that Navagunjara is a manifestation of Vishnu and drops his weapons, bowing before Navagunjara.
The Navagunjara-Arjuna scene is sculpted at the northern side of the Lord Jagannath’s Temple, Puri. Navagunjara is also depicted in Ganjifa playing cards like the King card and Arjuna as the minister card, in parts of Orissa, mainly in Puri District and Ath-Rangi Sara in Ganjam District, Orissa. This set is known as Navagunjara.
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