November 28, 2023

The Wild Boar: Comparisons Between Classical Greek and Medieval Indian Mythology

6 min read
The Wild Boar: Comparisons Between Classical Greek and Medieval Indian Mythology

Twin Warriors and the Boar in Mythology

In The Legend of Ponnivala, the twin kings Ponnar and Shankar face off against a giant boar named Komban. Komban is the offspring of a little sow who was once brought to Ponnivala as one of the royal animals. When Kunnutaiya and Tamarai set out on their journey to the Gates of Heaven to resolve the matter of their childless state with Lord Shiva, all the barren animals ask them to request a boon of children from the god on their behalf.

The pig, however, falls asleep across their path. In her rush to get moving Tamarai kicks the pig to wake her up. Indignant, the pig curses Tamarai and swears that the son she has will grow into a huge black boar that will ravage the land and kill Tamarai’s sons.

After Tamarai’s sons, the heroes Ponnar and Shankar, have grown, the land is ravaged by the great boar Komban. Komban challenges the young kings, who have stolen a parrot from the neighbouring forest kingdom. Through pitched and very dangerous combat, Komban is killed and his remains divided between the men of Ponnivala and their allies.

A similar tale is read in Greek mythology in the story of Castor and Pollux. Oeneus of Calydon commits a great insult when he offers a harvest sacrifice to all of the gods except Artemis. Enraged, Artemis sends a giant boar to ravage the fields of Calydon. According to the Iliad, Oeneus calls on his son Meleager to organize a hunting party (which includes, interestingly, the twin warriors Castor and Pollux, Meleager’s cousins). The boar is killed and the meat divided. However, Meleager’s uncles are offended that he has given a greater portion to the huntress Atalanta, and after further combat Meleager kills them, which incites his own mother to curse him.

Other Interesting Parallels

There is another set of curious parallels that bears some interesting discussion here. One of the reasons Artemis is so insulted by Oeneus’ neglect of a sacrifice is that she is the goddess of the hunt, while he is a farmer. Although in Greek mythology these castes are not always as opposed as they can be in Indian tradition, this parallels the basic reason for the fight between Komban and the kings of Ponnivala. They have stolen a parrot, which provokes the vengeance of the forest princess Viratangal. In the war between the farmers and the hunters, Komban is a major combatant on the side of the hunters.

A similar theme occurs where Atalanta the huntress joins Meleager’s hunt (it’s her arrow that kills the boar). Despite generally accepting her skill, the other farmer/warriors of Calydon don’t trust this forest dweller. In the Roman version it’s assumed it’s because she’s a woman; in the Greek version, hero females who follow Artemis are quite common, and the aversion appears to be because of her caste as hunter. Following the hunt Atalanta is awarded the boar’s hide, which is an insult to Meleager’s farmer uncles. In the ensuing fight the uncles are killed, and their sister, Meleager’s mother, curses him and he dies.

Meleager’s death causes his sisters (called the “Meleagrids”) to weep so profusely that Artemis takes pity on them and turns two of them (Eurymede and Melanippe) into birds. This isn’t a direct parallel, but in Ponnivala the two parrots who live in Tamarai’s nose while she meditates outside Lord Shiva’s council chamber also represent an avian pair that has a great deal to do with the fate of the heroes. Their separation at the hands of Ponnar and Shankar is what incites violence between the forest kingdom and the young kings.

The Great Boar in Culture and Myth

If you look deeply enough at the comparisons between The Legend of Ponnivala and the Calydonian Boar Hunt, more and more symbolism about this remarkable creature comes to light. The boar has long been associated in many old-world cultures with strength and courage. Yet its habits–eating just about anything with a voracious appetite–have also made it a symbol of darkness and fear. A bull or a boar might kill a man, but a bull is unlikely to eat him… a boar just might.

In fortitude and courage the boar is unmatched, and it’s perhaps for this reason that Vishnu chose to take this form for his third avatar, Varaha, in order to battle and subdue the demon Hiranyaksha. Hiranyaksha had taken the earth to the bottom of the cosmic ocean. After battling the demon for a thousand years, Varaha was victorious, and carried the earth between his tusks to place it back in its proper place in the heavens.

In the Mahabharata, the warrior Arjuna is attacked by a boar while he meditates to gain the favour of Lord Shiva. When he and the hunter (Shiva in disguise) shoot the boar at the same time, a fight ensues. That fight turns out to be the blessing Arjuna needs to gain the favour of Lord Shiva and receive the boon he needs.

In Episode 24 (“A Curse Revealed”) of The Legend of Ponnivala, the servant Chambuga tells the kings of Ponnivala that the boar Komban is “the god of death himself.” This suggests that the boar might actually be Lord Shiva, or at least a symbol of his destructive power.

But what of other instances where the boar has become a mainstay of traditional culture? Well, if we can consider that there is a parallel between Artemis, the huntress in the Meleager story, and Kali, the goddess who comes to the aid of the hunters by giving the boon of a giant boar/son to the little sow, the mythology becomes quite universal.

For instance, there is a direct correlation between Artemis in Greece and the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana. To Artemis, the hart (deer) was a sacred animal, but twice she called on a boar to do her dirty work (once to kill Adonis for his infidelity, and again to punish the farmer king Oeneus for neglecting her in the harvest sacrifices).

Diana’s representative animal is the hart, but her precursor from Gaul is another story. The goddess of the Ardennes forest range (covering parts of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France) was a huntress named Arduinna. A true Celtic goddess, Arduinna’s love of the wildwood, her role as protector of hunters and of animals, and her association with purity and the moon, were all adopted into Gallo-Roman mythology and became Diana, under which name she continued to be worshipped by pagan Europeans for centuries. As Arduinna however, her favoured beast was the boar, which she rode on the hunt.

The Norse goddess Freya also kept a boar for company. Freya was the Norse goddess of fertility, love, war, and death (all aspects associated with the other goddesses mentioned above, including Kali). She also ruled over the afterlife field of Folkvangr, where half of those who died in battle were said to end up (the other half went to Valhalla with Odin). Her boar Hildisvini (literally “battle swine”) was a constant companion and a powerful ally in battle. It is also thought that Hildisvini was Freya’s mortal lover, Ottar, in disguise–a notion which prompted Loki to suggest that she was always behaving inappropriately by riding her lover everywhere she went! (This was also an insult to her husband, comparing him to a pig.)