Chiron is the famous Centaur in Greek mythology. In addition, paintings shows centaurs as half horse and half human. The word for Centaurus in Mycenean language is Gantarus. This Mycenean word is the same as Gandharva in Indian literature. Therefore, Centaur and Gandharva must refer to the same entity. However, we do not find any reference to Gandharva as a horse-human being in Sanskrit literature. certainly, the horse-human form represents a Kinnara who is a helper of Gandharva. So, what happened during the sharing of ideas between the Indians and Greeks? What is the secret of Kinnaras?
Nara refers to a human being. Therefore the word Kim-Nara or Kinnara refers to a human being but somewhat different. Besides the prefix “Kim” indicates a puzzle, a question (Kim?). Paintings and carvings illustrate Kinnaras as instrument players who accompany Gandharvas, the celestial singers. In addition, artisans in the past used their freedom of expression to illustrate Kinnaras as semi-human beings. Certainly, we can see a horse-human form among such works of art. Did the Greek then mix up Kinnara and Gandharva beings? Let us look at the Vedas for a clue.
Are Kinnaras Gandharvas?
A large portion of Vedic literature is in the story format. Rich imagery dominates these texts because of this story format. However, their source reference is the Vedas. Vedas refer to Gandharvas, simply as a class of beings. Gandharvas are abstract entities like Devas. Therefore, like Devas, Gandharvas too represent a certain cosmic/psychic principle. However, we do not find the word Kinnara in the Vedas. Are Kinnaras purely imaginary, because, we do not find them in the Vedas? Probably not!
The Taittriya Upanishad, an important Vedic text. refers to the secret of Kinnaras. Secondly. we find this reference in the context of the joy factor which different classes of beings can experience. In summary, the Taitriya Upanishad grades all classes on a scale based on units of Joy. Firstly, a youthful human being without any worries enjoys one unit of joy. Second on the scale is a Manushya Gandharva. This being can experience hundred units of joy. Thirdly, a Deva Gandharva, another class of Gandharvas can experience hundred fold more joy. The scale continues further. Manushya (Human) Gandharva is a reference to Kinnara! Let us analyze this a bit.
Manushya Gandharva refers to a human being who has arisen to the level of a Gandharva. They have a nervous system and can enjoy heightened sensory enjoyments. A Tantra text on Kinnaras supports this idea of increased sensual joy. However, a Deva Gandharva represents an aspect of collective consciousness. You can find more information about this in related posts in this blog. Temple builders in Indian choose the horse-human form. Certainly, the horse is more sensitive than a human being. It can sense tiny fluctuations in the sense of touch, in shifting of winds. Temple builders in far east preferred the bird-human form. A bird can reach higher than a human. The bird-human is therefore also an apt representation!
Taittriya Upanishad – section on Ananda Valli
Chandogya Upanishad – Seventh Chapter