Nagas-Snake in Hindu Mythology

Snake replica in the Old Royal Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal
Snake replica in the Old Royal Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal | Source


Every year on the fifth day of the bright half of the lunar month of Shrawan (July–August), Hindus propitiate snakes and celebrate Naga Panchami as the birth of the Naga. This year Naga Panchami, the festival of snakes, happens to be on 24th of July.

Serpent, or snake to be precise, is called Naga in Sanskrit. There is overwhelming presence of Naga iconography in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. From the time immemorial, Hindus are worshiping Naga. In Hindu calendar almost every deity has his or her own day, and even so for the snakes in the day called Naga Panchami. On this day Hindus propitiate Naga by praying and worshiping snake replicas and pictures.

Naga or serpent semiotics is present not only in Hindu culture, but also in all the major and minor religions in the world, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam share a common myth about the downfall of human beings because of a serpent. According to the Old Testaments and Qur'an, the serpent motivated Eve to eat an apple, which was the first sin committed by human beings. Serpent or Naga iconography is present in many cultures and country, and dominates many ancient civilizations, representing goodness or evil, or both.


Snake or Naga Iconography in Hinduism

Hindu Scriptures brim with the stories of Naga. They are associated with water or source of water. Naga, regarded as the guardian of the treasure, are demigods capable of taking any forms, but mostly depicted in half human and half snake form. When Naga assume human forms, they are considered to be very strong and handsome.

There are three notable Naga in Hindu mythologies.

Sesa Naga: Lord Vishnu rests on the bed of Sesa Naga in the cosmic ocean, from where He protects the creation.

Vasuki Naga: The demons and the gods used Vasuki Naga used as a churning rope to churn the cosmic ocean. Ambrosia, Laxmi, and Halahal came out of the cosmic ocean along with many other things. Gods drank ambrosia and became immortal. Vishnu married Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth. And Lord Shiva drank Halahal, the poison, and stopped the destruction of the world.

Taksaka Naga: Taksaka Naga is one of the kings of Naga. He appears in many legends.

Lord Vishnu sleeping on Sesa Naga, This statue in Kathmandu is called Buddhanilkantha.
Lord Vishnu sleeping on Sesa Naga, This statue in Kathmandu is called Buddhanilkantha. | Source


Naga iconography in Buddhism and Jainism

According to a Buddhist legend, while the Buddha was meditating, the snake king Mucalinda protected him from rain by spreading his hood for seven days. In Buddhism, Naga are the deities who guard the entrance. Buddhist religious arts depict Naga as minor deity.

In Jainism, some of the Tirthankaras are shown with a canopy of snake hoods above their heads. Tirthankaras are the awakened souls in Jainism, there are 24 Tirthankaras.


Origin of Naga symbol in Hinduism

According to the Hindu Scriptures, Naga live in the Netherworld called Naga-Loka or Patala-Loka with unimaginable richness. When the Naga were over populated on the earth, Brahma, the Creator, banished them to the underworld. Naga are the children of Kashyap Rishi who married Brahma 13 daughters. Their mother’s name is Kudra. Kashyap is also the father of gods, demons and animals.

Snakes are Lord Shiva’s garland, anklets and armlets. Hindu gods like Bhairav and Mahakala are protected and decorated by snakes. Thousand-headed Naga called Ananta protects Goddess Kali. Like Lord Vishnu, many gods rest on Naga or are protected by Naga. Naga guard Hindu temples and shrines. Naga are depicted on the doors, windows and the walls of the temples. Naga are also the seat of the deity.

Tantra and Yoga, which are the esoteric practices in Hinduism, philosophize about serpent power inside human body. This serpent called Kundalini, depicted as a coiled snake, would be evoked by mysterious yogic practices or tantric rituals. When this serpent power is awakened ignoramus humans are said to be liberated from worldly vices. Literal meaning of Kundalini is coiled Naga.

Seven-headed Naga at the entrance of an Angkor Thom, Cambodia
Seven-headed Naga at the entrance of an Angkor Thom, Cambodia | Source


History of Naga Symbol

Naga is a totemic symbol used by ancient tribes the world around, and it came into existence because the people in antiquity imagined snake as the primordial source of life force. Many tribal clans in north-east India, south India, and China trace their origin to the union of a human being and a female Naga.

In the prehistoric times, when the tribes propitiated snake, they were represented by the totem they revered. The snake totem became their symbol, and they were called Naga. The Naga in north-east India are said to be descendent of the tribe that worshiped snake totem.

Ocean churning myth in Hinduism is beautifully depicted in statue form in Suvarnabhumi InternationalAirport, in Bangkok. In Cambodia, there are lots of ancient statues depicting Naga as hooded cobras with one or more heads. Naga symbols are present around the world. Nowhere is its presence greater than in India and Nepal.

Naga also appear in Human-snake forms in religious art, with their body below the waist coiled like a snake and above in man or woman form. They are also depicted as many-hooded snake canopy over the head of gods.

Naga iconography in Suvarnabhumi International Airport, in Bangkok, Thailand
Naga iconography in Suvarnabhumi International Airport, in Bangkok, Thailand | Source
Lord Shiva wearing a garland of Naga. Contemporary lithograph photographed by Vinaya
Lord Shiva wearing a garland of Naga. Contemporary lithograph photographed by Vinaya


Myths of Naga in Nepali Culture

Snakes have a significant place in Hinduism and Nepali culture. Amongst the Nepali tales of Naga, the most common ones are that some of them possess jewel called Nagamani, some can change themselves to anything even a man/woman, that they have unlimited power to will good or bad.

According to the Swyambhu Purana – the theology equally sanctified by the Hindus and the Buddhists – Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, once was a lake inhibited by many Naga and was called Naga daha. Manjushree, the Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be), came from Tibet and drained the lake. All the inhabitants of Naga daha left, however, Karkotaka Naga refused. Manjushree let him rest at Chovar. It is believed Karkotaka Naga can still be spotted at Chobhar.

The myth of Bisket Jatra, a festival celebrated during the advent of Nepali New Year, is related to Naga. Once there was a king who had to wed his daughter everyday because the husband died on the wedding night. One day a prince in disguise came to the city. He was married to the princess. He knew about the stories, so he remained awake to find out what happened to the husbands. At midnight, he saw two Naga coming out from the nostrils of princess. He killed the Naga. And thus began the festival of Bisket Jatra.

The legend has it, to fund the war against Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal, Jaya Prakash Malla, the last king of Kathmandu, opened Pashupatinath Temple’s treasure, notwithstanding, had to run away for he saw the Vasuki Naga guarding the treasure.

According to the story of Machhindranath festival, celebrated with much fanfare in Nepal, Gorakhnath, the progenitor of Nath cult in Hinduism, held all Naga under his seat, and Kathmandu suffered drought because snakes are believed to bring rain. People had to go to Kamakhya in India to fetch his Guru Machindranath and propitiate Gorakhnath. The day is remembered as Machindranath festival that is celebrated in June, sometimes in July.

The jeweled-vest displayed during Bhoto Jatra, an event during the Machindranath festival, was gifted to a farmer by Naga King Karkotaka which was later stolen by a ghost. Every year jeweled-vest is displayed so that the right owner could claim it. People in Nepal are stilling waiting for Karkotaka to come and claim the jeweled-vest.

Lord Narshima protected by five headed Naga, by unknown artist,photographed by Vinaya
Lord Narshima protected by five headed Naga, by unknown artist,photographed by Vinaya


Semiotics of Naga

Naga are very special with their transformative nature and power. They also believed to possess mystic wisdom and great wealth, both of which they obtain from their association with the interior of the earth. Naga are the symbols of transformation, because they are able to shed their skins and become new beings. They live on the earth and in the earth, and move between cosmic planes – the earth and the underworld – and also between the states of being, between the realms of the living and the dead.

Hindu Gods and deities are at home with these mysterious, powerful beings. In Hindu iconography, no other creatures have taken so much space than snakes. In Hindu religion and culture, Naga are feared and also venerated.

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Comments 48 comments

shakir 22 months ago

hi i liked ur topic on snakes.i have seen the naga in my farm .the face of a man n body of a snake shining like a tubelights white glow.it was right in front of me.what is that.can u tell who that was.


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Phyllis Doyle 22 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

Hi Vinaya. I enjoyed reading about the mythology and festivals of Naga. Many Native American cultures also have stories of the Serpent, which is feared yet venerated. I am very fond of mythologies of the world and this hub is very interesting and well-written.


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Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal Author

@San, thanks

@Prasad, I only mentioned the presence of Naga iconography in Jainism, I did not say Jain worship Nagas. Thanks for sharing Naga story associated with Jainism.


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prasadjain 3 years ago from Tumkur

A very good article, drafted after lot of sincere note-making and cogent compiling.I have voted -useful.

I would like to add a point- Naga shilpa is there in Jaina temples.But it is not worshipped as god as Hindus do. Jains have naga on one yaksha-yakshi couple, and on the head of Tirthankara Parshwanatha statue. When tirthankara parshwa was a saint and doing meditation, his past birth brother, with vengeance on him showers fire and rocks on Him. But Parshwa stands unmindful of all that. Then one yaksha takes the form of a serpent and spreads his hood on Parshwa's head to keep him undisturbed.To symbolize that, naga hood is shown on that Tirthankara's head, in sculptures.

It is true that some Jains conduct pooja for naga.But that is not stated anywhere in Jaina canonical. That is the Hindu influence on Jains.


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SAM ELDER 3 years ago from Home

Awesome hub. Thank you


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Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal Author

@Jainismus, thanks for sharing about Jain religion. I'm afraid I know very little about Jainism, but what I know is before Siddhartha became the Buddha, he studied with Jain sadhu.

@Angle, thanks for your angelic comment. You have always been wonderful to me.


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Angelme566 3 years ago

Dear Vinaya ,

This is an excellent hub again , what do we expect from a brilliant writer but i am so afraid of snakes , i don't like them..

Anyway...Merry Merry Christmas and have a beautiful and blessed New Year :D


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jainismus 3 years ago from Pune, India

In Jainism also there are many stories about Nagas. In fact, Jainism was a major religion of Nagas of ancient India. Naga people were no else than the Mongoloids whose totem was Naga or snake. Mahavir, the 24th Teerthankar, and Parshwanath, the 22nd Teerthankar both were Nagas.


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

@Mike Robbers, Hindu deities are represented in ferocious as well as benevolent forms. Thanks for your comment.

@Audrey, thanks for always reading my hubs.

@Mary, I learn from you, and you learn from me. This is what we do on HP. Thanks for appreciating my contents.

@Sunnie, thanks for always plugging me. Regards


Sunnie Day 4 years ago

Very interesting Vinaya and written so well as you always do. Thank you for teaching us about your Hindu culture.

Take care my friend,

Sunnie


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mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I love learning so many new things through Hubs: especially yours. I have had personal encounters with venomous snakes (I wrote a Hub about that). This really is a fascinating and educational Hub.

I voted it UP, and will share.


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AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

Wonderful hub Vinaya!


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Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

A stunning presentation of Hindu mythology related with snakes.. Full of insightful information & amazing photos - especially the Lord Narshima one (quite brutal but so interesting!)

congrats Vinaya, voted up & shared :)


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

Christy

whonunuwho

DDE

Thank you very much for reading and leaving wonderful comments. I'm glad that you liked my work.


DDE profile image

DDE 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

This truly amazing read about the belief of such a snake, a well presented Hub as always!!


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whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

A very interesting and wonderful excursion into the myths of the snake in Hinduism, Thank you for sharing this very informative work.


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ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

An interesting read Vinaya. I learn more about your culture with each hub, thank-you for the hard work here. I vote up and will share too.


Jasmin 4 years ago

Dear Vin,

This is something very new to me.

You are an amazing writer.


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

Rahul,thanks for reading and sharing on social media.

Cheers


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rahul0324 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

Interesting article... very enlightening Vinaya,,


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

Hi rcrumple,

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm glad that you like my hub.

Regards


rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

Vinaya -

Astonishing information. I worked with venomous species for decades both as an owner and a volunteer at a reptile zoo, and know much of the scientific information, but this is tremendous. Great Job!!

Up & Awesome & Interesting & Shared


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

Hello Rosemary,

Thanks for reading and leaving appreciative comment.

Regards


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Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

This is a fascinating read Vinaya. The research and work you have put into this hub is amazing.

Fascinating stories and myths.

Thank you for sharing


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pan1974 4 years ago from Columbus,Ga

You are welcome.


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

Hi pan, thanks for stopping by.


pan1974 profile image

pan1974 4 years ago from Columbus,Ga

Very interesting hub.


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

@Jasmin, thanks for always being around.

@Christy, thanks for your appreciation.

Cheers


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ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

An interesting look at Hinduism. Snakes actually creep me out, but I did find your information here useful. I vote useful and interesting.


Jasmin 4 years ago

Dear Vinaya, your knowledge about Hinduism always surprises me.


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

Hi Senorita, I have also always been fascinated by the symbolism of snakes. Thanks for your comment.

Cheers


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Senoritaa 4 years ago

As a person who has always been fascinated by snakes, and their mythological stories, I found this hub beautifully written. You couldn't have incorporated the Hindu mythology related to snakes any better than this. The pictures gel well with the narration as well.


Shuva 4 years ago

Vinaya, this is quite an interesting read. You have wonderfully written about the topic.


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Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal Author

@Frank, I believe myths are distorted versions of history.Thanks for reading.

@Jenubouka, Naga-snake iconography is present in many cultures and country. They represent goodness or evil, or both. Thanks for your comment.

@Radha, Thanks for sharing your point of view. I appreciate your comment.

@always exploring, thanks for reading and commenting. You have always been very supportive. I'm glad that I was able to connect you through Hubpages.

@Angel, Perhaps the city called Naga in your country was also named after Naga-Snake. I believe all the names containing the word Naga comes form Naga-snake.

@Janhorner, fear of something is because of mental conditioning. Thanks for reading and commenting.

@Pooja, I have lived in Karnataka for a while but never been to Kukke Balasubramaniyam. Snake in dreams can be interpreted by psychiatrist,psychics and spiritualist in different ways. Thanks for sharing your views.

@Peggy, I've seen men with cobra around their necks. perhaps they are simulating the Lord Shiva, who always appears with snake. Thanks for reading and commenting.

@John, snake took evil form in other cultures perhaps because of the myth of apple. Yes,it is true that snakes are also symbolized as sexual prowess. Because according to Hindu myth snake-naga when assume human form they are very beautiful and strong.

@Ishwarya, thanks for reading and appreciating my work.

@Super Lux,thanks

@snakeslane, thank you very much for your appreciative comment.

@Sueswan, thanks for reading and leaving a wonderful comment. Naga is also a tribe living in north-east India. There is a state named after this tribe called Nagaland. The naga men and women are thinly build and of short height,but they are good looking.


Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Vinaya

A fascinating and educational read.

So, if I see a strong, handsome man, he may indeed be a Naga. ;-)

Voted up and away

I hope you are enjoying the weekend my friend. :)


snakeslane profile image

snakeslane 4 years ago from Canada

This is fascinating Vinaya. Photos, images and artwork are stunning. Regards, snakeslane


Super Lux profile image

Super Lux 4 years ago from Singapore

very informative. thanks for sharing.


ishwaryaa22 profile image

ishwaryaa22 4 years ago from Chennai, India

An insightful & informative hub! I am very familiar with many of Hindu stories about Nagas and I learnt a lot from your Nepali Naga myths. Your photos are stunning, especially the churning of the ocean at the airport in Bangkok. Well-done!

Thanks for SHARING. Awesome & Interesting. Voted up


John Sarkis profile image

John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Hi Vinaya, and what a wonderful hub this is.

Wow...yes, it seems as if snakes have gotten a bad rap in many cultures and religions worldwide; Judaism; Christianity; and Islam, all view snakes as evil and repulsive creatures. Subsequently, I've heard some cultures equate snakes to sexual prowess and potency.

Great hub - voted up

John


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

What an interesting hub about the myths and meanings of Naga in various cultures around the world. I have always been fascinated when I see photos of men with cobra snakes on the ground within striking distance and they seem unafraid. Seems to be some sort of a ritual. If "snakes are believed to bring rain" many parts of the U.S. could use more of them right now. Many crops like corn and others are failing because of severe drought conditions. Will affect prices over here and elsewhere in the coming year. Bring on the snakes!!! Very interesting hub, Vinaya. Voted that, up and sharing. Thanks!


poojasd7 profile image

poojasd7 4 years ago from India

Awesome hub which details out so many things about Nagas. I always feared them until the time I visited a place in a coastal Karnataka, where you will find a holy place dedicated to Nagas called as "Kukke Balasubramaniyam". It's a lovely place.

Another interesting thing is that I get Serpents in my dreams.. They used to be hostile before a particular time in the past. These days they are pretty friendly in my dreams. I also see Naga idols in my dreams. :-)


Janhorner 4 years ago

Your hub is so interesting! I never knew any of this before reading. You have put so much effort into this.

I have a terrible fear of snakes and yet my daughter has two which she treats like babies!

Wonderful hub and thank you for sharing.

Jan


Angelme566 profile image

Angelme566 4 years ago

Am late... This is a very very broad hub , indeed a masterpiece !

This is the first to encounter some name of a person s, places and events.

Thanks for this hub , else i won't know that this events and thing took place in this world.

Thanks Vinaya for telling us these things , for adding our knowledge about world , places and significant tradition , culture and people.

As hub deserve a 5 star and worthy to be voted and shared ! God bless !


always exploring profile image

always exploring 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is very interesting. The history of Naga snake is remarkable. This piece is educational going back eons. Your research is evident. Great piece..Thank you..


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radhapriestess 4 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

In the story of Eve and Adam, Eve was tempted first to eat the fruit, then Adam joined her in eating of the fruit. Some people say the serpent in this story is connected with Kundalini.


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radhapriestess 4 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

Very well done and in-depth on the topic. I will have to print this one for my collection.


jenubouka 4 years ago

Incredible history lesson Vin. I loved how they were protectors versus predators as many assume.


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Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

very interesting share.. so many stories could come from this bit of history.. yeah voted up and awesome .. maybe useful for future fiction tales..hmmm..:) LOL

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    Vinaya Ghimire926 Followers
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    Vinaya is the author of Amazing Alphabet and People's War in Nepal: Songs and Narratives From the Frontline



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