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Encyclopedia of Hindu Gods


NAGA


Image used by permission

Basic Description:  A snake, especially the cobra, depicted as a mystical, semi-divine being with a human face, the tail of a snake, and the raised head of a cobra.  The name also applies to followers of a snake cult widespread in India.  Traces of these people can be found in the ancient history of the Indian subcontinent.  Certain mountains bear their name, and the Naga-Dvipa was one of the seven subdivisions of the ancient country Bharatavasha (India).  The Nagas were clearly not Hindus; they are though to have been Scythes.  Their name, which probably reflects their practice of snake veneration, has been retained in such place names as Nagpur.

Alternate Names:  the Serpents, the Ever-moving, creeping creatures, those creeping on their chests, those creeping on their shoulders, goat eaters

History/Practices:   The legend of the nagas appears to come from a mixture of elements, on one side the cult of serpents considered as the genii of trees and rivers and, on the other, memories of non-Aryan clans who worshipped serpents.  Today the nagas are still worshipped as deities in most villages of southern India.  The serpent seems to have been the totem of the ancient Dravidians, and until comparatively recent times there were dynasties of kings who were pictured with a cobra's hood in eastern and southern India.

Iconography:  They are represented as half human, half serpent.  Human face, the tail of a snake, and the raised head of a cobra.

Mythology:   The nagas are linked with the antigods.  They are possessed of great courage and are quick and violent.  They are handsome and wear jewels, crowns, and large earrings.  The nagas have three kings, Vasuki, Taksaka, and Sesa.  The nagas are said to descend from Fragant, the fabulous cow, daughter of the non-Aryan sage Vision.  The nagas dwell in the underworld, the serpent world, which is an immense domain crowded with palaces, houses, towers, and pleasure gardens.  The nagas also live on earth but dwell there in the caves of inaccessible mountains.  They also dwell under the sea.

Sources:

Moor, Edward.  The Hindu Pantheon.  Los Angeles: Philosophical research society, 1976.

Thomas, P.  Epics, Myths and Legends of India.  Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, 1961.


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