They are a strong, handsome species who can assume either wholly human or wholly serpentine form and are potentially dangerous but often beneficial to humans. They live in an underground kingdom called Naga-loka, or Patala-loka, which is filled with resplendent palaces, beautifully ornamented with precious gems. The creator deity Brahma relegated the naga s to the nether regions when they became too populous on earth and commanded them to bite only the truly evil or those destined to die prematurely.
They are also associated with waters—rivers, lakes, seas, and wells—and are guardians of treasure.
Three notable naga s are Shesha or Anantawho in the Hindu myth of creation supports Narayana Vishnu as he lies on the cosmic ocean and on whom the created world rests; Vasuki, who was used as a churning rope to churn the cosmic ocean of milk ; and Takshaka, the tribal chief of the snakes.
In modern Hinduism the birth of the serpents is celebrated on Naga-panchami in the month of Shravana July—August.
The female naga s nagini s or nagi s are serpent princesses of striking beauty. The dynasties of Manipur in northeastern Indiathe Pallavas in southern India, and the ruling family of Funan ancient Indochina each claimed an origin in the union of a human being and a nagi. In Buddhism, naga s are often represented as door guardians or, as in Tibet, as minor deities.
The naga king Muchalinda, who sheltered the Buddha from rain for seven days while he was deep in meditation, is beautifully depicted in the 9th—13th century Mon-Khmer Buddhas of what are now Thailand and Cambodia. In Jainism the Tirthankara saviour Parshvanatha is always shown with a canopy of naga hoods above his head.
In art, naga s are represented in a fully zoomorphic form, as hooded cobras having one to seven or more he; as human beings with a many-hooded snake canopy over their he; or as half human, with the lower part of the body below the navel coiled like a snake and a canopy of hoods over the he.
Often they are shown in postures of adoration, as one of the major gods or heroes is shown accomplishing some miraculous feat before their eyes. Additional Info. Print Cite verified Cite. While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions.
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Subscribe Now. Height 5 cm. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. The naga demon has a long, flaming, red tongue and dozens of cobras writhing around his head. Some old masks have only one large bulging eye, with a cobra hissing out from one nostril. The de of these masks uses five basic colours—red, blue, yellow, green,….
The nagaa superhuman spirit, was taken from Buddhist and Hindu texts and merged with native counterparts, with the result that different images of the naga appeared in various regions.
The Burmese naga was a snake with a crested head. The Mon naga was a crocodile,….
Bones of transformation
Often many-headed, this serpent is the patron and guardian of water and treasure, both material and spiritual. The snake motif has also been blended with images of the Chinese dragon, going back perhaps to Chinese Han ornamental des.
Outstanding examples are found on the…. History at your fingertips. up here to see what happened On This Dayevery day in your inbox! address. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox.