The naga (male) and nagini (female) are entities primarily in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, that takes the form of a snake (king cobra). But, naga in other types, are also found in other cultures from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Mekong, Java, and the Philippines.
In Hinduism, the naga is still part of the modern culture. In India, they are nature spirits that protect the water of springs, wells, and rivers. They bring the rain, but also are believed to cause floods and droughts.
Varuna, in Hinduism is considered to be the king of the nagas and lives in Patala, the seventh realm. It is also believed that nagas have the elixir of life and are immortal. The legend of how the naga’s tongues became forked is believed to be from them licking up drops of the elixir from the grass and their tongues became cut.
In Buddhism, they are viewed as great and wise serpents or dragons that live within lakes or underground streams and guard treasures. Sometimes the naga from this culture had many heads and some are believed to hold magical powers that can be used to transform them into a human.
In Thailand, nagas are featured in stories and folklore as well as architectural components of Buddhist temples. A well-known naga in Thai legend is Phaya Naga who is believed to live in the Mekong river. There is also a soap opera named Manisawat that is based on the naga legend.
In Cambodia, the legend of the naga were a race of reptilian beings that lived in a kingdom in the Pacific Ocean. The Cambodian people, according to the legend, were born from a union between a naga princess and a Indian Brahmana. A saying still used by Cambodians today is “Born from the Naga”.
Seven-headed nagas are statues on Cambodian temples which represent the seven races of the naga society and are associated with the seven colors of the rainbow. Also, An odd-headed naga represents male energy, infinity, timelessness, and immortality. While an even-headed naga is female that represents physicality, mortality, temporality, and the earth.
In Laos, naga are believed to inhabit Mekong rivers or estuaries. They are the protector of Vientiane, capital of Laos. But, also are prominent in other culture throughout the country.
In the Mekong River region, the naga are still believed to inhabit the region and the local residence hold annual sacrifices for the naga. The ceremony depends on how the village earns a living.
Every year on the fifteenth day of the eleventh month of the Lao lunar calendar, a spectacular phenomenon occurs. Fireballs seem to rise from the river into the night sky. The locals believe that the nagas shoot the fireballs into the air to celebrate the end of Vassa (three month rainy season).
The Javanese culture depicts the naga as a crowned magical giant serpent that sometimes is said to have wings. Before Islam, this legend was prevalent, and one story says a naga god named Anantaboga is the guardian of the earth.
In the Philippines, naga is an ornament on the hilt of long swords.
Two nagas are featured in Rudyard Kipling’s story Riki Tiki Tavi. They are a pair of cobras named Nag and Nagaina. Nagas are also used in film, many computer games, and in the eighth episode of the Tomb Raider: Underworld series Nagas and Nagin were enemies in the level Bhogovati. And in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort’s snake is named Nagini.
Image Caption: Snakestone worship pieces in Hampi. Credit: Dineshkannambadi/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)