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Nāga in Mythology (Hinduism & Buddhism)

Naga dragon meaning symbol

Nāga Symbolism: fertility, abundance and wealth

The Nāgas are dragons living in the underground. They are the guardians of the Earth’s riches. 🐍

Nāgas are very important in Hindu and Buddhist religions. 🛕They are snakes or dragons suspected to reside in the underworld and exert a spiritual influence on the world and the Men.

Naga Bracelet

Nāga creature origin

The Nāga (Naak in Lao) is a mythical creature often represented as a giant snake with a crested head and a mouth full of sharp teeth. Most sources trace the origin of the creature to India.

But while the figure of the creature is present throughout the Asia-Pacific region, its cult is particularly important in the Mekong Valley.

Nāga in Laos

In Laos the powerful reptile was already honored by the proto-tai populations (200 BC – 200 AD), well before the arrival of Buddhism in the region.

naga creature mythology

Nāga symbol of fertility

The figure of the creature is associated with water and fertility. His anger can cause terrible disasters (floods, drowning), whereas correctly honored, they can be protective, nourishing and even creative.

Masters of the underworld, they can also fly in order to communicate with the deities of the sky. And although they live in their own realm, some of them can transform themselves to visit the human world in the form of a snake or an attractive young man.

Nāgas in Hinduism

They are traditionally seen as the protectors of the Mother of Serpents and those who desire their support. Many Nāgas are seen in Hindu and Buddhist temples as necessary companions to various deities. 🛕

Naga Hinduism

Kanya Nāgas: the Goddess of snakes

The Kanya Nāgas are considered the most common friends and companions of the great god Vishnu. It is not uncommon to see nine-headed serpent protecting the head and shoulders of the god. 🕉

Moreover, just before the renewal of a world, Vishnu remains asleep on the polycephalic serpent Ananta which protects him from the primordial waters until his awakening.

The human-body serpents can have a beneficial, neutral or hostile influence on human beings. In some cultures, they are responsible for controlling the weather, causing droughts by holding back rain when humans have offended them.

Conversely they may release water and rain to bring fertility, but only when they are in a good mood. Pollution of the environment or disrespectful acts such as washing dirty clothes in a stream can lead to illness or curses.

Nāgas in Cambodia

They are particularly appreciated in Cambodia where the presence of many lakes and ponds implied the presence of our creature.

Nāgas in Buddhism

The Nāgas in Buddhism

In Buddhism, the Nāga Mucalinda is particularly known for having protected the future Gautama Buddha during one of his meditations.

Before he became the Buddha, he was known as Siddhartha, a prince of Nepalese origin. One day, after leaving the palace and becoming a monk, he was meditating by a lake.

He was on the verge of attaining enlightenment, but suddenly a storm appeared on the horizon, threatening to disturb him and thus prevent him from attaining enlightenment.

All beings, gods, animals were afraid because without his awakening, the Buddha could not help them to reach true wisdom.

Mucilinda/Mucalinda, a Nāga came out from under the roots of a tree and protected the monk so that he could reach wisdom without pain. It protected him from the storm and the torrential rain without fail.

Garuda and the Nāgas

Snakes are often represented as jewels of the gods, for example in Shiva’s necklace or bracelet. 🕉 But they are very often held by the god Garuda, mount of Vishnu, who is their mortal enemy.

Kanya Nāgas Goddess of snakes

Garuda is the son of Kashyapa (a great sage) and Vinata. He was born from an egg that she had laid 500 years before it hatched. His mother made a bet with her sister Kadru (who is the mother of the Nāga) but lost it. She then became his slave.

Garuda went to Kadru and the snakes to find out what they wanted in exchange for his mother’s freedom. They asked her for Amrita, the nectar of immortality of the gods, which was very well protected by the power of the gods.

Nāgas and Garuda, the mortal enemies

Although protected by all kinds of traps, Garuda went to take it, even confronting all the gods who tried to stop him. He defeated them and set about deactivating the traps protecting the Amrita.

With river water that he drew from his beak, he extinguished the flames blocking his way, then dodged the spinning blades. Now he had to face the two guardian snakes, but Vishnu stood in his way.

The god offered him a deal: he would receive immortality and great power if he agreed to become his mount. Garuda accepted and continued on his way to seize the Amrita when he met Indra.

The celestial god allowed him access to the nectar if he made sure that the gods could take it back. The mythical bird agreed and went to free his mother.

When he handed over the nectar, he told the snakes that they had to make some preparations before drinking it, otherwise they would not be able to attain immortality.

This gave the gods time to take back the drink before the snakes drank it. From that moment on, they became mortal enemies.

Since then, Garuda regularly controls the Nāga and protects the faithful from their sting, which can be deadly.