6th century Naga at Badami Cave temples
|Sub grouping||Water deity, Tutelary deity, Snake deity|
|Similar creatures||Dragon (related to the Chinese dragon, Japanese dragon, Korean dragon, Vietnamese dragon and Druk)|
|Mythology||Hindu mythology and Buddhist mythology|
|Other name(s)||Nāgī or Nāgiṇī|
|Region||South Asia and Southeast Asia|
|Habitat||Lakes, Rivers, Ponds, Sacred groves and Caves|
Nāga (IAST: nāgá; Devanāgarī: नाग) is the Sanskrit and Pali word for a deity or class of entity or being taking the form of a very great snake, specifically the king cobra, found in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A female nāga is a nāgin" or nāgini".
|Wikispecies has information related to Naja naja|
In Sanskrit, a nāgá (नाग) is a cobra, the Indian cobra (Naja naja). A synonym for nāgá is phaṇin (फणिन्). There are several words for "snake" in general, and one of the very commonly used ones is sarpá (सर्प). Sometimes the word nāgá is also used generically to mean "snake". The word is cognate with English 'snake', Germanic: *snēk-a-, Proto-IE: *(s)nēg-o- (with s-mobile).
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Vishnu is originally portrayed in the form sheltered by a Śeṣanāga or reclining on Śeṣa, but the iconography has been extended to other deities as well. The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms: around the neck, use as a sacred thread (Sanskrit: yajñyopavīta) wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Shiva is often shown garlanded with a snake. Maehle (2006: p. 297) states that "Patanjali is thought to be a manifestation of the serpent of eternity".
The Buddhist nāga generally has the form of a great cobra, usually with a single head but sometimes with many. At least some of the nāgas are capable of using magic powers to transform themselves into a human semblance. In Buddhist painting, the nāga is sometimes portrayed as a human being with a snake or dragon extending over his head. One nāga, in human form, attempted to become a monk; when telling it that such ordination was impossible, the Buddha told it how to ensure that it would be reborn a human, able to become a monk.
In the "Devadatta" chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the daughter of the dragon king, an eight year old longnü (nāga), after listening to Mañjuśrī preach the Lotus Sutra, transforms into a male Bodhisattva and immediately reaches full enlightenment. This tale appears to reinforce the viewpoint prevalent in Mahayana scriptures that a male body is required for Buddhahood, even if a being is so advanced in realization that they can magically transform their body at will and demonstrate the emptiness of the physical form itself.
Nagas are believed to both live on Mount Meru, among the other minor deities, and in various parts of the human-inhabited earth. Some of them are water-dwellers, living in streams or the ocean; others are earth-dwellers, living in underground caverns.
The nāgas are the followers of Virūpākṣa (Pāli: Virūpakkha), one of the Four Heavenly Kings who guards the western direction. They act as a guard upon Mount Sumeru, protecting the dēvas of Trāyastriṃśa from attack by the asūras.
Among the notable nāgas of Buddhist tradition is Mucalinda, Nāgarāja and protector of the Buddha. In the Vinaya Sutra (I, 3), shortly after his enlightenment, the Buddha is meditating in a forest when a great storm arises, but graciously, King Mucalinda gives shelter to the Buddha from the storm by covering the Buddha's head with his seven snake heads. Then the king takes the form of a young Brahmin and renders the Buddha homage.
It is noteworthy that the two chief disciples of the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallāna are both referred to as Mahānāga or "Great Nāga". Some of the most important figures in Buddhist history symbolize nagas in their names such as Dignāga, Nāgāsēna, and, although other etymons are assigned to his name, Nāgārjuna.
In Malay and Orang Asli traditions, the lake Chini, located in Pahang is home to a naga called Sri Gumum. Depending on legend versions, her predecessor Sri Pahang or her son left the lake and later fought a naga called Sri Kemboja. Kemboja is the former name of what is Cambodia. Like the naga legends there, there are stories about an ancient empire in lake Chini, although the stories are not linked to the naga legends.
The seven-headed nagas depicted as statues on Cambodian temples such as Angkor Wat, apparently represent the seven races within naga society, which has a mythological, or symbolic, association with "the seven colors of the rainbow". Furthermore, Cambodian naga possess numerological symbolism in the number of their heads. Odd-headed naga symbolise the Male Energy, Infinity, Timelessness, and Immortality. This is because, numerologically, all odd numbers come from One (1). Even-headed naga are said to be "Female, representing Physicality, Mortality, Temporality, and the Earth."
Naga are believed to live in the Laotian stretch of the Mekong or its estuaries. Lao mythology maintains that the naga are the protectors of Vientiane, and by extension, the Lao state. The naga association was most clearly articulated during and immediately after the reign of Anouvong. An important poem from this period San Leupphasun (Lao: ສານລຶພສູນ) discusses relations between Laos and Thailand in a veiled manner, using the naga and the garuda to represent the Lao and the Thai, respectively. The naga is incorporated extensively into Lao iconography, and features prominently in Lao culture throughout the length of the country, not only in Vientiane.
In Javanese and Balinese culture, Indonesia, a naga is depicted as a crowned, giant, magical serpent, sometimes winged. It is similarly derived from the Shiva-Hinduism tradition, merged with Javanese animism. Naga in Indonesia mainly derived and influenced by Indic tradition, combined with the native animism tradition of sacred serpents.
Early depictions of circa-9th-century Central Java closely resembled Indic Naga which was based on cobra imagery. The later depiction since the 15th century, however, was slightly influenced by Chinese dragon imagery — although unlike its Chinese counterparts, Javanese and Balinese nagas do not have legs. Naga as the lesser deity of earth and water is prevalent in the Hindu period of Indonesia, before the introduction of Islam. In a wayang theater story, a snake (naga) god named Sanghyang Anantaboga or Antaboga is a guardian deity in the bowels of the earth. Naga symbolize the nether realm of earth or underworld.
In many parts of pre-Hispanic Philippines, the naga is used as an ornament in the hilt ends of longswords locally known as kampilans.
Naga on copper pillar in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh India
Naga (marked 15) in the Varaha panel at Udayagiri Caves
Naga at the funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in 2017
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