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Naga Reference

Subject: Naga Reference

Kali Yuga 49950315

|You once wrote that your chosen name "Nagasiva" means "Siva of the
|Nagas".  Who/what are the Nagas?

I usually translate that as 'water dragons', but there is much much more.
Here're my latest compilation:

"Snakes around Shiva's neck (naga bushana) symbolize death, the power
of which Shiva is beyond, as well as time, which is under Shiva's
control.  They also represent the dormant spiritual energy (kundalini)
coiled at the base of the spine, which aids the yogi in the inward
journey toward Self-realization."

_Jai Shiva!  Kirtan For Shivaratri_, by Baba Hari Dass, p. 19.

"_Fabulous Beasts_ ...*Naga*: Many-headed snake; guardian of treasures 
and esoteric knowledge; serpent kings and queens; the life forces of the 
waters, the swamp-like passionate nature."

_An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols_, by J.C. Cooper, p. 64.

"_Serpent_....  *Hindu*: The shakti; Nature; cosmic power; chaos; the
amorphous; the nonmanifest; the manifestation of the Vedic Agni, fire,
the 'fierce serpent'; the dark serpent denotes the potentiality of
fire.  As Kaliya is vanquished by Krishna, who dances on its broad
head, the serpent is evil.  The cobra is a mount of Vishnu and as such
is knowledge, wisdom and eternity.  As the cosmic ocean Vishnu sleeps
on the coiled serpent on the primordial waters, the oceanic, chaotic,
unpolarized state before creation.  His two *nagas*, the intertwined
bodies, represent the already-fertilized waters and out of this union
rises the Earth Goddess, symbol of both earth and waters.  Ananta, the
thousand-headed ruler of the serpents, is the 'endless', the infinite
and fertility, whose coils encircle the basis of the world axis.  Vritra,
the imprisoner of the waters, is subterranean darkness which swallows
the waters and causes draught; he, like Ahi 'the throttler', is a three-
headed snake slain by Indra who releases the waters again with his
thunderbolt.  Entwined serpents are cthonic.  Two serpents with downward
and upward movement represent the Divine Sleep and Divine Awakening in
the nights and days of Brahma.  The Naga and Nagini are serpent kings
and queens or genii, often divinities in their own rights; they can be
depicted as either fully human, or as snakes, or as humans with cobra
heads and hoods, or with ordinary snakes' heads, or as human from the
waist upwards and serpentine from the waist downwards.  They frequently
share the same symbolism as the Chinese Dragon as rain-givers and the 
life forces of the waters, fertility and rejuvenation.  They are guardians
of the threshold, of the door and of treasures, both material and
spiritual, and of the waters of life; they are also the protectors of
cattle.  As snake kings and queens they have their images under trees.
To drive a snake through a serpent's head is to 'fix' it and at the 
foundation of a Hindu temple this is to imitate the primordial act of
Soma, or Indra, in subduing chaos and creating order.  A serpent some-
times entwines the lingam of Siva.  With the elephant, tortoise, bull
and crocodile, the serpent can be a supporter and maintainer of the

Ibid, p. 150.

"_Kundalini_  Symbolized by the serpent which lies coiled at the base
of the spine in the chakra known as the muladhara and which lies
dormant until awakened by yogic and spiritual practices when it begins
to ascend through the chakras, bringing increased powers into play,
until it reaches the highest point in total awareness and realization.
It is latent energy; unawakened being; the sleeping serpent power; the
primordial shakti in man.  To awaken and uncoil it is to break the
ontological plane and attain the sacred Centre; enlightenment.  The
symbolism of kundalini is associated with that of the serpend or dragon
and the spine, the world axis."

Ibid, p. 92.

"While the world was submerged beneath the ocean, God lay brooding on 
Naga, king of the serpents, as Naga floated upon the waters."  

_The Bhagavatam Purana_

"Nagas are genii superior to man.  They inhabit subaquatic paradises, 
dwelling at the bottoms of rivers, lakes, and seas, in resplendent 
palaces studded with gems and pearls.  They are keepers of the life-
energy that is stored in the earthly waters of springs, wells, and 
ponds.  They are the guardians, also, of the riches of the deep sea - 
corals, shells, and pearls.  They are supposed to carry a precious 
jewel in their heads.  Serpent princesses, celebrated for their 
cleverness and charm, figure among the ancestresses of many a South 
Indian dynasty: a nagini or naga in the family tree gives one a 

"An important function of the nagas is that of the 'door guardian'.... 
as such they frequently appear at the portals of Hindu and Buddhist 
shrines.  In this role their proper attitude is one of pious devotion 
(bhakti), fervent and loving concentration on the inward vision of 
the god or the Buddha whose precincts they attend.  It is extremely 
interesting and important to observe that the Buddhist and Hindu 
representations of such popular divinities do not differ from each 
other, either essentially or in detail; for Buddhist and Hindu art - as 
also Buddhist and Hindu doctrine - were in India basically one.  Prince 
Gautama Siddhartha, the 'historical Buddha,' who taught in the sixth 
and fifth centuries B.C., was a reformer, a monastic reformer, remaining 
within, and taking for granted, the context of Indian civilization.  He 
never denied the Hindu pantheon or broke with the traditional Hindu 
ideal of release through enlightenment (moksa, nirvana).  His specific 
deed was not that of refuting but that of re-formulating, on the basis 
of a profound personal experience, the ageless Indian teaching of 
redemption from the toils of Maya."  

_Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization_, by Heinrich Zimmer, 
pgs. 63-64.

"When the [Buddha], in the last watch of the Night of Knowledge, had 
fathomed the mystery of independent origination, the ten thousand 
worlds thundered with his attainment of omniscience.  Then he sat 
cross-legged for seven days at the foot of the Bo-tree (the Bodhi 
tree, the 'Tree of Enlightenment'), on the banks of the river Nairanjana, 
absorbed in the bliss of his illumination.  And he revolved in his mind 
his new understanding of the bondage of all individualized existence; 
the fateful power of the inborn ignorance that cast its spell over all 
living beings; the irrational thirst for life with which everything 
consequently is pervaded; the endless round of birth, suffering, decay, 
death, and rebirth.  Then after the lapse of those seven days, he arose 
and proceeded a little way to a great banyan-tree, 'The Tree of the 
Goatherd,' at the foot of which he resumed his cross-legged posture; 
and there for seven more days he again sat absorbed in the bliss of his 
illumination.  After the lapse of that period, he again arose, and, 
leaving the banyan, went to a third great tree.  Again he sat and 
experienced for seven days his state of exalted calm.  This third tree - 
the tree of our legend - was named 'The Tree of the Serpent King, 

"Now Muchalinda, a prodigious cobra, dwelt in a hole amongst the roots.  
He perceived, as soon as the Buddha had passed into the state of bliss, 
that a great storm cloud had begun to gather, out of season.  Thereupon he 
issued quietly from the black abode and with the coils of his body enveloped 
seven times the blessed body of the Enlightened One; with the expanse of 
his giant snake-hood he sheltered as an umbrella the blessed head.  Seven 
days it rained, the wind blew cold, the Buddha remained in meditation.  But 
on the seventh, the unseasonable storm dispersed; Muchalinda unloosed his 
coils, transformed himself into a gentle youth, and with joined hands to his 
forehead bowed in worship of the savior of the world.

"In this legend and in the images of the Muchalinda-Buddha a perfect 
reconciliation of antagonistic principles is represented.  The serpent, 
symbolizing the life force that motivates birth and rebirth, and the savior, 
conqueror of that blind will for life, severer of the bonds of birth, pointer 
of the path to the imperishable Transcendent, here together in harmonious 
union open ot the eye a vista beyond all the dualities of thought....

"It is said by some that when the Buddha began teaching his doctrine, he 
soon realized that men were not prepared to accept it in its fullness.  
They shrank from the extreme implications of his vision of the universal 
Void (sunyata).  Therefore, he committed the deeper interpretation of 
reality to an audience of nagas, who were to hold it in trust until mankind 
should be made ready to understand.  Then to his human disciples he offered, 
as a kind of preliminary training and approach to the paradoxical truth, the
comparatively rational and realistic doctrine of the [Theravada] division 
of Buddhism.  Not until some seven centuries had passed was the great sage 
Nagarjuna, 'Arjuna of the Nagas,' initiated by the serpent kings into the 
truth that all is void (sunya).  And so it was he who brought to man the 
fullfledged Buddhist teachings of the Mahayana." 

Ibid, pgs. 66-68.

"[Vishnu], and the cosmic ocean on which he is recumbent, are dual 
manifestations of a single essence; for the ocean, as well as the human 
form, is Vishnu.  Furthermore, since in Hindu mythology the symbol for water 
is the serpent (naga), Vishnu is represented, normally, as reposing on the 
coils of a prodigious snake, his favorite symbolic animal, the serpent 
Ananta, 'Endless.'  So that, not only the gigantic anthropomorphic form 
and the boundless elemental, but the reptile too is Vishnu.  It is on a 
serpent ocean of his own immortal substance that the Cosmic Man passes 
the universal night." 

Ibid, pgs. 37-38.

"Vishnu's shoulders and head are surrounded and protected by nine 
serpent heads with expanded hoods; he couches on the mighty coils.  
This multiheaded snake is an animal counterpart of the sleeper himself.  
It is named Endless (ananta), also The Remainder, The Residue (sesha).  
It is a figure representing the residue that remained after the earth, 
the upper and infernal regions, and all their beings, had been shaped out 
of the cosmic waters; i.e. they balance on the expanded hoods.  Sesha is 
the king and ancestor of all the snakes that crawl the earth." 

Ibid, p. 62.

"In the case of Krishna's half-brother, Balarama, the naga character 
is strongly emphasized.  He is a human embodiment, a partial incarnation, 
of Shesha himself, and this character is exhibited particularly in the 
story of his end.  He is described as sitting beneath a tree on the shore 
of the ocean, lost in thought; whereupon a large snake crawls out of his 
mouth, leaving the human body of the hero-savior inanimate.  This is his 
Shesha-nature, his secret life-essence, going back to the watery deep.  
As it winds its way in gigantic undulations, serpents sing its praises.  
The ocean itself arises in the form of a mighty serpent king to salute the 
great guest, its own higher Self, the serpent of the universal waters.  
The serpent essence of the divine hero goes back into the formlessness of 
the Abyss - returning into itself after having accomplished the momentary 
role of companion and supporter to a human avatar." 

Ibid, p. 89.

------------------------- compilation ends


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