Department for the Study of Religions, Marburg University, 35037 Marburg, Germany; langeg@staﬀ.uni-marburg.de
Received: 12 June 2019; Accepted: 24 July 2019; Published: 26 July 2019
Abstract: In South Asia, cobras are the animals most dangerous to humans—as humans are to cobras. Paradoxically, one threat to cobras is their worship by feeding them milk, which is harmful to them, but religiously prescribed as an act of love and tenderness towards a deity. Across cultural and religious contexts, the Nagas,¯ mostly cobra-shaped beings, are prominent among Hindu and Buddhist deities. Are they seen as animals? Doing ethnographic ﬁeldwork on a Himalayan female Naga¯ Goddess, this question has long accompanied me during my participant observation and interviews, and I have found at least as many possible answers as I have had interview partners. In this article, I trace the ambiguous relationship between humans, serpents and serpent deities through the classical Sanskrit literature, Hindu and Buddhist iconographies and the retelling of myths in modern movies, short stories, and fantasy novels. In these narrations and portrayals, Nagas¯ are often “real” snakes, i.e., members of the animal kingdom—only bigger, shape-shifting or multi-headed and, curiously, thirsty for milk. The article focuses on those traits of Nagas¯ which set them apart from animals, and on those traits that characterize them as snakes.
1. Loving and Killing Snakes Sunita, a young, pious woman in distress, bites her lower lip and directs her gaze, displaying a mixture of hope and worry, towards the termite hill. Together with a group of fellow devotees, she waits for a seemingly endless time; the tension is raised by chittering birds. Finally, a cobra raises her head out of a hole in the termite hill. Sadness gives way to enthusiasm, while some of the participants seem rather shocked. The cobra rises to her full height as yellow hald¯ı and red sindur¯ powders—turmeric and vermilion—are thrown towards the snake to worship her, accompanied by increasingly rapid drum patterns. The cobra goddess is oﬀered burning oil on a leaf, an egg and a garland of white ﬂowers. Sunita sings, her song expressing some urgency to ﬁx the snake to her spot and to prevent her from disappearing. We see the cobra from a frog’s-eye-view—notwithstanding other implications of this term vis-à-vis a snake, this cinematographic act illustrates the devotees’ submission and the majesty of a goddess in her serpent form. Sunita and the other women in the group raise a pot of milk, and we see a stream of milk gushing over the erected head of the cobra, who ﬁnally opens her mouth to drink the milk (Figure1).
Religions 2019, 10, 454; doi:10.3390/rel10080454 www.mdpi.com/journal/religions Religions 2019, 10, 454 2 of 26
This scene1 from the Tamil movie Devi, “the Goddess”2, features a goddess who is also a cobra—a Nag¯ ¯ı, to use the Sanskrit term. The Nag¯ ¯ıs (f) and Nagas¯ (m) of Sanskrit mythology—i.e., the Nagins¯ and Nags¯ in modern Hind¯ı or, in this case, a South Indian Nagamma—are,¯ at the same time, both cobras and something else. In diﬀerent cultural and religious contexts, the term has (and, for about three thousand years3, has had) diﬀerent meanings. Unlike other snakes (Skt. ahi, sarpa, pannaga, uraga or 4 bhujam. ga ), Nagas¯ are “hybrid” and “supernatural” (Cozad 2004, p. 32). Originally, a Naga¯ might have been merely “a snake that is exceptional due to its great size, its great powers, or perhaps both” (ibid.). Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 2 of 26
Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 26
Figure 1. Stills from the movie Devi (Ramakrishna(Ramakrishna 19991999).). ( a) A A stream stream of milk gushes over the head of a cobra, who is worshipped as a goddess; ((b)) SheShe opensopens herher mouthmouth toto drinkdrink thethe milk.milk.
NThisagas¯ scene are1 often from worshippedthe Tamil movie in front Devi of, “the termite Goddess” hills (cf.2, features König 1984a goddess); in the who Himalayas, is also a cobra—a they are believedNāgī, to use to dwellthe Sanskrit in springs term. (cf. The Handa Nāgīs 2004 (f) and; Lange Nāgas 2017 (m)). of These Sanskrit habitats mythology—i.e., highlight their the relationshipNāgins and toNā freshgs in water,modern as Hind wellī as or, to in the this earth; case, a South Indian Nāgamma—are, at the same time, both cobras and something else. In different cultural and religious contexts, the term has (and, for about three “Kadru,¯ ‘the Tawny One’, who, according to the Mahabh¯ arata¯ epic, is the mother of the thousand years3, has had) different meanings. Unlike other snakes (Skt. ahi, sarpa, pannaga, uraga or thousand Nagas,¯ is a personiﬁcation of the Earth. The snake-mother is also called Surasa,¯ bhujaṃga4), Nāgas are “hybrid” and “supernatural” (Cozad 2004, p. 32). Originally, a Nāga might have ‘she of good ﬂavor’” (Vogel 1926, p. 20). been merely “a snake that is exceptional due to its great size, its great powers, or perhaps both” (ibid.). In theirNāgas “Trans-Himalayan are often worshipped context” in (frontDeeg of2016 termite), which hills extends (cf. König throughout 1984); in thethe HinduHimalayas, and Buddhist they are imaginariesbelieved to dwell of Nepal, in springs Ka´sm¯ır, (cf. Tibet Handa and 2004; China Lange from 2017). the ﬁrst These centuries habitats CE highlight up until now, their N relationshipagas¯ 5 often haveto fresh nothing water, to as do well with as cobras,to the earth; but are providers of water—dwelling in mountain, lakes and rivers, or in rainclouds. “Kadrū, ‘the Tawny One’, who, according to the Mah ābhārata epic, is the mother of the This connection to water does not seem(a) to be a prominent Naga¯ trait in South India,(b) where they thousand Nāgas, is a personification of the Earth. The snake-mother is also called Surasā, are much more consistently and aﬃrmatively identiﬁed with cobras (cf. Alloco 2013, 2014). In the ‘she of good flavor’” (VogelFigure 4.1926, Mucalinda, p. 20). a five- or seven-headed Nāga king, rises like an aureole behind the Buddha, who words of an elderly sweeperis ofsitting a N agamma’sin¯ the lotos position temple (padm in Chennai,āsana): (a) Brass the animal figure from is “her Thailand, ‘true purchased form’, that for ofthe Marburg aIn slithering their “Trans-Himalayan snake”, (Alloco 2013Museumcontext”, p. of 235)—other (Deeg Religion 2016), in 1957 shapes which (photo in extends by which Heike N throughoutLuu,agammas¯ acc.nr. Mq appear the 027); Hindu ( are,b) Gipsum amongand Buddhist replica others, of a Burmese theimaginaries stone sculptures of Nepal, and Kaś paintedmfigure,īr, Tibet probably images and Chinafrom of their Bagan, from worship. 11th—12th the first Like centuriesc. CE in (pho theto CE movie by up Georg until scene, Dörr, now, a acc.nr. N agammaN¯ ā Mqgas 030;5 often can for a detailed have nothing to do with cobras,examination but are on providerstheir provenience, of water—dwelling cf. (Luu 2017)). in mountain, lakes and rivers, or in rainclouds. The iconography of Jainism identifies Pārśvanāth by a cobra with seven or more hoods spread 1 This connection to water does not seem to be a prominent Nāga trait in South India, where they (Ramakrishna 1999), minutesbehind 37:10–38:10. his head in a posture similar to that of Mucalinda. An account of his deeds, the 2 Devi are muchby Kodimore Ramakrishna consistentlyPār(ś1999van andā)thacarita tells affirmatively the storyfrom ofthe a 9th young, identified c. CE, distressed mentions with woman, cobras right whoin (cf. the is Allocofirst supported verse 2013, the and “female rescued2014). In byserpent herthe (Padmāvatī) wordsfamily of goddess an elderly Dev¯ı, sweeper who is a N agamma,¯of a Nāgamma’s a “cobra mother”. temple In general,in Chennai, the ﬁlm the can animal be categorized is “her as a‘true devotional form’, ﬁlm that for a religious audience that—notcarrying unusually—features the umbrella” (Bollée elements 2008, of romance,p. 4). Together action and with other her moviespouse, genres. the serpent In variance king of Dharaṇa, with of atraditional slithering conceptions snake”, ofhis(Alloco the “decorative, otherworld 2013, p. ofsparkling the235)—other Nagas,¯ canopy the movieshapes of beginsjewel-crested in which with Dev N ¯ıhoods” andāgammas her27 sisters (ibid., appear arriving p. 28), are, on she earthamong wards in a off a demon others,kind ofthe UFO. stone sculpturesattacking and them painted with rain, images rocks and of lightning.their worship. Like in the movie scene, a 3 Cf. Section3 below. 4 When Mucalinda and the other Nāgas of Buddhist mythology (cf. Section 3.2) spread to Like the Latin serpens, sarpa means “creeping”; uraga, bhujam. ga and pannaga respectively mean “walking on the chest”, “moving by bending”, and Southeast “creeping and low”; Eastahi is Asia, related they to other lost Indo-Euroeantheir mostly terms cobra-like for snakes shape, (cf. Mayrhofereither merging 1992, 1996 with). the Chinese 51 In (Ramakrishna Chinese, the term 1999), is equivalent minutesdragons 37:10–38:10. to(longlong 龍,) theor “dragon”other reptiles. (Deeg 200828 The, p. mythological 108); in Tibetan, traditions to klu. of the Himalaya highlight their 2 Devi by Kodi Ramakrishnafunction (1999) as providerstells the story and of controllers a young, distressed of water, whichwoman, probably who is supported links these and Nā rescuedgas to the early Vedic by her family goddessserpent Devī, who Vṛtra is a(cf. N āDeeggamma, 2016). a “cobra A Buddhist mother”. text In fromgeneral, the the earliest film cancenturies be categorized CE29 says as of itself that it a devotional film for a religious audience that—not unusually—features elements of romance, action and other movie genres. In variance of traditional conceptions of the otherworld of the Nāgas, the movie begins with Devī and her sisters arriving on earth in a kind of UFO. 27 Verse 139: prasphurad-ratna-phaṇa-maṇḍapa-maṇḍita. 3 Cf. Section 3 below. 28 For the Rmeet of upland Laos, for instance, Nāgas are earth spirits whose “horses” are boas with crowns (Guido 4 Like the Latin serpens, sarpaSprenger, means pers. “creeping”; comm.). Inhabitants uraga, bhuja of ṃKomodoga and in pannaga eastern Indonesiarespectively sometimes mean identify“walking the on famous “dragons” the chest”, “moving by bending”,of their island, and Varanus“creeping komodoensis low”; ahi, as is N relatedāgas (Annette to other Hornbacher, Indo-Euroean pers. termscomm.). for snakes (cf. Mayrhofer 1992, 1996).29 “The Mahāmāyūrī Vidyārājñī, the ‘Queen of spells (called) the Great One of the Peacock’, of which […] 5 In Chinese, the term is equivalenttranslations to longinto Chinese龍, the “dragon”are extant (Deegfrom the 2008, beginning p. 108); of in the Tibetan, 4th century to klu A.D.. onward” (Schmithausen 1997, p. 53) is an “apotropaic text [seeming] to prefigure aspects of Tantra or Mantrāyana Buddhism” (ibid., p. 51). Rather than pacifying and converting the Nāgas by means of maitrī (“friendship” or “compassion”), this text shows “a typically Tantric break-through of the ‘natural’ attitude of counter- (or even preventive) aggression” (ibid., p. 56). For example, malevolent demons are “threatened with having their head split […],
Religions 2019, 10, 454 3 of 26 also shift into a “beautiful ‘ladylike’ form” (ibid.)—although she is still a snake.6 Sarah Caldwell, on the other hand, cites a Keralese informant according to whom “the snake that we worship is not the ordinary snake that we see, such as the viper, cobra, etc. The real snake is diﬀerent. It is invisible. We cannot see those snakes in the sarppakavu¯ (sacred serpent grove). They are gods with great powers” (Caldwell 1999, p. 144). Devi shows this ambiguity of being a cobra goddess on many levels. For one, she changes her form throughout the movie, from serpent to young woman and back. Not only is it impossible to deﬁne one of these forms as her original self, her animal form, albeit conceived as such, is not deﬁned in a biological sense. Rather, its meaning is attributed by Hindu religion or, more precisely, folk religion from Andhra Pradesh, as represented in a feature ﬁlm. Apart from the opening scene, which shows the Naga¯ goddess and her sisters entering the human realm from some kind of space ship, the movie stays close to religious beliefs and practices from across South Asia. Throughout these traditions, milk is a supreme symbol of love and devotion (bhakti), and therefore, it is the best gift to oﬀer a goddess. Even the South Indian “cobra-mothers” (nagamma¯ ) seemingly love to drink milk, symbolizing maternity, purity and nourishment per se (Lange 2019a), and embodying the tender relationship between worshippers and the worshipped (Lange 2019b). Throughout South Asia, depicted and living serpents are given oﬀerings, often milk, to placate them, to lure them to one’s side—and, of course, to prevent them from killing humans. Nevertheless, the symbolic relationship between snakes and milk, prominent all over the world and throughout history (cf. Ermacora 2017), stands in contradiction to biological and biomedical conditions:
“the construction of a snake’s mouth (sharp teeth, inﬂexible lips) together with the absence of a diaphragm, makes it impossible for a snake to suck in the same manner as young mammals do. In addition, a snake’s digestive system does not permit the digestion of lactose: reptiles, of course, lack the lactase enzyme” (ibid., pp. 61f.).
Worshipping cobras can thus be deadly for them, as seen in statements by animal activists7 and in the pertinent literature. In a 2012 Times of India article, the author uses Nag¯ Pañcam¯ı, a Pan-Indian Naga¯ festival, to create awareness about what “really” beneﬁts snakes, instead of simply making oﬀerings to them in a cruel manner: “The reptiles are abused. Their fangs are removed, and they are starved so that they consume milk oﬀered to them by the devotees. This kind of torture proves fatal for the snakes.”8 That said, the title of that article suggests not to abandon religious traditions in favor of scientiﬁcally embedded practices, but rather to reform the religious festival and to give it a new meaning: “This Nag Panchami, protect the snake!” Devi evokes an atmosphere of passionate engagement between humans and a Hindu deity in the form of an animal; the oﬀering of milk to the cobra signiﬁes tenderness and love between members of diﬀerent species. Scientiﬁc and environmentalist discourses, however, see in the tenderness of “devotion” a form of “cruelty”: The beneﬁt to the animal is not the same as the beneﬁt to the deity. Does this mean that the deity and the animal are not the same being? There might be as many answers to this question as there are people who call themselves Hindus; still, a look into the complex mythological, iconographic and ritual histories of the Nagas¯ provides interesting insights into who or what is considered to be a god(dess), animal or human being.
6 In South India, the worship of Nagas¯ has the main purposes of overcoming childlessness—which is interpreted as the curse or revenge of a snake for being killed, hurt or disturbed by a human—and to prevent snakebites (cf. Alloco 2013). Appeasing the deity also means developing good terms with the animals; thus, their main festival (Naga¯ Caturtti in South India and, in North India and only on one day, Nag¯ Pañcam¯ı) takes place in “the rainy season, a period in which snake bites are more likely due to the fact that snakes are often displaced from their subterranean homes during the monsoon, and when many Tamil farmers are sowing paddy seeds and may encounter snakes in agricultural ﬁelds.” (ibid., p. 242) 7 https://savethesnakes.org/2017/07/29/nag-panchami-good-for-snakes/, last accessed 26 March 2019. 8 https://timesoﬁndia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/ﬂora-fauna/This-Nag-Panchami-protect-the-snake/articleshow/ 15098629.cms, last accessed 26 March 2019. Religions 2019, 10, 454 4 of 26
These questions are in the center of my ethnographic ﬁeldwork on the worship of the Nain. ¯ıs or Nagin¯ ¯ıs, who are nine Nag¯ goddesses in the Indian Central Himalaya who will be the focus of Section2. Although people do not worship them in the shape of an animal, they are often alluded to as cobras. Do they merely share their name with the shape-shifting goddess of the South Indian movie, and with the cobras whom the Times of India aim to protect against being worshipped? To ﬁnd out how much common mythological background these diﬀerent, currently worshipped Nag¯ ¯ıs share, Section3 develops a historically rooted view on their religious traditions by outlining some exemplary roles Nagas¯ play in the Mahabh¯ arata¯ epic, in Buddhism and in modern Indian literature. Since the 19th Century, an additional discourse has emerged in academic and political retellings and reinterpretations of Hindu mythology, raising the question of whether Nagas¯ and other nonhuman beings are, instead of being either deities or animals, an allegory for human ethnic groups. This modern discourse will be the focus of Section4, after which I ﬁnally apply the reformulated question about the animalness of Nagas¯ to the Himalayan goddess.
2. Nain. ı¯ Mat¯ a,¯ a Nag-Goddess¯ of the Central Himalaya Do the Nag¯ deities of today’s popular Hinduism have anything to do with cobras or other snake species? I have been doing ﬁeldwork on Naga-related¯ goddesses in the Indian Central Himalaya since 2011. Nain. ¯ı (= Hind¯ı nag¯ ¯ın) is the name of nine sisters, each believed to rule as goddess (dev¯ı) and mother (mat¯ a¯) over a part of the Pindar river valley. In the rituals, festivals and processions devoted to them, they have a huge range of ritual embodiments: a pole clothed with saris, male dancers in evening performances, women in states of possession. To an unassuming observer, in none of these embodiments do the Nain. ¯ıs look or behave diﬀerently from other local Hindu gods. They do not show oﬀ their serpentine features and, unlike other Indian Nags,¯ are never depicted in sculptures or posters. However, at second glance, the songs sung during the rituals and the stories told to me in interviews reveal that both their snake-like nature and their connection to the Nagas¯ in classical Hindu mythology indeed play a huge role. My interview partners often signaled that they were talking about a Nain. ¯ı by a hand gesture mimicking a cobra with its hood spread. Interestingly, the same gesture also appears in the opening few seconds of the ﬁlm sequence used to introduce this article.9 While most of my ﬁeldwork takes place in Himalayan regions above altitudes of 1500 m, where no “real” cobras are encountered, the imaginary Nags¯ are nonetheless very real to the people, who regard and love them as nonhuman family members. The Nain. ¯ı of the village Rains, for instance, had to be worshipped for half a year from 2016 to 2017. Her devotees (bhakt) attend to her as the village’s mother and relative, but also as an unleashed ´sakti, an ambivalent “force” which has to be tamed by a priest. As I was told by the teacher B. S Rawat in Chopta village, this priest, called gan. ve, “is controlling Nagin¯ a¯ Devi, makes some sounds, and Goddess Nagini dances. That means, he is the master of that Nagin¯ ¯ı. In the simple language we can say: He is sapera¯ [a snake charmer]!”10 These festivals are held for most of the nine Nain. ¯ı sisters in intervals of 40–50 years. Each goddess spends the long time between the festivals devoted to her in a clay pot ﬁlled with milk and buried 11 beneath a tree. When some aﬄiction [dos.] is felt to befall the village—cows give less milk, or their milk is mixed with blood—this is seen as a sign that she starts missing her people and that these must prepare a festival in her honor. Ritual specialists dig up the pot, which means that she “comes out of
9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhoabvEFIRg, last accessed 26 March 2019, minute 35:48:10. Using this gesture, a secondary character proclaims that there will not remain “one single drop of milk” in town, for it will all be used for the Naga¯ festival. 10 Interview from 18 October 2016. 11 “In that pot we put water and milk. In our religion we believe that a snake drinks milk. So we put that gar.a¯ [pot] there for that Nagin¯ ¯ı Dev¯ı, [this] is the symbol of Pat¯ alloka¯ [the netherworld]. And we believe that snakes live in Pat¯ alloka¯ . Generally, we know snake lives in [underground], generally, they come out in the summer season but in other seasons they go down under the ground for long sleep. Same way, the Nagin¯ ¯ı Dev¯ı is also a snake. We put her in that gad. d. a¯ for a long period [ ... ]. The soul of Nagin¯ ¯ı lives in that gad. d. a¯, which is covered in the root of that Tun¯ tree” (ibid.). Religions 2019, 10, 454 5 of 26 the underworld” (pat¯ al¯ lok se nikalt¯ı). After several weeks, a bamboo pole is prepared and animated with her being.12 In this form, she then spends six months among her human devotees, who convoy and carry her around the whole region. She visits all the villages into which the dhiyan¯ ¯ıs, women from the village, have married, even when this took place generations ago. In all these villages, large groups of women gather and sing songs to her. One of them, Ren. d. yo-Ken. d. yo (“crawl and be carried on [our] shoulders”) is sung repeatedly every day. Parvati Devi Mehra, an elderly woman of Bha¯ngota˙ village, explained to me that Nain. ¯ı is not only seen as Nagin¯ ¯ı, a mythological cobra goddess, but also as a living snake (sam¯ . p): “To begin with, Nagin¯ ¯ı Mat¯ a¯ is like a snake. How does she move? That is her song, like this. 13 How she walks, that is what the song is [about]: Ren. d. yo-Ken. d. yo.” Six months of this procession, and many more rituals, ﬁnally culminate in the making of a grass rope several kilometers long. This rope, as B. S. Rawat told me, is not only the symbol of a snake, but the snake itself, whose head “runs” (i.e., is carried by crowds of people) uphill and the tail downhill. Afterwards, she again vanishes into the pot—or rather, into the netherworld. When asked about the whereabouts of this realm, B. S. Rawat gave an answer I did not expect: “In the past, people [thought that] Europe, Asia and Middle East, only this is the earth! [Now we know that on] this side [are] Asia, Europe, and [on the] opposed side Amerika. That is called pat¯ al¯ lok.” [Question: “Therefore, if I go to America, I will be in pat¯ al¯ lok?”] “Yes. [ ... ] Anacondas, much variety of snakes live in America, you know? [In Hindi:] Of all places of the world, most snakes dwell in America. This is why, in our village, we believe it to be the nag¯ lok, the realm of the Nagas.”¯ 14 The movie Devi also calls the netherworld inhabited by Nagas¯ pat¯ al¯ .15 Whereas, in South Indian imagination, pat¯ al¯ is connected to this world by termite hills, Himalayan beliefs and practices take springs and mountain lakes as the dwelling place of Nags¯ and as entrances into their own world (cf. Lange 2017). In opposition to the South Indian Nag¯ ¯ıs, whose “real” shape is that of a cobra, the Nain. ¯ıs are said to take on human form in their own world, while they appear in this world as (sometimes invisible) cobras, but also as ropes, poles and possessed people. At ﬁrst glance, Nain. ¯ı and Nagamma¯ do not seem to have more in common with each other than with other Hindu deities, apart from their name. However, a closer look reveals features that more ﬁrmly embed them within Pan-Hindu concepts of Nagas:¯ Both names, Nain¯ı Mat¯ a¯ and Nagamma,¯ mean “cobra mother”. • . When feeling neglected, mistreated or hurt by their human “children”, both “mothers” are able to • curse them—if involuntarily—with an aﬄiction or disease (dos.) related to their poisonous nature. Both mothers are fed with milk; Nain¯ı Mat¯ a’s¯ dos is also said to spoil the milk as a sign of her • . . bad mood. Both are said to live in pat¯ al¯ lok, a netherworld. • Furthermore, when I asked for the Nain. ¯ı sisters’ parents, I usually heard names that I knew from Sanskrit sources; their mother is said to be Padma¯ Nagin¯ ¯ı and their father either Vasuki¯ Nag¯
12 “Brahmobandan, that means, [...] a bamboo stick covered with clothes, sa¯r.¯ıs, and on [2:00] top of that bamboo, covered with some [ ... ] colored cloth; that is the head of the snake. That is our belief! And that nis.an¯ is the symbol of Nain. ¯ı Dev¯ı. Nain. ¯ı means Nag!”¯ (ibid.) 13 Arambh¯ ´suru,¯ sa¯m. p jaise Nagin¯ ¯ı Mat¯ a¯ hai. Nagin¯ ¯ı Mat¯ a¯ kaise jat¯ ¯ı hai – yeh hai uska¯ gan¯ a,¯ yeh hai [ ... ]. Jaise calt¯ı hai, vaise gan¯ a¯ hai iska:¯ Ren. d. yo-Ken. d. yo (interview recorded on 18.10.2018). 14 Interview from 18.10.2016. The last sentences are translated from Hind¯ı: Duniya¯ ke sabse jagah snake America mem. milte haim. , uslie ham usko Naglok¯ bhi kahte haim. . Hamare gaum. v me usko Naglok¯ mana¯ jat¯ a¯ hai! 15 Devi, minute 35:48:00. Religions 2019, 10, 454 6 of 26
Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 26 or Kaliya¯ /Kalangiri˙ Nag.¯ To better understand this background, the anthropological approach can complementedbe complemented by byphilological philological and and archaeological archaeological findings, ﬁndings, providing providing more more contexts contexts for for “Indian serpent lore” (Vogel (Vogel 19261926).).
¯ 3. N Nāagasgas as as Animals, Animals, Deities, Deities, and and Demons Demons ¯ In modern modern Hind Hindī¯,ı, nnāagg meansmeans “cobra”. “cobra”. As Assuch, such, Nāgas Nagas¯ are areclassified classiﬁed among among the reptiles, the reptiles, the ˙ ¯ ¯ ¯ retheṅgnevrengnevāle jaleīv jantu jıv jantu (Figure(Figure 2)—they2)—they are are “living “living animals” animals” (j (īvjıv jantu jantu) )which which crawl, crawl, creep, creep, slither slither and and ˙ ¯ snake ( reṅngngnāa). In In ordinary ordinary human-animal human-animal encounters, encounters, cobras cobras and and other other poisonous poisonous snakes snakes usually usually do do not behave as protectors, as Dev ī¯ı does does in in the the movie, movie, but but rather rather as as something something to to be be protected protected against, against, 16 Atharvaveda being the most dangerous animals in India. 16 DatedDated around around 900 900 BCE, BCE, Atharvaveda 6.566.56 (Embree (Embree 1988,1988, pp. 23f.) 23f.) already already provides provides a a spell spell against against their their deadly deadly bite, bite, simultaneously praising and threatening the serpents ( ahi). Here, Here, snakes snakes are are imagined imagined both both as as slayers slayers of of humans humans and and as as praiseworthy praiseworthy “divine “divine folk”—similar to the snake goddess Mans āa¯ of current Bengal, who kills with one eye eye and and revives revives with with the other (Smith (Smith 1985,1985, p. 46; 46; Haq2015 2015).).
Figure 2. EducationalEducational poster, poster, bought bought by the author in Delhi,Delhi, autumnautumn 2016.2016. Published Published by by Geeta Enterprises, Delhi.
The wordwordn naga¯āgain in the the senses senses of “serpent” of “serpent” or “serpent or “serpent demon” demon” ﬁrst appears first appears in the Satapatha-Br´ in the Śatapatha-ahma¯ n. a Br(Mayrhoferāhmaṇa (Mayrhofer 1996, p. 33),1996, which p. 33), can which be dated can be back dated to theback ﬁrst to the half first of thehalf ﬁrst of the millennium first millennium BCE.17 BCE.The Mah17 Theabh¯ Maharata¯ ābhepicārata is epic the ﬁrstis the text first dwelling text dwelling extensively extensively on N onagas¯ Nā asgas such as such and and on on the the stories stories of ofindividual individual N agas,¯Nāgas, such such as as the the cosmic cosmic snake snakeSe´ Śse.a,ṣa, the the NNaga¯āga kingskings VVasuki,¯āsuki, Taks.ṣaka,aka, Airavataā¯vata and 18 Karkot.aka or the princesses Ulup¯ ¯ı. “The ﬁrstborn was Se´ s.a, and Vasuki¯ came after him” (Mahabh¯ arata¯
16 https: // www.downtoearth.org.in / news /wildlife-biodiversity/serpentine-problem-58396, last access 26 March 2019. 17 For me, the evidence that the Satapatha-Br´ ahma¯ na uses naga¯ in this sense seems not very strong. Cozad(2004, p. 32) 16 . speciﬁes https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/wildlife-biod the passage as SB´ 22.214.171.124. I did not ﬁnd any Nagas¯ iversity/serpentine-problem-58396, mentioned in this passage, at least in thelast version access available 26 onMarch gretil.org 2019., but “biting and stinging ones (serpents) who are neither worms (insects) nor non-worms” (naite krimayo 17 n Forakrimayo¯ me, the yaddanda´s evidenceuk¯ a¯). that Another the Ś passage,atapatha-BrSB´ 126.96.36.199.,āhmaṇa uses mentions nāga people in this who sense “come seems in drovesnot very as ifstrong. desiring Laurie to see Cozad a great ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ N(2004,aga”¯ ((p.Cozad 32) specifies 2004, p. the 203); passage gretil.org as hasŚB 188.8.131.52. the Sanskrit I did text not thus find translated any Nāgas as mentionedmahanagam ivinabhisa thism .passage,saram. did atr.ks. leastitaro). The commentary of the Madhyabdhinas¯ speciﬁes that this is in reference to a great snake (mahasarpa¯ ) and not an elephant or ain mountain the version (ibid., available p. 169, fn. 18).on gretil.org, but “biting and stinging ones (serpents) who are neither worms 18 Mah(insects)abh¯ arata¯ nor1.31 non-worms” gives a longlist (naite of prominent krimayo n Nāagas,¯krimayo continuing yaddanda withśūk theā). storyAnother of Se´ s.passage,a in 1.32. TheŚB story184.108.40.206., of Ul mentionsup¯ ¯ı’s aﬀair withpeople Arjuna who is narrated“come in in 1.206,droves and as Karko if desiringt.aka plays to majorsee a rolesgreat in N theāga” famous ((Cozad story of2004, Nala p. and 203); Damayant gretil.org¯ı (3.63) has and the in the foundation myths of Nepal (cf. Deeg 2016, pp. 171, 195). Sanskrit text thus translated as mahānāgam ivābhisaṃsāraṃ didṛkṣitāro). The commentary of the Mādhyabdhinas specifies that this is in reference to a great snake (mahāsarpa) and not an elephant or a mountain (ibid., p. 169, fn. 18).
Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 26
“Thou art Śeṣa, greatest of Snakes, thou art the God of Law, for thou alone lendest support to this earth, encircling her entire with endless coils.”25 A later text, the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, probably completed in the 9th–10th century, dwells on this image of Śeṣa carrying the earth, but again humanizes his body—as well as the bodies and emotions of other Nāga princesses and princes—in multiple ways: 4. The Snake-Lords (ahi-pati) look at their own enchantingly beautiful faces, their cheeks’ surfaces adorned by the glow of their shining earrings (kuṇḍala), [reflected] in the round Religionsand2019 pearly, 10, 454 nails of [Śeṣa’s] two foot-lotuses, which are of a bright red. 7 of 26 5. The Nāga-princesses look shyly (sa-vrīḍa) at the “aravinda-lotusflower” of his face, whose ṇ ṇ 1.31,eyes, transl. watching van Buitenen [them in 1973 return],, p. 91).are reddenedSe´ s.a and by Vasuki¯ compassion are the ( namesaru a-karu of thea) […]—hoping Nagas¯ most often worshipped,for blessings, even [they] today, smear depicted ointments on many of postersaloe, sandalwood, and walls as sa theffron bed on of the the “silver god Vi pillars”s.n. u (Se´ s.a, cf. Figure(rajata-stambha3b), as the garland) of his of thespotless, god Siva´ long, and white, as the ropedelicate used and for churningbeautiful an arms, ocean which of milk are (Vasuki ¯ in theilluminated ubiquitous by motive the splendid of samudramanthana bracelets on his). limbs. For this26 reason, I will dwell on the Mahabh¯ arata¯ in Rathera separate than subsection, “arms”, bhuja neglecting might also the mean earliest the Vedic coils of accounts a snake—but, on the serpentwhen compared (ahi)Vr.tra, to pillars who is and not belongingcalled a N aga—althoughto¯ someone with V footr.tra’s nails role and as a a blocker face capable of the of waters expressing (apa¯ h. ), human-like especially ofemotions, the “seven the rivers”more 19 common(saptasindh meaningu¯ ), has of probably the word made is more an impactlikely. on later conceptions of Nagas¯ (cf. Deeg 2016, pp. 222f.).
FigureFigure 3. 3. TheThe Hindu Hindu god god Vi Viṣṇs.n.u-Nu-Nāar¯rāaya¯yaṇn.aa is is enthroned enthroned or or bedded bedded on on the the N Nāaga¯ga Ananta- Ananta-ŚSe´eṣs.a,a, whose whose multiplemultiple hoods hoods serve serve as as a a royal royal parasol: parasol: (a (a) )Print Print by by the the Ravi-Varma-Press, Ravi-Varma-Press, Bombay Bombay (given (given by by Rudolf Rudolf OttoOtto to to the the Marburg Marburg Museum Museum of of Religion, Religion, ph photooto by by Özlem Özlem Ögütcü, Ögütcü, acc.nr. acc.nr. B-Kp B-Kp 083); 083); ( (bb)) Wooden Wooden sculpturesculpture of of Vi Viṣṇs.n.u,u, Lak Lakṣs.mmī¯ı and and ŚSe´eṣs. (given(given 1936 1936 to to the the Marburg Marburg Museum Museum of of Religion, Religion, photo photo by by Aiko Aiko Wösner,Wösner, acc.nr. Lp 214).
Archeological ﬁndings from the earliest centuries CE do not show the Nagas¯ in a completely human or animal shape, but always in between. In his 1926 monograph on “The Nagas¯ in Hindu Legend and Art”, which is the most comprehensive study of Hindu and Buddhist Nagas¯ to date, Vogel points out that
“the Naga¯ of Indian mythology and folk-lore is not really the snake in general, but the cobra
raised to the rank of a divine being [ ... ]. The evidence of Indian art points to the same 25 Mahābhārata 1.32.23, śeṣo ‘si nāgottama dharmadevo; mahīm imāṃ dhārayase yad ekaḥ / anantabhogaḥ conclusion. The Naga,¯ represented either in a purely animal or in a semi-human shape, parigṛhya sarvāṃ (accessed on gretil.org; transl. van Buitenen 1973, S.93). 26 Myis alwaystransl. from characterized Bhāgavatapur byā theṇa 5.25.4–5: snake-hood” yasyāṅ (ghrikamalayugalVogel 1926, p. 27).āruṇaviśadanakhamaṇiṣaṇḍamaṇḍaleṣv ḥ ṇḍ ṇḍ ṇḍ ṇ ahipatayaIn South Asia,[…] N agas¯ svavadan startedāni to populateparisphurat- the religiousku alaprabh imageryāma asitaga cobrasasthal withā severalny atimanohar hoods orā asi pramuditamanasaḥ khalu vilokayanti // 4 // yasyaiva hi nāgarājakumārya āśiṣa āśāsānāś humans behind whose heads several cobra hoods are raised as a parasol (chatra), indicating royalty cārvaṅgavalayavilasitaviśadavipuladhavalasubhagarucirabhujarajata- stambheṣv (Srinivasanagurucandanaku 2007). Theṅkumapa earlyṅ Buddhistkānulepen andāvalimpam Hinduān artās of[…] the ﬁrstaruṇ centuriesakaruṇāvalokanayanavadan BCE and CE, foundāra- invinda Sanchi,ṁ Gandharasavrīḍaṁ and kilaAjanta, vilokayanti displays // 5 // (accessed an “intermingling on gretil.org). between the theriomorphic and anthropomorphic nature and power of Nagas”¯ (Srinivasan 2007, p. 376): “Generally human and animal properties are strangely blended [ ... ]. We can in the main distinguish three iconographic types: ﬁrst, the form of the serpent, usually many-headed; second, the human form universally characterized by means of the polycephalous serpent-hood; third, a combination of the two, the upper part of a human body being
19 Among other passages, R. gveda 1.32.12, 2.12.3 & 2.12.12. Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 26
Religions 2019, 10, 454 8 of 26
combined with the lower half of a snake’s coils. Of these three forms, the one last mentioned is comparatively rare; it does occur in Brahmanical sculpture, but in Buddhist art it is hardly ever employed [ ... ]. Just as the gods are distinguished from mere mortals by the plurality of their arms, thus the divine serpents are many-headed” (Vogel 1926, pp. 37f.). For instance, in a relief from Mathura, dating back to the 3rd Century CE, a “large Naga¯ is ﬂanked by two shorter Nagin¯ ¯ıs. They are all depicted as humans but with the addition of snake hoods; the male has a seven-headed hood, the female hoods contain three. At the bottom of the relief is an inscription that reads ‘ ... a tank and a garden (were caused to be made) for the holy Naga¯ Bhumo’ [ ... ]. The place of worship is outdoors, near a body of water” (Srinivasan 2007, p. 374). An inscription from Gandhara¯ in the upper Indus Basin further aﬃrms the connection of the Nagas¯ to fresh water, “stating that a tank was made for the worship of all snakes” (ibid., p. 375, fn. 62). Furthermore, “the Sonkh Naga¯ temple supports such a linkage for it seems to have originally stood by the banks of a river. [ ... ]. In the area of Sañc¯ ¯ı [ ... ], of the sixteen groups of Naga¯ sculptures dating between the 2nd Century B.C. and the 10th century A.D. whose provenance is known, seven are associated with irrigation reservoirs, ﬁve with village tanks(a) and four with rivers or (b) streams” (ibid.). Figure 4. Mucalinda, a five- or seven-headed Nāga king, rises like an aureole behind the Buddha, who is sitting in the lotos position (padmāsana): (a) Brass figure from Thailand, purchased for the Marburg ¯ As divine, demonic or spiritual guardians of the water,Museum the of N agasReligion of thisin 1957 early (photo epoch by Heike are diLuu,ﬀerent acc.nr. Mq 027); (b) Gipsum replica of a Burmese from animals, as well as from humans. Polysemy furtherfigure, complicatesprobably from theBagan, matter, 11th—12th as the c. CE Sanskrit (photo by Georg Dörr, acc.nr. Mq 030; for a detailed 20 word naga¯ can also mean “cloud”, “mountain” or “elephant”.examinationThe on oddtheir provenience, homonymy cf. of (Luu serpents 2017)). and elephants can be explained by an Indo-European etymology as a “hairless, naked animal”, rather than as a cognate of English snake (cf. Mayrhofer 1996, p. 33).The Possibly, iconography the “elephants of Jainism of identifies the four P directions”ārśvanāth by a cobra with seven or more hoods spread (din-n˙ aga,¯ dig-gaja) in Hindu as well as in Buddhist worldviewsbehind his head have in their a posture origin, viasimilar reinterpretation, to that of Mucalinda. An account of his deeds, the Pārśvanāthacarita from the 9th c. CE, mentions right in the first verse the “female serpent (Padmāvatī) in cobra kings as the four or eight “guardians of the world” (loka-pala¯ , dik-pala;¯ cf. Vogel 1926, pp. 9, 210f.; carrying the umbrella” (Bollée 2008, p. 4). Together with her spouse, the serpent king Dharaṇa, with ¯ Mahabh¯ arata¯ cf. Srinivasan 2007, p. 382). Airavata, for instance,his occurs “decorative, in the sparkling canopyboth asof thejewel-crested name of thehoods”27 (ibid., p. 28), she wards off a demon 21 elephant of Indra, king of the gods and agent of theattacking weather, themand with as rain, the namerocks and of a lightning. serpent king. According to Max Deeg(2008, p. 97), in 4th–5th CenturyWhen NorthMucalinda India, and at the the other latest, N aā distinctiongas of Buddhist mythology (cf. Section 3.2) spread to was made between Nagas¯ as supernatural beings andSoutheast their and manifestations East Asia, they in thelost shapetheir mostly of serpents cobra-like shape, either merging with the Chinese 22 28 (Skt. sarpa, bhujam. ga or ahi). Nevertheless, a Naga¯ dragons (Chin. (long 龍),) or who other lives reptiles. in a lake The in mythological the Hindu traditions of the Himalaya highlight their Kush, allegedly describes his own species as “wild animals”function as of providers a low and and evil controllers kind, but of of water, huge which power, probably links these Nāgas to the early Vedic 29 riding on clouds, drinking the wind, walking acrossserpent the sky Vṛtra and (cf. water, Deeg often2016). overcomeA Buddhist by text hate from and the earliest centuries CE says of itself that it violence they forget to control.23 Embodying forces of nature tamed by their own religious devotion, the N agas ¯ Se´ s.a and Mucalinda 27 appear as prominent servants of the Hindu god Vi s .n. Verseu and 139: of prasphurad-ratna-pha the Buddha, respectively.ṇa-maṇḍapa-ma Similarly,ṇḍita. 28 For the Rmeet of upland Laos, for instance, Nāgas are earth spirits whose “horses” are boas with crowns (Guido Sprenger, pers. comm.). Inhabitants of Komodo in eastern Indonesia sometimes identify the famous “dragons” of their island, Varanus komodoensis, as Nāgas (Annette Hornbacher, pers. comm.). 20 In modern Hind¯ı, nag¯ a¯—a word derived from Sanskrit nanga˙ 29/nagna “The, “naked”—denotes Mahāmāyūrī Vidy bothārājñ theī, the tribal ‘Queen inhabitants of spells of Assam (called) the Great One of the Peacock’, of which […] and Nagaland¯ and the Nag¯ a¯ Bab¯ a¯s, members of the sometimes-militanttranslations orders into of“naked Chinese Yogis”. are extant from the beginning of the 4th century A.D. onward” (Schmithausen 21 Vettam Mani’s Puranic¯ Encyclopedia (p. 19) cites the “belief that1997, Airavata¯ p. 53) is oneis an of “apotropaic the eight elephants text [seeming] guarding to prefigure the eight aspects of Tantra or Mantrāyana Buddhism” (ibid., zones of the universe. These eight elephants are called the As.t.adiggajas.p. 51). Rather Airavata¯ than ispacifying supposed and to converting guard the easternthe Nāgas zone”. by means of maitrī (“friendship” or “compassion”), this In the gretil version of the Mahabh¯ arata¯ , however, I was unable to ﬁnd this speciﬁc information, only that “Airavata, the divine text shows “a typically Tantric break-through of the ‘natural’ attitude of counter- (or even preventive) elephant, the huge elephant, was the son of [Bhadramana]”¯ (Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.60.61, airavata¯ h. sutas tasya¯ devanago¯ mahagaja¯ h. ) aggression” (ibid., p. 56). For example, malevolent demons are “threatened with having their head split […], and that her sister “Svet´ a¯ gave birth to the quickly moving dig-gaja called Sveta”´ (ibid., 1.60.64, di´sagaja¯ m. tu ´svetakhya¯ m. ´svetajanayad¯ a´sugam).Air¯ avata¯ could mean “son of Iravat¯ ¯ı”, which had been a former name of the Ravi River in Panjab and still is the name of the Irawaddy, the central river of Myanmar. On the other hand, Airavata¯ could also mean “belonging to the ocean” or “cloudy”, for ira-vat,¯ “providing refreshment/food”, is a term used for clouds as well as for the ocean and the rivers mentioned. Translating airavata¯ as “cloudy” makes sense, for the elephant of the weather god is also called abhramata¯ nga,˙ the “cloud elephant”. 22 Deeg draws this conclusion from his translation of the accounts of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Faxian, who visited Ka´sm¯ır, the Gangetic plains and Sr´ ¯ı Lanka˙ between 399 and 413 CE. He reports on the naga¯ (chin. long ) of the city Sa¯nk˙ asya¯ who, once a year, takes on the form of a serpent with white ears. Thus, the long clearly is no usual serpent and diﬀerent also from Chinese dragons (long), which are denoted by the same characteristics. 23 (Deeg 2008, p. 100) provides a German translation of this narration by another Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Xuanzang from the 7th Century. Religions 2019, 10, 454 9 of 26 the Jain religion has the Nag¯ ¯ı Padmavat¯ ¯ı and her husband Dharan. a as servants of Par´svan¯ ath,¯ one of the most venerated t¯ırthankaras,˙ “creators of passages”. Their iconography depicts all four of them as living umbrellas, using the hoods of their multiple cobra heads to provide shelter from the sun or the rain (Figures3 and4; cf. Vogel 1926, plates XVII, XIX, pp. 57, 102f.). Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 26
Figure 4. Mucalinda,Mucalinda, a afive- ﬁve- or or seven-headed seven-headed Nā Ngaaga¯ king, king, rises rises like like an aureole an aureole behind behind the Buddha, the Buddha, who whois sitting is sitting in thein lotos the position lotos position (padmā (sanapadm): asana¯(a) Brass): (a figure) Brass from ﬁgure Thailand, from Thailand, purchased purchased for the Marburg for the MarburgMuseum Museumof Religion of in Religion 1957 (photo in 1957 by (photo Heike byLuu, Heike acc.nr. Luu, Mq acc.nr. 027); Mq(b) Gipsum 027); (b) replica Gipsum of replicaa Burmese of a Burmesefigure, probably ﬁgure, probablyfrom Bagan, from 11th—12th Bagan, 11th—12th c. CE (pho c.to CE by (photo Georg by Dörr, Georg acc.nr. Dörr, Mq acc.nr. 030; for Mq a 030; detailed for a detailedexamination examination on their onprovenience, their provenience, cf. (Luu cf.2017)). (Luu 2017).
InThe the iconography Mahabh¯ arata¯ of(1999 Jainism), this identifies motif is notPār yetśvan developed;āth by a cobra here, withSe´ s.a seven is a N aga¯or more leaving hoods his siblings spread behind tohis live head the lifein ofa anposture ascetic, similar “wearing to thethat hermit’s of Mucalinda. hair tuft [ jatAn.a¯] andaccount bark shirtof his [c¯ıra deeds,], his skin,the ﬂeshPārśvan andāthacarita muscles from dried the out” 9th24 —featuresc. CE, mentions clearly right indicating in the first that heverse is not the restricted “female serpent to a serpentine (Padmā body.vatī) However,carrying the when umbrella” Brahma¯ (Bollée gives him, 2008, as p. the 4). fruit Together of his with penance, her spouse, the task the to carry serpent and king stabilize Dhara theṇa, whole with earth,his “decorative, his address sparkling makes clear canopy that Se´ ofs. ajewel-crested still has some hoods” bodily27 features (ibid., p. of a28), serpent, she wards at least off potentially: a demon attacking them with rain, rocks and lightning. “Thou art Se´ sa, greatest of Snakes, thou art the God of Law, for thou alone lendest support to When Mucalinda. and the other Nāgas of Buddhist mythology (cf. Section 3.2) spread to this earth, encircling her entire with endless coils.”25 Southeast and East Asia, they lost their mostly cobra-like shape, either merging with the Chinese 28 Adragons later text, (long the 龍Bh) agavatapur¯or other reptiles.a¯n. a, probably The completedmythological in the traditions 9th–10th of century, the Himalaya dwells on highlight this image their of Se´functions.a carrying as providers the earth, and but controllers again humanizes of water, his which body—as probably well links as the these bodies Nā andgas emotionsto the early of Vedic other Nserpentaga¯ princesses Vṛtra (cf. and Deeg princes—in 2016). A multipleBuddhist ways: text from the earliest centuries CE29 says of itself that it
24 27 Mah Verseabh¯ arata ¯139: 1.32.5,prasphurad-ratna-pha pari´sus.kamam¯ . satvaksnṇa-maayum¯ ṇḍapa-ma. jat.ac¯ ¯ıradharamṇḍita. . (accessed on gretil.org, transl. van Buitenen 1973, S. 92). 25 Mahabh¯ arata¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ 28 1.32.23, ´ses.o ‘si nagottama dharmadevo; mahım imam. dharayase yad ekah. / anantabhogah. parigr.hya sarvam. (accessed For the Rmeet on gretil.org of upland; transl. Laos, van for Buitenen instance, 1973 N, S.93).āgas are earth spirits whose “horses” are boas with crowns (Guido Sprenger, pers. comm.). Inhabitants of Komodo in eastern Indonesia sometimes identify the famous “dragons” of their island, Varanus komodoensis, as Nāgas (Annette Hornbacher, pers. comm.). 29 “The Mahāmāyūrī Vidyārājñī, the ‘Queen of spells (called) the Great One of the Peacock’, of which […] translations into Chinese are extant from the beginning of the 4th century A.D. onward” (Schmithausen 1997, p. 53) is an “apotropaic text [seeming] to prefigure aspects of Tantra or Mantrāyana Buddhism” (ibid., p. 51). Rather than pacifying and converting the Nāgas by means of maitrī (“friendship” or “compassion”), this text shows “a typically Tantric break-through of the ‘natural’ attitude of counter- (or even preventive) aggression” (ibid., p. 56). For example, malevolent demons are “threatened with having their head split […],
Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 26
Religions 2019, 10, 454 10 of 26
4. The Snake-Lords (ahi-pati) look at their own enchantingly beautiful faces, their cheeks’ surfaces adorned by the glow of their shining earrings (kun. d. ala), [reﬂected] in the round and pearly nails of [Ses´ .a’s] two foot-lotuses, which are of a bright red. 5. The Naga-princesses¯ look shyly (sa-vr¯ıd. a) at the “aravinda-lotusﬂower” of his face, whose
eyes, watching [them in return], are reddened by compassion (aruna-karuna)[ ... ]—hoping (a) (b) . . for blessings, [they] smear ointments of aloe, sandalwood, saﬀron on the “silver pillars” Figure 4. Mucalinda,(rajata-stambha a five-) ofor hisseven-headed spotless, long, Nāga white, king, rises delicate like an and aureole beautiful behind arms, the Buddha, which are who illuminated is sitting inby the the lotos splendid position bracelets (padmāsana on): ( hisa) Brass limbs. figure26 from Thailand, purchased for the Marburg Museum of Religion in 1957 (photo by Heike Luu, acc.nr. Mq 027); (b) Gipsum replica of a Burmese figure,Rather probably than from “arms”, Bagan,bhuja 11th—12thmight c. also CE mean(photo theby Georg coils of Dörr, a snake—but, acc.nr. Mq 030; when forcompared a detailed to pillars and examinationbelonging on their to someone provenience, with cf. foot (Luu nails 2017)). and a face capable of expressing human-like emotions, the more common meaning of the word is more likely. The iconographyThe iconography of Jainism of identifies Jainism identiﬁesPārśvanāth Par´svan¯ by a cobraath¯ by with a cobra seven with or more seven hoods or more spread hoods spread behind hisbehind head his in head a posture in a posture similar similar to tothat that of Mucalinda.Mucalinda. An An account account of hisof deeds,his deeds, the Par´svan¯ the athacarita¯ Pārśvanāthacaritafrom the from 9th the c. CE,9th c. mentions CE, mentions right inright the in ﬁrst the versefirst verse the “femalethe “female serpent serpent (Padm (Padmavat¯ ā¯ı)vat carryingī) the carrying theumbrella” umbrella” (Boll (Bolléeée 2008 2008,, p. 4). p. Together4). Together with with her spouse,her spouse, the serpent the serpent king Dharaking Dharan. a, withṇa, hiswith “decorative, his “decorative,sparkling sparkling canopy canopy of jewel-crested of jewel-crested hoods”27 hoods”(ibid., p.27 (ibid., 28), she p.wards 28), she oﬀ wardsa demon off attacking a demon them with attacking rain,them rocks with andrain, lightning. rocks and lightning. When MucalindaWhen Mucalinda and the and other the otherNāgas N agasof¯ Buddhist of Buddhist mythology mythology (cf. (cf. Section Section 3.2) 3.2 )spread spread toto Southeast Southeastand and EastEast Asia,Asia, theythey lostlost theirtheir mostlymostly cobra-likecobra-like shape, either merging with the the Chinese Chinese dragons dragons ((longlong 龍)) oror otherother reptiles. reptiles.2828 TheThe mythologicalmythological traditionstraditions of of the the Himalaya Himalaya highlight highlight their their function as function asproviders providers and and controllers controllers of water,of water, which which probably probably links links these these Nagas¯ Nāgas to the to earlythe early Vedic Vedic serpent Vr.tra serpent V(cf.ṛtraDeeg (cf. Deeg 2016 ).2016). A Buddhist A Buddhist text from text the from earliest the earliest centuries centuries CE29 says CE of29 itselfsays thatof itself it should that it “be recited in case of drought (anav¯ r.s..ti) or too much rain (ativr.s..ti)” (ibid., p. 57), to protect humans from the natural forces controlled by Nagas.¯ Both these aims in dealing with Nagas¯ are outlined in the Buddhist Svayambhu-Pur¯ a¯na and the Nepalikabh¯ upava¯ m´saval¯ ¯ı of Nepal, as well as in the Hindu Nilamata-Pur¯ ana¯ 27 Verse 139: prasphurad-ratna-pha. . ṇa-maṇḍapa-maṇḍita. . 28 For theand Rmeet the ofR uplandajatara¯ Laos,ngi˙ n. ¯ıforof instance, Kashmir. Nā Thegas are latter, earth forspirits instance, whose “horses” has it that are whenboas with a Buddhist crowns (Guido dynasty tried Sprenger,to endpers. the comm.). worship Inhabitants of Nagas¯ of Komodo at the in springs eastern andIndonesia mountain sometimes lakes identify of Kashmir, the famous the “dragons” deities responded 30 of theirby island, sending Varanus down komodoensis hailstorms, as N andāgas heavy (Annette snowfall. Hornbacher,In pers. Kathmandu, comm.). on the other hand, “relief from 29 “The Mahfamineāmāy andūrī Vidy makingārājñī of, the rain” ‘Queen (durbhik of spellss.a-´santi-v¯ (called)r.s..ti-karana the Gr)eat is eOneﬀected of the by Peacock’, the nagas¯ adhanaof¯ whichritual, […] meaning translations“subduing”, into Chinese “taming” are exta ornt “utilizing from the the beginning Nagas”.¯ of31 the 4th century A.D. onward” (Schmithausen 1997, p. 53) Bothis an the“apotropaic valleys text of Kathmandu [seeming] to inprefigure Nepal aspects and Srinagar of Tantra in or Kashmir Mantrāyana are prehistoric Buddhism” lake(ibid., basins and p. 51). Rather than pacifying and converting the Nāgas by means of maitrī (“friendship” or “compassion”), this appear in the myths of their respective Pura¯n. as as such. Both of these primordial lakes are said to text shows “a typically Tantric break-through of the ‘natural’ attitude of counter- (or even preventive) have been populated by Nagas,¯ of which a few still remain in contemporary smaller lakes, Lake Dal in aggression” (ibid., p. 56). For example, malevolent demons are “threatened with having their head split […],
26 My transl. from Bhagavatapur¯ a¯n. a 5.25.4–5: yasya¯nghrikamalayugal˙ aru¯ n. avi´sadanakhaman. is.an. d. aman. d. ales.v ahipatayah. [ ... ] svavadanani¯ parisphurat- kun. d. alaprabhama¯ n. d. itagan. d. asthalany¯ atimanohara¯n. i pramuditamanasah. khalu vilokayanti // 4 // yasyaiva hi nagar¯ ajakum¯ arya¯ a´si¯ s.a a´s¯ as¯ an¯ a´sc¯ arva¯ ngavalayavilasitavi´sadavipuladhavalasubhagarucirabhujarajata-˙ stambhes.v agurucandanakunkumapa˙ nk˙ anulepen¯ avalimpam¯ an¯ as¯ [ ... ] arun. akarun. avalokanayanavadan¯ ara-¯ vindam˙ savr¯ıd. am˙ kila vilokayanti // 5 // (accessed on gretil.org). 27 Verse 139: prasphurad-ratna-phan. a-man. d. apa-man. d. ita. 28 For the Rmeet of upland Laos, for instance, Nagas¯ are earth spirits whose “horses” are boas with crowns (Guido Sprenger, pers. comm.). Inhabitants of Komodo in eastern Indonesia sometimes identify the famous “dragons” of their island, Varanus komodoensis, as Nagas¯ (Annette Hornbacher, pers. comm.). 29 “The Maham¯ ay¯ ur¯ ¯ı Vidyar¯ ajñ¯ ¯ı, the ‘Queen of spells (called) the Great One of the Peacock’, of which [ ... ] translations into Chinese are extant from the beginning of the 4th century A.D. onward” (Schmithausen 1997, p. 53) is an “apotropaic text [seeming] to preﬁgure aspects of Tantra or Mantrayana¯ Buddhism” (ibid., p. 51). Rather than pacifying and converting the Nagas¯ by means of maitr¯ı (“friendship” or “compassion”), this text shows “a typically Tantric break-through of the ‘natural’ attitude of counter- (or even preventive) aggression” (ibid., p. 56). For example, malevolent demons are “threatened with having their head split [ ... ], the neutralization of poison [is] metaphorically called ‘killing’ [and] the wish that one’s own enemies should be destroyed, burnt, cooked or killed is expressed” (ibid.). 30 “Nordindien, Ka´sm¯ ¯ır, aber auch Gandhara¯ waren bekannt für ihre Nagakulte¯ an Quellen oder Seen. Die ka´sm¯ ¯ırische Chronik Rajatara¯ ngi˙ n. ¯ı berichtet, dass die Buddhisten zur Zeit Nag¯ arjunas¯ die Verehrung der naga¯ s abschaﬀen ließen, und diese dafür eine Schneekatastrophe schickten, worauf die Verehrungen wieder aufgenommen wurden (Raj.1.179f.)”¯ (Deeg 2005, p. 281). 31 Svayam. bhupur¯ an¯ . a 8, Sanskrit text in (Deeg 2008, p. 110). Religions 2019, 10, 454 11 of 26
Srinagar and Lake Taudaha near Kathmandu. This is not the place to dwell on the extensive literature on these textual traditions, which I will do in further on the watery aspect of Nagas¯ in the Himalaya. There, the Nagas’¯ animal nature is less accentuated than in the Mahabh¯ arata¯ , whose Pan-Indian plots and characters are taken up by the local Puran¯ . a texts.
3.1. The Nagas¯ of the Mahabh¯ arata¯ How serpent-like are the Nagas¯ in those classical texts that have had the strongest impact on Hindu-imaginaries up until today? Originating between the 3rd c. BCE and the 3rd c. CE, the Mahabh¯ arata¯ presents the Nagas¯ as shape-shifters, children of Kadru (“the Reddish-Brown one”, 32 sometimes identiﬁed with the earth itself ), enemies of the bird Garud. a and inhabitants of the netherworld (pat¯ ala¯ ). The most elaborated among these mythical and symbolic motifs, which remain prominent today, is their strong connection to water and rain. In a story in which the Nagas¯ are in danger of all being killed in a sacriﬁcial ﬁre, some Nagas¯ suggest a plan for rescue: “We will become clouds, equipped with lightning, to pour out rain on this burning ﬁre!”33 However, the Nagas¯ are not—at least not in all respects—“supernatural”. The same long myth also explains these animals’ actual characteristics: their laying of eggs34, their rejuvenating themselves by shedding their skin, and their forked tongues. When some drops of the nectar of “im-mortality” (a-mr.t) were spilled on the ku´sa grass, they “licked the grass; thus, in this act, the tongues of the snakes 35 became two-fold, while the grass became holy by the touch of amr.t.” The Mah¯ abh¯ arata¯ gives more good reasons for translating naga¯ as “snakes”, as van Buitenen does. Chapter 1.60 presents a somewhat confusing genealogy of the Nagas:¯
“Surasa¯ bore the serpents, Kadru the snakes. Anala¯ produced seven kinds of trees that bear round fruit. Suk´ ¯ı was also Anala’s¯ daughter, and Surasa¯ was the daughter of Kadru.”36
Nagas¯ are uncles of the Pannagas, the “low creepers”—van Buitenen translates naga¯ and pannaga as “serpents” and “snakes”, respectively. Both are also cousins of the trees, vultures, eagles, horses, cows, elephants, lions and tigers, monkeys, bears, deer, parrots, geese and ducks, kites, owls (ibid., pp. 55–67), each species having an own divine mother, who is a daughter or granddaughter of Daks.a, a son of Brahma,¯ the grandfather (pitamaha¯ ) of all beings. Are they thus animals, being so neatly interwoven into the genealogy of other plant and animal species? One might think so, but, only one chapter previously, Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.59.10–50 describes the Nagas¯ as sons of Kadru and as cousins of Garud. a, Aru¯ n. a and Varu¯ n. a, of the Aditya¯ gods, of the Daityas, Danavas¯ and other demons, of the heavenly singers (gandharva), of the nymphs (apsaras), of the nectar of immortality, of the cows and of the brahmins. Again, one and the same context legitimizes counting the Nagas¯ among the animals as well as among the gods, demons and other supernatural beings. When Nagas¯ shift their shape, they often turn into something resembling serpentine form. In one story, their mother Kadru wins a wager against her sister Vinata,¯ who had—rightly!—claimed that the horse Ucchai´sravaonly had white hair in its tail. “Turn into black hair!”37, Kadru orders her thousand sons, the Nagas.¯ They ﬁrst refuse, but are convinced otherwise after Kadru curses them to burn in the great sacriﬁcial ﬁre I have mentioned earlier. This refusal to participate in an act of deceit highlights
32 Cf. Satapathabr´ ahman¯ . a 3.6.2. 33 My transl. from Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.33.21: apare tv abruvan nag¯ a¯h. samiddham. jatavedasam¯ / vars.air nirvapayi¯ s.yamo¯ megha¯ bhutv¯ a¯ savidyutah. . 34 “After some time, the great Kadru (mother of the Nagas)¯ laid a thousand eggs” (My translation from Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.14.12: kalena¯ mahata¯ kadrur an. d. an¯ . am¯ . da´satirda´sa/janayam¯ asa).¯ 35 My transl. from Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.30.19-20: [ ... ] darbha¯m. s te lilihus tada¯ // 19 // tato dvaidh¯ıkr.ta¯ jihva¯ sarpa¯n. a¯m. tena karman. a¯/abhavam. ´scamr¯ .taspar´sad¯ darbhas¯ te ‘tha pavitrin. ah. (ibid.). 36 Transl. by (van Buitenen 1973, p. 150), of Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.60.66: surasajanayan¯ nag¯ an¯ rajan¯ kadru´sca¯ pannagan¯ / sapta pin. d. aphalan¯ vr.ks.an¯ analapi¯ vyajayata¯ / analay¯ ah¯ . ´suk¯ı putr¯ı kadrvas¯ tu surasa¯ suta¯ // 66 // (accessed on gretil.org). 37 Val¯ a¯ bhutva¯ añjana-prabhah¯ . (ibid., 1.18.6). Religions 2019, 10, 454 12 of 26 their morally ambiguous standpoint, to some extent honest but ﬂexible. After all, “their poison is pungent and potent, their teeth sting and their strength is huge”.38 Nevertheless, the curse cannot be averted, and a long chain of stories spanning 39 chapters (van Buitenen 1973, pp. 71–123) leads to the sacriﬁce of serpents. When it ﬁnally begins, its power draws them from everywhere, throws them through the air into the ﬂames and reveals their manifold shapes:
(20) They were seven-, two- or ﬁve-headed, some had poison [as strong] as the ﬁre of [the end of] time, they were terrible. Hundreds of thousands of them were poured into the ﬁre [like ghee], (21) big-bodied ones, immensely strong ones, rising like the peaks of mountains, spanning one or two yojanas (=units of several miles). (22) [Although] some of them had the power to take the shape they wanted to take, or to go wherever they wanted to go, [although] their poison was ﬁerce like a blazing ﬁre, they all burned in that sacriﬁce, forced down by the brahmins’ curse.39
Despite their supernatural powers and their ability to talk, to act morally and immorally, they are nevertheless characterized as snakes:
(20) Twisted pitiably and shouting for one another, (21) darting asunder, hissing, winding their tails and heads around each other, they fell into the glowing ﬂames. (22) White, black and blue ones, the old and the young, roaring and howling terribly, they fell into the annihilating ﬁre [ ... ]; some [looked] like elephant trunks, some were [themselves] big and strong like maddened elephants. Many of them, great and small, multicolored, poisonous serpents, powerful snakes looking like iron bars, fell into the ﬁre, damned by their mother’s curse.40
Rather like sea snakes and eels than like actual cobras, the Nagas¯ are said to live in samudra, the ocean, “inhabited by thousands of manifold and ﬁerce living beings, impenetrable, ﬁlled with turtles and crocodiles, a rich source of all kinds of jewels, the abode of the god Varun. a and of the Nagas,¯ the lord/husband of the rivers, the residence of the ﬂames of the underworld.”41 42 As chthonic beings, the Nagas¯ are set in opposition to the bird Garud. a (Dave 1985). The long story of how they became enemies, as told in the ﬁrst book of the Mahabh¯ arata¯ , is probably the most elaborated version of the enmity between serpent and eagle, which is a common motif in iconographies throughout the world (Wittkower 1939). As the opponents of Garud. a, the Nagas¯ appear in sculptures and other depictions throughout the Hindu and Buddhist worlds, everywhere changing their speciﬁc shape in accordance to local imagination and style (Figure5).
38 Tigma-v¯ırya-vis.a¯ hy ete danda-´suk¯ a¯ maha-bal¯ ah¯ . (ibid., verse 11). 39 My transl. from Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.52.20ﬀ: sapta´s¯ırs.a¯ dvi´s¯ırs.a´sca¯ pañca´s¯ırs.as¯ tathapare¯ / kal¯ analavi¯ s.a¯ ghora¯ huta¯h. ´satasahasra´sah. // 20 // mahak¯ ay¯ a¯ mahav¯ ¯ırya¯h. ´saila´sr.ngasamucchray˙ a¯h. / yojanay¯ amavist¯ ar¯ a¯ dviyojanasamayat¯ a¯h. // 21 // kamar¯ up¯ a¯h. kamagam¯ a¯ d¯ıptanalavis¯ .olban. ah¯ . / dagdhas¯ tatra mahasatre¯ brahmadan. d. anip¯ıd. itah¯ . // 22 // (ibid.). 40 My transl. from Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.47.20ﬀ: vives.t.aman¯ a¯h. kr.pan. a¯ ahvayanta¯ h. parasparam // 20 // visphurantah. ´svasanta´sca ves.t.ayantas tatha¯ pare / pucchaih. ´sirobhi´sca bhr.´sam. citrabhanu¯ m. prapedire // 21 // ´sveta¯h. kr.s.n. a´sca¯ n¯ıla´sca¯ sthavira¯h. ´si´savas tatha¯ / ruvanto bhairavan¯ nad¯ an¯ petur d¯ıpte vibhavasau¯ // 22 // ... hastihasta¯ ivapare¯ / matta¯ iva ca mata¯ ng˙ a¯ mahak¯ ay¯ a¯ mahabal¯ a¯h. // 24 // uccavac¯ a´sca¯ bahavo nan¯ avar¯ n. a¯ vis.olban. a¯h. / ghora´sca¯ parighaprakhya¯ danda´suk¯ a¯ mahabal¯ a¯h. / prapetur agnav¯ uraga¯ matr¯ .vagdan¯ . d. ap¯ıd. itah¯ . // 25 //(ibid.). 41 My transl. from Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.19.4–6: sattvai´sca bahusahasrair¯ nan¯ ar¯ upai¯ h. samav¯ r.tam / ugrair nityam anadh¯ r.s.yam. kurmagr¯ ahasam¯ akulam¯ // akara¯ m. sarvaratnan¯ am¯ alaya¯ m. varun. asya ca / nag¯ an¯ am¯ alaya¯ m. ramyam uttamam. sarita¯m. patim // pat¯ alajvalan¯ av¯ asam¯ (ibid.). 42 The Mahabh¯ arata¯ describes Garud. a as the ancestor of all birds of prey and as an eater of serpents, tortoises and elephants. As a zoonyme, garud. a can thus be as broad as speciﬁc, being the name of the Himalayan Golden Eagle and of a South Indian Sea-Eagle, which is also called nag¯ a´s¯ ¯ı, “serpent-eater” (Dave 1985, pp. 199f.). Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 26
serpents, powerful snakes looking like iron bars, fell into the fire, damned by their mother’s curse.40 Rather like sea snakes and eels than like actual cobras, the Nāgas are said to live in samudra, the ocean, “inhabited by thousands of manifold and fierce living beings, impenetrable, filled with turtles and crocodiles, a rich source of all kinds of jewels, the abode of the god Varuṇa and of the Nāgas, the lord/husband of the rivers, the residence of the flames of the underworld.”41 As chthonic beings, the Nāgas are set in opposition to the bird Garuḍa42 (Dave 1985). The long story of how they became enemies, as told in the first book of the Mahābhārata, is probably the most elaborated version of the enmity between serpent and eagle, which is a common motif in iconographies throughout the world (Wittkower 1939). As the opponents of Garuḍa, the Nāgas appearReligions 2019in sculptures, 10, 454 and other depictions throughout the Hindu and Buddhist worlds, everywhere13 of 26 changing their specific shape in accordance to local imagination and style (Figure 5).
Figure 5. ((a)) Balinese wooden wooden sculpture sculpture of of a a serpent being devoured by Garu ḍd.aa (purchased (purchased 1959 1959 by by Friedrich Heiler for the Marburg MuseumMuseum of Religion, acc.nr. Ar 079); (b)(b) NNâga-râssaâga-râssa from from Sri Sri Lanka, Lanka, used for mask dance performances, in which the N āagas¯gas fight ﬁght against their enemies, the Grurlâ, Grurlâ, i.e., i.e., Garuḍd.a (purchased forfor the the Marburg Marburg Museum Museum of Religionof Religion in 1967 in 1967 from from Julius Julius Konietzko, Konietzko, photo photo by Heike by HeikeLuu, acc.nr. Luu, acc.nr. Lp 227). Lp 227).
Transcending this enmity, the Hindu God Vis.n. u is served both by Garud. a as his vehicle and by 43 the Naga¯ Se´ s.a as his bed (Figure3)—a motif which shares a common Hindu or pre-Hindu antetype with the motive of the Buddha sitting on the coils and beneath the hoods of Mucalinda.
403.2. My Nagas¯ transl. Incorporated from Mahā intobhārata Buddhism 1.47.20ff: viveṣṭamānāḥ kṛpaṇā āhvayantaḥ parasparam // 20 // visphurantaḥ śvasantaś ca veṣṭayantas tathā pare / pucchaiḥ śirobhiś ca bhṛśaṃ citrabhānuṃ prapedire // 21 // śvetāḥ kHowṛṣṇāś areca n theīlāś Ncaagas¯ sthavir portrayedāḥ śiśavas in Buddhism,tathā / ruvanto ascompared bhairavān tonā theirdān petur portrayal dīpte invibh theāvasau classical // 22 Hindu // … sourceshastihast discussedā ivāpare so / far? matt Likeā ivain ca the māMahtaṅgāabh¯ maharata¯ ākā,Nyā aga¯mah bodiesābalāḥ // stand 24 // outuccā withvacāś serpent-like ca bahavo nā features,nāvarṇā but alsoviṣolba inṇ theirāḥ / ghor capacityāś ca parighaprakhy to shapeshift.ā Di dandaﬀerencesśūkā maymahā liebal ināḥthe / prapetur religious agn evaluationāv uragā m ofātṛ theirvāgda natureṇḍapīḍ anditāḥ the role// 25 animals//(ibid.). can play in a psychology and worldview focused on mastering one’s own sensuality, 41aggression My transl. and from other Mah drives.ābhārata 1.19.4–6: sattvaiś ca bahusāhasrair nānārūpaiḥ samāvṛtam / ugrair nityam anTheādhṛṣ Nyaaga¯ ṃ kingkūrmagr Mucalindaāhasamākulam uses the// ākara coilsṃ ofsarvaratn his bodyānā tom protectālayaṃ varu theṇ newlyasya ca “awoken” / nāgānām Buddha, ālayaṃ whoramyam is still uttama in deepṃ sarit meditation,āṃ patim // from pātālajvalan a thunderstormāvāsam (ibid.). (Figure 4). When the storm is over and the 42 The Mahābhārata describes Garuḍa as the ancestor of all birds of prey and as an eater of serpents, tortoises and Buddha opens his eyes, “he loosened his windings from the body of the Blessed One, made his own elephants. As a zoonyme, garuḍa can thus be as broad as specific, being the name of the Himalayan Golden appearance disappear, created the appearance of a youth, and stationed himself in front of the Blessed Eagle and of a South Indian Sea-Eagle, which is also called nāgāśī, “serpent-eater” (Dave 1985, pp. 199f.). One, raising his clasped hands, and paying reverence to the Blessed One”44 (Mahavagga¯ I.3.3). Thus, the ﬁrst being to honor the awakening of the Buddha is a Naga.¯ This might have added to the appeal for Buddhist kings to trace their genealogy back to Nagas¯ (DeCaroli 2004, p. 165; Przyluski 1925; Bloss 1973, pp. 40f.).
43 Se´ s. is the “rest” that remains after the destruction of the universe and before its re-creation, and is thus also called anant, the “endless” or “eternal” one. 44 Transl. by (Oldenberg 1881); Pali¯ text from gretil.org: “atha kho Mucalindo nagar¯ aj¯ a¯ sakabhavana¯ nikkhamitva¯ bhagavato kayam¯ . sattakkhattum. bhogehi parikkhipitva¯ upari muddhani mahantam. phan. am. karitva¯ at.t.hasi”.¯ Religions 2019, 10, 454 14 of 26
On the other hand, the same fundamental Theravada Buddhist text45 makes it clear that Nagas¯ are animals, and may thus not enter any monastery (vihara¯ ) to become monks (bhikku). Mahavagga¯ I.63 tells the story of a Naga¯ who was “aggrieved at, ashamed of, and conceived aversion for his having been born as a serpent”.46 To “become released from being a serpent, and quickly to obtain human nature, [the Naga],¯ in the shape of a youth, went to the bhikkhus, [who] conferred on him the pabbajja¯ and upasampada¯ ordinations.”47 Once, when he felt safe from discovery, he “fell asleep (in his natural shape). The whole vihara¯ [monastery] was ﬁlled with the snake’s body [ahi]; his windings jutted out of the window.”48 Now, the Buddha himself tells him: “You serpents [nagas¯ ] are not capable of (spiritual) growth in this doctrine and discipline”49, and the Naga¯ cries and goes away. This story, while it describes Nagas¯ as shapeshifters, still calls them “animals”—tiracchanagata,¯ from Skt. tira´sc¯ına-gata, “going horizontally, not erect”. The Buddha himself uses this word in his ﬁnal address to the monks:
“There are two occasions, O bhikkus, on which a serpent [naga¯ ] (who has assumed human shape) manifests his true nature: when he has sexual intercourse with a female of his species [sajati¯ ], and if he thinks himself safe (from discovery) and falls asleep [ ... ]. Let an animal [tiracchanagata¯ ], O bhikkus, that has not received the upasampada¯ ordination, not receive it; if it has received it, let it be expelled.”50
Thai narratives further elaborate this event, having the Naga¯ plead that “if his religious desires could not be fulﬁlled through monkhood, at least he should be remembered by calling every initiate nag before ordination” (Tambiah 1970, p. 107). This is the tradition of Thai monks who renounce “the attributes of nag—virility or sexuality, and similar attributes of secular life” (ibid.; cf. Luu 2017, p. 84; Figure6).
45 The Mahavagga¯ of the Khandaka is part of the Vinayapi.taka, a Pali¯ language collection of monastic rules for monks and nuns. Its text dates back at least into the 7th Century CE, but is probably much older. Dating the text by the use of the ary¯ a¯-metre and assuming, that texts were brought to Sri Lanka from India, von Hinüber cautiously suggests that the text might be “older than about 250 BCE” (von Hinüber 1996, p. 19). 46 Transl. by (Oldenberg 1881) from Pali¯ “nago¯ nagayoniy¯ a¯ at.t.iyati harayati¯ jigucchati” (Mahavagga¯ 1.63.1, accessed on gretil.org). 47 Transl. by (Oldenberg 1881) from Pali¯ “nagayoniy¯ a¯ ca parimucceyyam. khippañ ca manussattam. pat.ilabheyyan [ ... ] so nago¯ man¯ . a-vakavan. n. ena bhikkhu¯ upasam. kamitva¯ pabbajjam. yaci”¯ (Mahavagga¯ 1.63.1–2, accessed on gretil.org). 48 Transl. by (Oldenberg 1881) from Pali¯ “so nago¯ [ ... ] vissat.t.ho niddam. okkami. Sabbo viharo¯ ahina¯ pun. n. o, vatap¯ anehi¯ bhoga¯ nikkhanta¯ honti” (Mahavagga¯ 1.63.1–2, accessed on gretil.org). 49 Transl. by (Oldenberg 1881) from Pali¯ “tumhe khv’; attha nag¯ a¯ aviru¯ l.hidhamma¯ imasmim. dhammavinaye” (Mahavagga¯ 1.63.4, accessed on gretil.org). 50 Transl. by (Oldenberg 1881) from Pali¯ “dve ‘me bhikkhave paccaya¯ nagassa¯ sabhavap¯ atukamm¯ aya,¯ yada¯ ca sajatiy¯ a¯ methunam. dhammam. pat.isevati, yada¯ ca vissat.t.ho niddam. okkamati [ ... ]. tiracchanagato¯ bhikkhave anupasampanno na upasampadetabbo,¯ upasampanno nasetabbo”¯ (Mahavagga¯ 1.63.5, accessed on gretil.org). Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 15 of 26
[tiracchānagata], O bhikkus, that has not received the upasampadā ordination, not receive it; if it has received it, let it be expelled.”50 Thai narratives further elaborate this event, having the Nāga plead that “if his religious desires could not be fulfilled through monkhood, at least he should be remembered by calling every initiate nag before ordination” (Tambiah 1970, p. 107). This is the tradition of Thai monks who renounce “the Religionsattributes2019 of, 10 nag, 454—virility or sexuality, and similar attributes of secular life” (ibid.; cf. Luu 2017,15 p. of 84; 26 Figure 6).
Figure 6. HelmetHelmet used used for for the the ordination ordination of of Burmese Burmese no novicesvices (purchased (purchased for the Marburg Museum of Religions in 2012 by Ulrike Jeep, photo by Heike Luu, acc.nr. Mq 152).
Nagasā¯gas can represent the animal part of the human human condition, condition, the inner inner wildness wildness before before becoming becoming civilized and converted to the doctrine. The The many many N Nāaga¯ga figures ﬁgures in local Buddhist myths work as symbols of pre-Buddhist wildness and of olderolder religionsreligions (cf.(cf. BlossBloss 1973)1973) who, who, by by converting to Buddhism, help to integrate local kingdoms and local beliefs into a Buddhist superstructure:superstructure:
“The context of Buddhist doctrine posits a totally revolutionized society where caste distinctions andand hierarchies hierarchies of birth of arebirth superseded are superseded by hierarchies-based by hierarchies-based upon understanding, upon understanding,religious attainment, religious and service.attainment, Within and this service. context, metaphorsWithin this of othernesscontext, metaphors are employed, of othernesssuch as the areyakkha employed,, the criminal, such as the the unbeliever, yakkha, the and criminal, the naga¯ ”(theSutherland unbeliever, 1991 and, p. the 119). nāga” (Sutherland 1991, p. 119). Not only in this early and Indian context does Buddhist society and doctrine appear as an ideal civilization, social organization and infrastructure, condensing around monasteries—and opposed to the wildness of Nagas¯ and animals (cf. Schmithausen 1997). These have to be paciﬁed or driven oﬀ by the Buddha or by Buddhist agents to make the land inhabitable for humans or to “restore an inhabitable 50state, Transl. which by has(Oldenberg been disturbed 1881) from or P evenāli “dve destroyed ‘me bhikkhave by the paccay acts ofā n theāgassanagas¯ sabhandāvap byātukamm the naturalāya, yad forcesā ca theysaj unleash”.ātiyā methuna51 Theṃ tamingdhamma ofṃ the pa Nṭisevati,agas¯ is yad notā alwaysca vissa complete.ṭṭho nidda Inṃ someokkamati accounts, […]. ittiracch is moreānagato of a bhikkhave anupasampanno na upasampādetabbo, upasampanno nāsetabbo” (Mahāvagga 1.63.5, accessed compromise—but even in this way, natural catastrophes are brought into some form of order and on gretil.org). predictability by being legitimized by the Buddha (Deeg 2008, p. 103). The act of overcoming animals and “nature”—an act of “domestication”?—is as ambiguous as the animals and nature themselves:
51 (Deeg 2008, p. 93); transl. from German: “Der Buddha steht vor der Aufgabe, diese [nagas]¯ zu befrieden, um entweder das Land für die Menschen erst bewohnbar zu machen oder aber einen bewohnbaren Zustand wiederherzustellen, der durch das Wirken der nagas¯ und der von ihnen entfesselten Naturgewalten gestört oder gar zerstört ist.” Religions 2019, 10, 454 16 of 26
Mucalinda comes to the Buddha and serves him freely, whereas he subdues other Nagas,¯ such as Apalala¯ and Gopala¯ in the upper Indus basin, against their will (cf. Deeg 2016, pp. 96–113). Buddhism not only spread Indian Nagas¯ across the greater region to install them as the force of wilderness to be expelled or tamed, as in the Sri Lankan Mahavih¯ ara¯ chronicles (Deeg 2005, pp. 159, 563); throughout East and Southeast Asia, its propagators also dealt with already-worshipped, autochthonous dragons and serpent deities. Adapting their mythology, Buddhist stories, in turn, inﬂuenced the local mythologies. Long, the famous Chinese dragon, serves to translate the naga¯ of Buddhist Sanskrit sources into Chinese, thereby fusing into an inseparable new entity (cf. de Visser 1913). Japanese dragons, in turn, incorporated features of originally Japanese serpent spirits (Kelsey 1981). They bring rain, like Hindu Nags¯ in the Western Himalaya (cf. Handa 2004, pp. 140f.) or their Tibetan counterparts, the kLu (Hummel 1991), none of which can be traced back fully to Buddhist stories. The water dragons of China and Japan act amorally, potentially as harmful or beneﬁcial as the rain itself. To control them or to dispel them—like animals—people allegedly made use of their aversion against iron. To make it rain, they annoyed and stirred them up by throwing iron into the ponds in which they lived (de Visser 1913, pp. 173, 235); when the building of a dam was hindered by dragons, they could be driven oﬀ by piling up iron nearby (ibid., p. 70). Like wild animals, they are either tamed and made use of or, when they cause damage, scared oﬀ like crows. Buddhist and Shinto traditions accept the animal-like features of humans, even of the most exalted ones—and perhaps their relationship to serpents gives them a little other-worldly and thus superhuman touch. The Kojiki, a Shinto collection of myths composed in the early 8th Century as propaganda for the emperors’ family, mixes serpentine descent into their genealogy. One story (Kojiki, pp. 42–46) has “the daughter of the sea-deity” (Philippi 1969, p. 151), Toyo-tama-bine, having a child with Po-wori-no-mikoto, who is the great-grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the grandfather of the ﬁrst emperor of Japan, Jinmu Tenno. Not unlike Melusine in Western European legends, she warns Po-wori not to watch her delivery, but “he watched in secret as she was about to give birth; she turned into a giant crocodile52 and went crawling and slithering around” (ibid., p. 157). It is likely that this sea goddess or spirit does not only derive from the ﬁsh-like mythical beings of the Paciﬁc, but also from South Asian Nag¯ ¯ıs.53 Be the princess of the sea a Nag¯ ¯ı, a crocodile, or even a shark, in any case, her legacy within the Japanese emperors’ family is a non-human bodily trait. According to a tale from the ﬁfteenth century, the Emperor Ojin¯ (circa 270–310 CE) “had a dragon’s tail, because he was a descendant of the sea-god (Jimmu Tenno,¯ his ancestor, being the grandson of the sea god’s daughter). To hide this tail he invented the suso or skirt” (de Visser 1913, p. 145). In a completely diﬀerent setting, the marriage between a Naga¯ girl and a human prince in the Swat¯ valley of Northern Pakistan also results in their oﬀspring having awkward, animalistic features. As the Chinese Buddhist traveler Xuanzang recounts in the 7th Century,
“every time he went to rest by the side of his wife from her head there appeared the nine-fold Naga¯ crest. The husband, in disgust, waited till she slept and then cut oﬀ the serpent crest with his sword. In consequence the descendants of the royal pair were ever aﬄicted with headache” (Vogel 1926, p. 34).
52 Wani—which, according to (Philippi 1969, p. 407), might also denote a serpentine being or shark. 53 Although “strikingly similar tales have been found in Indonesia, in the Caroline Islands, and among the American Indians of the Paciﬁc northwest” (ibid., p. 148, fn. 1), I assume a Naga-related¯ background to this story, for Toyo-tama-bine gives her husband a “tide-raising jewel” and a “tide-ebbing jewel” (ibid., p. 44). Nagas¯ are often associated with nagma¯ n. is or nagratna¯ s, marvelous jewels which can illuminate the darkness or restore life (Vogel 1926, pp. 25, 77) or provide “food and drink in plenty” (ibid., p. 149). Chinese dragons carry “Thunder-pearls” (leizhu) in their mouths, which can “illuminate a whole house during the night”, or “replace wine” (de Visser 1913, p. 88) and are probably related to the Buddhist “cintamani¯ or precious pearl which grants all desires” (ibid., p. 107). Their playing with these pearls or with balls causes thunder and rain (ibid., pp. 103–8). Religions 2019, 10, 454 17 of 26
Having headaches in eternity seems much worse than covertly accepting one’s inner, animal nature, if these are the alternatives. On the other hand, Nagas¯ from the Hindukush seem vulnerable to headaches even when unharmed (cf. Deeg 2008, p. 99) The taming of Nagas¯ by Buddhist agents can be an act of suppression as well as of calming, “ordering and harmonizing these parochial deities, who represent the ambiguous forces of nature” (Bloss 1973, p. 52). While I would not go as far as interpreting these stories as a call for acceptance between humans and animals or civilization and wildness, in many of the Jataka¯ stories about the Buddha’s previous lives, he often appears as an animal, sometimes as a Naga¯ (cf. Vogel 1926, pp. 132–65). The Nagananda¯ (“joy of the Nagas”),¯ a play ascribed to the North Indian king Har´sa(circa 590–647 CE), is about one of these previous existences, J¯ımutav¯ ahana,¯ who sacriﬁces himself to end the massive slaughter of Nagas¯ by Garud. a. Ending their enmity, he overcomes the conﬂicts and violence attributed to nature. Finally, convinced of the wrongness of his killing and of his huge appetite, Garud. a leaves the Nagas¯ in peace:
“Now let the race of Nagas wander happily in the mighty ocean—at times stretching from shore to shore like bridges, at times taken for whirlpools, through the coiling of their bodies—and at times resembling continents, from the multitude of their hoods, large as alluvial islands. Again, let the damsels of the Nagas in yon grove of sandal trees celebrate joyfully this glory of thine, thinking lightly of the fatigue, though their bodies faint with the exertion, and though their cheeks, browned by the touch of the rays of the early sun, seem as if bedaubed with red lead, while their hair let fall to their feet resembles the darkness of clouds” (Nag¯ ananda¯ V.102 f., transl. Boyd 1999, pp. 45f.).
These verses elegantly express the double nature of the Nagas,¯ whose animal bodies wind through the sea, while at least the females have more hair and feet than any serpent. In their human shape, they also have features of cobras – but these can be overlooked, as it happens to Garud. a in a dramatic climax of the play. Naga¯ prince Sa´ nkhac˙ uda¯ mocks him for this error:
“The error is a likely one indeed! Not to mention the mark of the swastika on the breast, are there not scales on my body? Do you not count my two tongues as I speak? Nor see these three hoods of mine, the compressed wind hissing through them in my insupportable anguish, while the brightness of my gems is distorted by the thick smoke from the ﬁre of my direful poison?” (ibid., V. 93, p. 42).
3.3. Nagas¯ and Serpents in Modern Indian Movies, Comics, and Literature After examining how the Buddhist, epic, and iconographic portrayals of Nagas¯ indicated a complex ambiguity of human and animal features, a quick look into modern Hindu imagery reveals astonishing continuities as well as transformations over the millennia. The self-description of the Naga¯ Sa´ nkhac˙ uda¯ from the Nagananda¯ play can bridge the gap between 7th Century theatre and 20th Century ﬁlms and literature. To give just a few examples: serpent hoods above the human head (or, more commonly, as part of a Naga’s¯ crown) can be seen in Naag Panchami (1972)54, in Nache Nagin Gali Gali (1989), and in Sheshnaag (1990). The notion of serpents carrying gems in or on their head reappears most famously in Nagina (1984) and gives movies like Naagmani (1991) its name. In such ﬁlms, Nag¯ mythology continues to be developed further. Most are based on the more folkloristic than classical stories in which Nagas¯ appear unequivocally as animals. Especially the folktales around the shapeshifting icchadh¯ ar¯ ¯ı nag¯ s—snakes, who after a long penance have gained the ability to turn into humans—have inspired numerous ﬁlms. Right at the beginning of Nagin (1976), a protagonist explains that an Icchadh¯ ar¯ ¯ı Nag¯ is a snake, who, after a hundred years,
54 Like most of the following movies, Naag Panchami, which tells the story of Mansa¯ Dev¯ı (cf. 2015; Smith 1985): It can be easily found on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmrX-PxLZ74, last accessed on 23 May 2019). Religions 2019, 10, 454 18 of 26 has gained supernatural powers and human form.55 The Nagas¯ of these stories are, therefore, primarily animals—and, in the movies, most often women. Both the special eﬀects in Nagin and the wonderful dance of the famous actress Shridevi in Nagina highlight their serpentine character in motion: dangerous and sensual. Even in the shape of humans, they are wild and vengeful, especially if a Nagin’s¯ husband is accidentally (Nagin) or intentionally (Nagina) killed. A Filmi Snake Spotters Field Guide56 is thus very helpful, although the series Naagin (2015–16), which has been rebroadcast repeatedly in Indian television since its premiere, has since added still new layers of special eﬀects and scales to the serpentine-humanoid skins. The domain of Indian superhero comics, in turn, is ruled by Nagr¯ aj¯ , the “king of the Nagas”¯ (1986–present), whose agelessness, “super generative healing”, infrared vision, hypnotism, “poison-bite”, “snake-spit”, and the “Millions of microscopic shape shifting snakes in his body”57 derive from Naga¯ mythology, from genre-speciﬁc expectations and, not least, from zoology. Not only do the mythical, comic, and ﬁlmic Nagas¯ show, exaggerate or multiply features of biological snakes—they also have an inﬂuence on the way serpents are imagined and characterized in modern non-religious Hindi literature. Here, they still are ambivalent and, if only slightly, supernatural. Kamlesvar´ ’s short Story Sa¯m. p (“The snake”, 1963) has a paranoid male protagonist who imagines snakes everywhere—“the symbol of danger, of threat, of a hidden evil that is dreaded” (Markova 2005, p. 37)—even mistaking the touch of his girlfriend’s arm for a snake. In an older story of the same name written by Ajney˜ , instead of feeling threatened by a snake a young man and his girlfriend are watching, he admires its beauty—until he suddenly feels the urge to kill it because it looks so vulnerable. The attitude of the male protagonist to the snake reﬂects his relationship to the woman at his side, for he muses that he “had been rather watching her than the snake” (ibid., p. 34). Nag¯ Puj¯ a¯, “Snake worship”, was written in 1922 by Premcand, one of the earliest modernist writers of South Asia. It is a classical Hind¯ı story of a girl called Tilottama,¯ who is protected by a black cobra—to the extent that it kills all men who want to marry her. The snake, it is said, had in a previous life been “a mighty Yogi, who, as a punishment for becoming arrogant, had to take birth into this existence”58. The girl continues to worship the Nag,¯ although he causes so much distress, until ﬁnally a zoologist marries her, survives the wedding and brings her to Dhaka. However, she seems to have brought the Nag¯ along with her, either as a personality trait or as an agent of spirit possession:
Her face contorted, her brows tightened, her forehead furrowed, her body burning like ﬁre, her eyelids ﬁxed open, her eyes ﬂashed like lightning and discharged blazing ﬂames. Blackness spread on her face. Although her body did not change visibly, one [ ... ] could think she was a Nagin.¯ Sometimes she even hissed.59
Several people I know in India like reading the bestselling fantasy novels of the Shiva Trilogy by Amish. Its second volume is called The Secret of the Nagas,¯ the back cover of which shows the motto: “Today, he is a God. 4000 years ago, he was just a man.” (Amish 2011). In the novels, this does not only hold true for Shiva, the protagonists, but also for the Nagas:¯
“They are cursed people, [ ... ] born with hideous deformities because of the sins of their previous births. Deformities like extra hands or horribly misshapen faces. However,
55 “Sau sal¯ ke bad¯ sa¯m. p koi h¯ı rup¯ dhar¯ sakte haim. ”, minute 5:00 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OvFhuQL5Yw&t=302s, last accessed on 23 May 2019. 56 https://cinemachaat.com/2011/07/31/ﬁlmi-snake-spotters-ﬁeld-guide/, last accessed on 22 July 2019. 57 Taken from a list in the Wikipedia article on Nagraj, last accessed on 31 March 2019. Cf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= -DmYkiVM6LM. 58 Ko¯ı bar.a¯ yog¯ı jab aham. kar¯ karne lagta hai to use dan. d. asvarup¯ is yoni mem. janma lena¯ par.ta¯ hai (Premcand 1922, p. 289). 59 My translation from (Premcand 1922, p. 196): Uska¯ mukh vikr.t ho jat¯ a,¯ bhaum. e¯m. tan jat¯ ¯ım. , mathe¯ par bal par. jate,¯ ´sar¯ır agni k¯ı bhanti¯ jalne lagta,¯ palkem. khul¯ı rah jat¯ ¯ım. , netrom. se jval¯ a-s¯ ¯ı nikalne lagt¯ı aur usmem. se jhulsat¯ı hu¯ı laptem. nikalt¯ım. , mukh par kalim¯ a¯ cha¯ jat¯ ¯ı aur yadyapi svarup¯ mem. ko¯ı vi´ses. antar na dikhay¯ ¯ı deta;¯ par na jane¯ kyom. bhram hone lagta,¯ yah ko¯ı nagin¯ hai. Religions 2019, 10, 454 19 of 26
they have tremendous strength and skills. The Naga name alone strikes terror in any citizen’s heart” (Amish 2008, p. 61).
Amish’s Nagas,¯ despite their “deformities”, are humans. This idea is not new, as the next section’s look into the history of scholarly writing on the subject will show.
4. Are the Nagas¯ Human? Since the 19th Century, academic and popular interpretations of the Nagas¯ have held them to be neither animals nor deities—nor both—but, rather, a historical human ethnic group. Similar to the recent Indian fantasy novels, some colonial-period anthropologists imagined the species of Nagas,¯ Garud. as, Asuras and Yaks.as to be diﬀerent pre-Vedic, non-“Aryan” tribes (Fergusson 1868; Oldham 1905, pp. 16–18). According to Fergusson and others, worshipping serpents and trees was the pre-“Aryan” form of religion in India. In this meta-narrative, the natives, identiﬁed with the Vedic Dasyus,¯ became themselves identiﬁed with the Nagas¯ (cf. Deeg 2008, p. 92). Historically, it seems unlikely that the Nagas¯ of the Mahabh¯ arata¯ , for instance, represent “autochthonous” tribes or religions (Kosambi 1964) of pre-“Aryan” North India—i.e., from a time at least 1500 years before the ﬁnalization of the epic texts. Iravati Karve, however, dwells upon the idea that the Nagas¯ were such tribes, symbolically dehumanized by the myth to legitimate genocide. Reading the story in this way, she has to strip the episode of the serpent sacriﬁce of its plastic descriptions of Nagas¯ as serpents, as shapeshifters, as children of the earth Goddess (cf. Section 3.1). Only by ignoring such narrative details can she claim “that the main Mahabharata story has woven into it a subsidiary theme—the feud between the Pandavas and the Takshakas—which incidentally tells us of the colonization of the land by the Aryans” (Karve 1969, p. 146). The related story of the Kha¯n. d. ava forest, which is burnt down by the heroes Arjuna and Kr.s.n. a, enables a similar interpretation as a “holocaust” (p. 138) not only against animals, but against human peoples marked as animals:
“Many of the animals may not have been animals at all but people belonging to clans having animal names. [ ... ]. From the western Himalayas up to the middle reaches of the Ganga and to the south of the Narmada, the country was shared by the Aryans and the Nagas. The Nagas apparently lived along the rivers in the forests while the Aryans preferred a more open country. The house of the Nagaraja Airavata was on the banks of the river Iravati. The house of Takshaka was apparently in the Khandava forest on the banks of the Yamuna. Many an Aryan king must have acquired new lands by burning or cutting parts of a virgin forest not owned by anyone. However, in the Khandava ﬁre it appears that Krishna and Arjuna had a more audacious plan to possess an entire forest in a part of which happened to be the kingdom of the Takshakas [ ... ]. The land was usurped after a massacre, a massacre which is praised as a valorous deed” (ibid., pp. 143f.).
It remains highly speculative whether any “human qualities of the Nagas are played down” (ibid.) in the Mahabharata in order to legitimize their killing as though they were animals.60 Maybe the Nagas¯ were simply not human at all. We will never know whether the epic gives an account of historical events about the attempted mass annihilation of totemistic clans, who were somewhat closer to “nature”, to ﬂora and fauna, than the “Aryans”, who were unable to value the “sweetness of the forest” (ibid., p. 142). Hopefully, this old Indian holocaust will lose its plausibility alongside the whole Aryan invasion theory. In her book on Orthodox Images of Indian Snake Worship, Laurie Cozad elaborates a related theory, which, to me, seems less implausible than the idea that the Nagas¯ were actually a cypher for pre-Aryan native Indians. In her eyes, snake worship is to be identiﬁed with “grass-root” religion (Cozad 2004,
60 Of course, while not killing them directly, the burning down of a forest inhabited by humans would mean taking away their means of production, their self-suﬃciency, independence, culture and religion. ReligionsReligions 2019 2019, 10, 10, x, FORx FOR PEER PEER REVIEW REVIEW 2020 of of26 26
It Itremains remains highly highly speculative speculative whether whether any any “human “human qualities qualities of of the the Nagas Nagas are are played played down” down” (ibid.) (ibid.) inin the the Mahabharata Mahabharata in in order order to to legitimize legitimize their their killing killing as as though though they they were were animals. animals.60 60Maybe Maybe the the NNāgasāgas were were simply simply not not human human at at all. all. We We will will neve never rknow know whether whether the the epic epic gives gives an an account account of of historicalhistorical events events about about the the attempted attempted mass mass annihi annihilationlation of of totemistic totemistic cl clans,ans, who who were were somewhat somewhat closercloser to to “nature”, “nature”, to to flora flora and and fauna, fauna, than than the the “Aryans”, “Aryans”, who who were were unable unable to to value value the the “sweetness “sweetness ofof the the forest” forest” (ibid., (ibid., p. p. 142). 142). Hopefully, Hopefully, this this old old Indian Indian holocaust holocaust will will lose lose its its plausibility plausibility alongside alongside thethe whole whole Aryan Aryan invasion invasion theory. theory. Religions 2019,In10In ,her 454 her book book on on Orthodox Orthodox Images Images of ofIndian Indian Snake Snake Worship Worship, L, AURIELAURIE C OZADCOZAD elaborates elaborates a arelated related20 of 26 theory, theory, which,which, to to me, me, seems seems less less implausible implausible than than the the idea idea that that the the N Nāgasāgas were were actually actually a cyphera cypher for for pre-Aryan pre-Aryan nativenative Indians. Indians. In In her her eyes, eyes, snake snake worship worship is isto to be be identified identified with with “grass-root” “grass-root” religion religion (Cozad (Cozad 2004, 2004, p. p. p. 1) and1)1) and the and the resistance the resistance resistance against against against Aryan Aryan Aryan or Brahminor or Brahmin Brahmin dominance. domi dominance.nance. Consequentially, Consequentially, Consequentially, she she she looks looks looks to to identifyto identify identify such such such pre-Aryanpre-Aryanpre-Aryan tracestraces traces in in the the earliest earliest earliest texts textstexts rather ratherrather than than in in inthe the the Mah MahMahābhābhabh¯ārataārataarata¯ , starting, starting, starting her her herbook book book with with with a chaptera chapter a on on chapterthethe on serpent theserpent serpent (ahi (ahi) V) ( ahiṛVtra,ṛ)tra, Vr who. tra,who holds who holds holdsback back the back the waters, waters, the waters, until until he until he is isslain he slain is by slain by the the bygod god the Indra: Indra: god Indra: “The brahmin“The“The brahmin brahmin redactors redactors redactors render Vrender r.trarender as aV demonicVṛtraṛtra as as a characterademonic demonic incharacter character order to legitimatein in order order to histo legitimate defeatlegitimate his his at thedefeat handdefeat ofat at thethe the heroichand hand of Indra. of the the heroic Thisheroic resultsIndra. Indra. This in This the results results transference in in the the transference oftransference exclusive of controlof exclusive exclusive over control control earthlyover resourcesover earthly earthly to resources Indraresources and to thoseto Indra Indra who and and worship those those who Indra:who worship worship the brahmin-led Indra: Indra: the the Aryans.brahmin-led¯ brahmin-led I would Ā Āryans.ryans. I I arguewould thatwould with argue argue the that narrative that with with demonization,the the narrative narrative demoniza defeat,demoniza andtion,tion, subsequent defeat, defeat, and and cooptation subsequent subsequent of cooptation V cooptationr.tra’s of of powers,VVṛ [tra’sṛ...tra’s] powers, a powers, pre-established […] […] a apre-established pre-established contextual framework contextual contextual centralizing framework framework a supernaturalcentralizing centralizing a snake asupernatural supernatural is dismantledsnakesnake in is order isdismantled dismantled to construct in in order order one centralizingto to construct construct aone brahmin-controlledone centralizing centralizing a abrahmin-controlled deity.”brahmin-controlled (Cozad 2004 deity.”, deity.” p. 14).(Cozad(Cozad 2004, 2004, p. p. 14). 14).
In severalInIn several passages,several passages, passages,Cozad C impliesOZADCOZAD implies thatimplies the that that “pre-established” the the “pre-established” “pre-established” system system ofsystem belief of of inbelief belief a snake in in a asnake deity snake deity deity 61 was pre-Aryan.waswas pre-Aryan. pre-Aryan.In61 her 61In In chapterher her chapter chapter about about about this this complexthis complex complex of theof of theR .theg Ṛ VedagṚ gVeda Veda and and and the the the Threat Threat Threat of of theofthe the SovereignSovereign Sovereign Snake Snake Snake (ibid.,(ibid.,(ibid., pp.pp. pp. 13–22),13–22), 13–22), II wouldwouldI would havehave have expectedexpected expected herher her toto to atat at leastleast least onceonce once mentionmention mention thethe the possibilitypossibility possibility that that V rVṛ.tratraṛtra is isnot not is not anan autochthonous autochthonous deity, deity, deity, but but a a aconcept concept concept brought brought brought to to to India India India alongside alongside alongside Indo-Europ Indo-EuropeanIndo-Europeanean languages. languages.languages. This This is is This isprobably probablyprobably the thethe case, case,case, as asas is isis obvious obviousobvious from fromfrom the thethe parallel parallelparallel and andand cognate cognatecognate titles titlestitles of ofof Indra IndraIndra as asas “ “v“vṛvrtrahan.ṛtrahantrahan, ,‘,v ‘ṛvtraṛtra- - ‘vr.tra-smasher’,smasher’,smasher’, applied applied to to him him over over fifty ﬁfty fifty times times times in in in the the the Rigveda” Rigveda” Rigveda” (West ( West(West 2007, 2007 2007, ,p. p. p. 246), 246),246), and andand of ofof the the Old Old Iranian Iranian Iraniangodgod V əVrəəθrəθraθraγna,γna, “the “the slayer slayer of of V Və rəəθrəθra”θra”ra” or oror the thethe “smiting “smiting“smiting of ofof resistance”. resistance”.resistance”.6262 62Indra IndraIndra is is isrelated related related to to tocognate cognate cognateIndo-EuropeanIndo-European weather weatherweather gods, gods, gods, who who ﬁghtfight fight in in ain similara asimilar similar manner manner manner against against against dragons dragons dragons or snakes or or snakes snakes and, asand, and, a as as a a result ofresultresult this ﬁght,of of this this sometimes fight, fight, sometimes sometimes also free thealso also waters free free the (ibid.,the wa wa pp.tersters 258f.).(ibid., (ibid., Thesepp. pp. 258f.). are258f.). strong These These arguments are are strong strong against arguments arguments the claimagainstagainst that the “Indra the claim claim coopts that that “Indra the“Indra powers c ooptscoopts through the the powers powers which through through Vr.tra iswhich which known—he V Vṛtraṛtra is whoisknown—he known—he ‘scattered who who about’ ‘scattered ‘scattered the ‘lightningabout’about’ the and the ‘lightning thunder,‘lightning rainand and and thunder, thunder, hail,’ [Rrain. gvedarain and and 1.32.13: hail,’ hail,’ [vidyut Ṛ[gvedaṚgvedaand 1.32.13: 1.32.13:tanyatu vidyut ,vidyutmiha and and hrtanyatu adunitanyatu¯ ]—to, miha, miha and and becomehrhr theāduniāduni supreme]—to]—to become godbecome ‘who the the wields supreme supreme the thunderbolt’god god ‘who ‘who wields [wieldsR. gveda the the 1.32.15: thunderbolt’ thunderbolt’vajrabahu¯ [ Ṛ]”[gvedaṚ (gvedaCozad 1.32.15: 1.32.15:2004, p.vajrab vajrab 17). āhuāhu]”]” Albeit(Cozad(Cozad fascinating, 2004, 2004, p. p. 17). in17). this case, her “methodological strategy through which we are able to use a conventionalAlbeitAlbeit religious fascinating, fascinating, setting in to in this provide this case, case, evidenceher her “methodological “methodological of alternative strategy strategy avenues through through of religious which which agency.” we we are are able (ibid., able to to use use a a p. 12) doesconventionalconventional not work religious out religious well. setting Still, setting the to to nameprovide provide and evidence functionevidence of of of alternative V alternativer.tra not being avenues avenues native of of toreligious religious India would agency.” agency.” not (ibid., (ibid., excludep.p. the12) 12) possibilitydoes does not not work thatwork “theout out well. construction well. Still, Still, the the of name thisname supernaturaland and function function ﬁgure of of V Vṛtra predatesṛtra not not being being the incursionsnative native to to India of India the would would Aryans¯ not andnot exclude exclude reﬂects the anthe possibility indigenous possibility that traditionthat “the “the construction of construction snake worship” of of this this (ibid.,supernatural supernatural p. 15). D figureeeg figurealso predates predates points the out the incursions that incursions the Nagas¯ as aquatic deities are probably older than the so-called Indo-Aryan¯ populating of North India, although they are also related to the Indo-Aryan¯ mythology.63 In60 later60 Of Of chapters,course, course, while whileCozad not not killing’s killinginterpretation, them them directly, directly, aiming the the burning burning at the down intentions down of of a foresta forest and inhabited text inhabited acts by of by humans the humans Brahmin would would mean mean redactors,taking becomestaking away away more their their plausible. means means of of production, In production, the Mah abh¯their theirarata¯ sel self-sufficiency,, forf-sufficiency, instance, independence, independence, political agendas culture culture indeed and and religion. religion. become 61 61 “Indra “Indra is isthe the exclusive exclusive property property of of a partica particularular group group of of people people […], […], who who exclude exclude all all but but Ā ryansĀryans from from their their visible in the way the Nagas¯ are portrayed: the text makes “use of the tamed, brahminicized Naga,¯ hierarchicalhierarchical social social system, system, thus thus posi positioningtioning the the indigenous indigenous peoples peoples of of In Indiadia and and their their divine divine figures figures outside outside Se´ sa” (ibid., p. 83), of Astika,¯ a “naganized¯ brahmin” (ibid., p. 72) and son of a Nag¯ ¯ı and a Brahmin, . ofof this this system system altogether. altogether. The The Ṛ gṚ Vedag Veda thus thus marks marks our our first first encounter encounter with with redactors redactors who who wish wish to to dismantle dismantle and of thea N apre-existingaga ¯pre-existing king Tak contextual contextuals.aka, “characterized framewor framework,k, one asone awhich malevolentwhich centralizes centralizes force the the bent supern supern on deceitaturalatural snake and snake destruction” and and the the desires desires of of (ibid., p. 64).indigenousindigenous Furthermore, snake snake worshippers” worshippers” the narration (Cozad (Cozad is densely 2004, 2004, pp. interspersedpp. 17f.). 17f.). Un Unfortunately,fortunately, with moralist the the repetition repetition remarks of of her about her own own the phrasing phrasing superioritydoes ofdoes Brahmins,not not strengthen strengthen as when her her Garudargument, argument,. a is taughtwhich which bysticks sticks his tomother, to the the simplistic simplistic Vinata:¯ narrative narrative of of Ā ryansĀryans invading invading and and suppressingsuppressing an an indigenous indigenous culture. culture. 62 62 The The poetic poetic formula formula “Indra “Indra slew slew the the snake snake (ahi (ahi)”)” or or “Indra “Indra slew slew V ṛVtra”ṛtra” occurs occurs throughout throughout the the Ṛ gveda—butṚgveda—but “the “the
61 “Indra isspecificity thespecificity exclusive of of propertythis this verbal verbal of aformula particular formula [can group[can be be demonstrated of demonstrated people [ ... ],] whonot] not only exclude only in in Indic all Indic but butAryans ¯but across across from most most their of hierarchicalof the the related related older older social system,Indo-EuropeanIndo-European thus positioning languages languages the indigenous over over several several peoples th thousand ofousand India years and years their in in the divinethe narration narration ﬁgures of outside of a specifica specific of this theme” theme” system (Watkins altogether. (Watkins 1995, 1995, p. p. The R. g Veda301)—in301)—in thus marksHittite Hittite our (ibid., (ibid., ﬁrst pp. encounter pp. 321f., 321f., 448f.), with 448f.), redactors Greek Greek (ibid., who(ibid., wishpp. pp. 357f.),to 357f.), dismantle and and Old Old a pre-existingNorse Norse sources sources contextual (ibid., (ibid., pp. framework, pp. 414f.). 414f.). one which centralizes the supernatural snake and the desires of indigenous snake worshippers” (Cozad 2004, pp. 17f.). Unfortunately, the repetition of her own phrasing does not strengthen her argument, which sticks to the simplistic narrative of Aryans¯ invading and suppressing an indigenous culture. 62 The poetic formula “Indra slew the snake (ahi)” or “Indra slew Vr.tra” occurs throughout the R. gveda—but “the speciﬁcity of this verbal formula [can be demonstrated] not only in Indic but across most of the related older Indo-European languages over several thousand years in the narration of a speciﬁc theme” (Watkins 1995, p. 301)—in Hittite (ibid., pp. 321f., 448f.), Greek (ibid., pp. 357f.), and Old Norse sources (ibid., pp. 414f.). 63 “Nagas¯ sind [ ... ] schlangenartige Wesen, die [ ... ] wahrscheinlich vor die sogenannte indoarische Besiedelung Nordindiens zurückreichen, aber auch Querverbindungen zu der indoarischen Mythologie aufweisen” (Deeg 2008, p. 92). Religions 2019, 10, 454 21 of 26
“A brahmin angered is a ﬁre, a sun, a poison, a sword [ ... ]. If a man has gone down your throat like a swallowed ﬁshhook and burns like a coal, then, my son, you will know that he is an eminent brahmin!” (Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.24.3–6, transl. van Buitenen 1973, p. 81).
At this point, I agree with Cozad’s interpretation. Throughout the textual history of Hindu India, she highlights the animal nature of Nagas,¯ although their existence surpasses the biological capacities and bodily features attributed to snakes:
“Snakes, as ubiquitous, powerful denizens of the earth’s surface provide constant and easy access to anyone who might wish to approach them as objects of religious devotion. Snake worship can thus be seen as a form of religiosity created and maintained by those most often disenfranchised by orthodox religion, for example, women” (Cozad 2004, p. 3). “The primary ritual activities associated with snake worship obviate the necessity of a brahmin oﬃciant” (ibid., p. 11).
As for the Nagas¯ as proponents of a grass-roots religion, empowering women and farmers against caste hierarchy and patriarchy, Cozad makes her sympathy towards them quite clear. Thereby, she seemingly overlooks the fact that actual snake worshippers do not necessarily attribute positive character traits to their animalistic deities. This becomes clear from Alloco’s ethnographic work in Tamilnadu (cf. Alloco 2013, 2014), from the stories about the Bengali serpent goddess Mansa,¯ as well as from my own ﬁeldwork in the Central Himalaya. The threat posed to humans both by Nagas¯ and by living cobras—where they are not altogether held to be the same—often makes the relationship between Nagas¯ to humans much less harmonious than Cozad portrays it. While neglected in Cozad’s argumentation, the non-harmonious relations between humans and Nagas¯ only supports her premise regarding the likeness and close relatedness of Nagas¯ to serpents. I have demonstrated the evidence for such a perspective throughout the contexts examined in this article, most notably in modern ﬁlm productions.
5. Discussion Myths have manifold meanings—as much as they have to say about history, the human body, nature, the psyche or social life, they also reveal about animals as members of society and of the environment. Having analyzed Nagas¯ as protagonists in diﬀerent religious, spatial and temporal contexts, I conclude that they indeed all have a lot in common. They are always more than just snakes, but never without any serpentine features, regarding both their bodies and their relationship to humans. This relationship is often tense and full of conﬂict, mutual cruelty and cycles of revenge. Religions 2019, 10, 454 22 of 26
I opened this article by showing that worshipping (divine) cobras can manifest itself in acts of cruelty towards (animal) cobras. The ethnographies from Tamil Nadu in South India and from Uttarakhand in the Central Himalaya (cf. Section2) provide examples for N agas¯ doing harm (dos.) to their human devotees (bhakt), even though they love them as kin. Cruelty against Nagas,¯ be they animals, spirits or humans, also occurs in the classical texts. Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.214–225 has Kr.s.n. a and other heroes burn down a whole forest, without letting anyone escape. Even if the massacred Nagas¯ are not human (as in the interpretation of this episode by Iravati Karve), but animals or imaginary beings, they are still portrayed as beings able to feel and communicate terror and pain, as they are hunted together with (other) animals, as “herds of creatures cried out wretchedly, elephants screamed, and deer and birds [ ... ]. Some who came by narrow paths collapsed there; and Hari slew the Rak¯ s.asas, Danavas,¯ and Nagas¯ with his discus” (Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.219.28–30)64. Although the Mahabh¯ arata¯ does not condemn this slaughter, in Hinduism and, much more so, in many “indigenous” traditions of India, many animals and plants are regarded, and often worshipped, as people (cf. Haberman 2013). Nagas¯ are sometimes cobras, sometimes people, sometimes clouds or mountain lakes, and potentially all at once. Deities are polyvalent; in my ﬁeldwork I met villagers who talk about Nain. ¯ı Dev¯ı as though she was a person—and indeed, she has a mythology in which she acts just like a human child—while others denied her any personhood, conceiving of her as an unintentional force (´sakti) within the mountains and everywhere. If such a current concept of polyvalent divinity can be projected onto historical Hindu deities65, the ethnographic examples can help us to understand the Nagas¯ of earlier contexts better, be they blurred, semi-moral beings of the Mahabh¯ arata¯ or the embodied spirits of mountain lakes and natural forces incorporated into Buddhism. In the Buddhist story behind the Nagananda¯ play (cf. Section 3.3), the Nagas¯ and the bird Garud. a are neither animals nor humans, but symbols of conﬂicting forces in nature, of heaven and earth. This opposition might or might not mirror concepts about human “inner nature”—in any case, these beings do symbolize the outer nature, representing all the species of their respective realm. Thus, they are seldom depicted naturalistically, as zoological animals, but never without some animal features. The mythological imagination both draws from observations of the environment and from the abstracting faculty of language, and, for instance, brings together snakes and elephants (both naga¯ ) into one category, as food 66 of Garud. a (Dave 1985, p. 201). The Nagananda¯ ends with Garud. a and the Nagas¯ becoming friends of the Buddha to be. Hindu myths can likewise be read as stories of friendship with animals, when Se´ s.a, the ﬁrstborn of the Nagas,¯ decides to serve Vis.n. u (vgl. Mahabh¯ arata¯ 1.32), or when Siva´ takes Se´ s.a’s younger brother Vasuki¯ as a garland. Kr.s.n. a, on the other hand, ﬁrst defeats the serpent Kaliya¯ in battle, dances on his head and only then becomes friends with him (Figure7).
64 (Transl. van Buitenen 1973, p. 422), from Sanskrit bhutasa¯ m. ghasahasra´sca¯ d¯ına´scakrur¯ mahasvanam¯ /ruruvur vara¯ n. a´s¯ caiva tathaiva mr.gapaks.in. ah. // 28 // [ ... ] // ekayanagat¯ a¯ ye ‘pi nis.patanty atra ke cana/rak¯ s.asan¯ danav¯ an¯ nag¯ añ¯ jaghne cakren. a tan¯ harih. // 30 //. 65 This is suggested by Michaels(1998, p. 206f.), according to whom Hindu deities throughout the epochs are potentially multiform, potentially featureless forces and potentially embodied. 66 For Garud. a feeding on an elephant, cf. Mahabh¯ arata¯ 25.10–26.26. Religions 2019, 10, 454 23 of 26 Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 23 of 26
FigureFigure 7. 7. KKṛṣṇr.s.n.aa dances dances on on the the subdued subdued N Nāaga¯ga king king K Kāaliya,¯liya, who who had had polluted polluted the the Yamun Yamunāa¯ River River with with hishis poison. poison. Now, Now, as as the the footmark footmark of of K Kṛṣṇr.s.n.aa protects protects him, him, K Kāaliy¯liyāa¯ and and his his queens queens are are safe safe from from Garu Garuḍd.a,a, who,who, as as a a devotee devotee of of Vi Viṣṇs.n.u,u, also venerates his his avatavatāar¯r KKṛṣṇr.s.n.a.a. ( (aa)) Metal Metal figure ﬁgure given given by by Rudolf Rudolf Otto Otto in in 19271927 to to Marburg Marburg Museum Museum of of Religions Religions (pho (phototo by by Eiko Eiko Wösner, Wösner, acc.nr. acc.nr. Lp Lp 139); 139); (b (b) )Figure Figure from from Bali, Bali, purchasedpurchased 1959 1959 for for the the Marburg Marburg Museum Museum of of Religion Religion in in Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta. In In Indonesia, Indonesia, N Nāagas¯gas are are depicted depicted asas being being dragon-like, dragon-like, while while K Kṛṣṇr.s.n.a/Via/Viṣṇs.n.u can can be be identified identiﬁed by by his his four four arms, arms, holding holding a a discus discus and and lotus lotus flower.ﬂower. Striking Striking are are the the similarities similarities in in the the posture posture of of the the legs legs and and the the gesture gesture of of the the left left hand, hand, holding holding thethe serpent/dragon’s serpent/dragon’s tail tail (photo (photo by by Eiko Wösner, acc.nr. Ar 081).
IfIf we we take take the the N Nāagas¯gas as as symbols, symbols, who who is is domesticated, domesticated, subdued subdued or or pacified paciﬁed here? here? Are Are they they forces, forces, dangersdangers and and resources resources of of “nature” “nature” in in general, general, or or do do they they represent represent a a whole whole species species in in one one person? person? AreAre they somethingsomething uncontrollableuncontrollable “within “within us”, us”, or or do do they they represent represent an olderan older religion, religion, maybe maybe of older, of older,subdued subdued ethnicities? ethnicities? And whatAnd aboutwhat about the little the Nlittleagas,¯ Nā thegas, living the living house house snakes snakes fed with fed milkwith inmilk India in Indiaand elsewhere, and elsewhere, sometimes sometimes seen as seen “ancestors as “ancestors come to come life” to (Ermacora life” (James 2017 G., p. Frazer, 4)? Whatever cited in theyErmacora might 2017,stand p. for, 4)? in Whatever the ﬁrst place, they theymight are stand still animals,for, in the seen first as place, animals they and are as still protectors animals, from seen other as animals animals. andIn folk as religion,protectors some from Nag¯ other women anim actals. as intermediariesIn folk religion, between some humanNāg women and serpent act as people intermediaries (Figure8). betweenIn some human sense, and N serpentagas,¯ mythical people beings(Figure and 8). symbols of animality, are serpents and thus “animals”, as quotedIn some from sense, the N Paliāgas, Canon mythical in Section beings 3.2and: tiracchsymbolsanagat¯ of animality,a¯, “going are horizontally, serpents and not thus erect”. “animals”, Where asthey quoted are portrayedfrom the Pali as humans,Canon in Section they portray 3.2: tiracch ourā animalnagatā, nature,“going horizontally, as well as the not human erect”. conditionWhere they of arebeing portrayed treated “likeas humans, animals”. they As portray ﬁgures our in movies,animal nature, literature as andwell otheras the myths, human they condition are imagined of being to treatedbe intermediate “like animals”. between As humans,figures in animals movies, and liter deities.ature and At ﬁrstother glance, myths, in they the contemporaryare imagined to ritual be intermediateembodiment between of Nain. ¯ı humans, Dev¯ı, she animals does not and look deities. or behave At first diﬀerently glance, from in the other contemporary deities. However, ritual embodimentthe mythical of storytelling Naiṇī Dev andī, she the does singing not oflook songs or behave highlight differently her as being from a other Nag,¯ herdeities. animal However, nature andthe mythicalher embeddedness storytelling within and the the singing web of of Pan-Indian songs highlight and ancient her as Nbeingaga¯ mythology.a Nāg, her animal Thus, shenature shares and with her embeddednessother Hindu and within Buddhist the web Nagas¯ of Pan-Indian the capacity and to ancient connect N diāﬀgaerent mythology. beings without Thus, she a common shares with language, other Hindueven living and Buddhist in diﬀerent Nā worlds.gas the capacity Like other to religiousconnect different symbols beings and protagonists, without a common Nagin¯ ¯ıs andlanguage, Nagas¯ even help livingto make in inedifferentﬀable thingsworlds. e ﬀLikeable other and toreligious speak with symbols nonhuman and protagonists, beings. Nāginīs and Nāgas help to make ineffable things effable and to speak with nonhuman beings.
Religions 2019, 10, 454 24 of 26 Religions 2019, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 24 of 26
Figure 8. TwoTwo Nāag-kany¯g-kanyāa¯s, “N “Nāaga-maidens”,¯ga-maidens”, conversing conversing with with or or ward wardinging off oﬀ snakessnakes with with ritual ritual items; items; wood-printed and painted as votive or protective images (artist: P Pāaine¯ine Thegana Thegana N Nāar¯rāayan,¯yan, Kathmandu Kathmandu 1994; both in the Marburg Museum of Religions): ( a))N Nāag-Kany¯g-Kanyāa¯ holding a flower ﬂower and a book (photo by Anne Beutter, acc.nr.acc.nr. B-KpB-Kp 155155 011); 011); ( b(b) )N Nag-Kany¯ āg-Kanya¯ āholding holding a a fan fan and and a mirror,a mirror, possibly possibly to wardto ward oﬀ offthe the evil evil eye eye or or the the hypnotic hypnotic stare stare of of snakes. snakes. The The Sanskrit Sanskrit verse verse namesnames ﬁvefive ancient sages, “Agastya, “Agastya, Pulasta, Vai Vai´sampśampayana,ā¯ yana, Sumantu and Jaimini, the ﬁvefive whowho resistresist thethe thunderbolt”thunderbolt”6767 (photo(photo by by Anne Beutter, acc.nr. B-Kp 155 010).
Funding: ThisThis research research received no external funding. Acknowledgments: I Iam am obliged obliged to to Edith Edith Franke Franke and and Susanne Susanne Rodemeier, Rodemeier, my my colleagues colleagues from from the Religionskundliche Sammlung Sammlung inin Marburg Marburg6868, ,for for permission permission to to use use photographs photographs of ofobjects objects from from this this Museum Museum of Religion.of Religion. Heike Heike Luu Luu and and Georg Georg Dörr, Dörr, who who took took most most of of th theseese photographs, photographs, helped helped me me a a great great deal deal ordering ordering my my thoughts. I am grateful to Andreas Hemming for proof-reading the text. thoughts. I am grateful to Andreas Hemming for proof-reading the text. Conﬂicts of Interest: The author declares no conﬂict of interest. Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest. References References Alloco, Amy. 2013. Fear, Reverence and Ambivalence. Divine Snakes in Contemporary South India. Religions of (Alloco 2013) Alloco, Amy. 2013. Fear, Reverence and Ambivalence. Divine Snakes in Contemporary South South Asia 7: 230–48. [CrossRef] India. Religions of South Asia 7: 230–48. Alloco, Amy. 2014. Snakes in the Dark Age. Human Action, Karmic Retribution, and the Possibilities for Hindu (Alloco 2014) Alloco, Amy. 2014. Snakes in the Dark Age. Human Action, Karmic Retribution, and the Animal Ethics. In Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics. Rethinking the Nonhuman. Edited by Neil Dalal and Possibilities for Hindu Animal Ethics. In Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics. Rethinking the Nonhuman. Chloë Taylor. London and New York: Routledge. Edited by Neil Dalal and Chloë Taylor. London and New York: Routledge. Amish. 2008. The Immortals of Meluha. Shiva Trilogy 1. Chennai: Westland Publ. (Amish 2008) Amish. 2008. The Immortals of Meluha. Shiva Trilogy 1. Chennai: Westland Publ. Amish. 2011. The Secret of the Nagas. Shiva Trilogy 2. Chennai: Westland Publ. (Amish 2011) Amish. 2011. The Secret of the Nagas. Shiva Trilogy 2. Chennai: Westland Publ. Bloss, Lowell. 1973. The Buddha and the Naga.¯ A Study in Buddhist Folk Religiosity. History of Religions 13: 36–53. (Bloss 1973) Bloss, Lowell. 1973. The Buddha and the Nāga. A Study in Buddhist Folk Religiosity. History of [CrossRef] Religions 13: 36–53. (Bollée 2008) Bollée, Willem. 2008. Pārśvacaritram. The Life of Pārśva. Mumbai: Hindi Granth Karyalay.
67 Agastya´scapulasta´scaVai´sampayana¯ eva ca / Sumantur Jaimini´scaiva pañcaite vajra-varak¯ a¯h. //.Other images from the same artist contain a longer text, starting with the same verse and explaining that whoever says aloud the names of these 67 sagesAgastya is safeśca from pulasta ﬁre causedśca Vai byśamp lightning.āyana Probably eva ca / with Sumantur a similar Jaimini purpose,ś caiva a third pañcaite verse adds vajra-v the listārak of “theāḥ //. eight praised Nagas¯ Other Ananta, images Vasuki,¯ from Padma, the Mah sameapadma,¯ artist Tak contains.aka, Kul a longer¯ıra, Karka text,t.a andstartingSankha”´ with (ananto the same vasuki¯ verseh. padmo and mah explainingapadma´s¯ cathat taks .whoeverakah. / kul ¯ırahsays. karkat aloud.ah .the´sankha´sc˙ namesas¯ . t.ofau these nag¯ ah¯ . sagesprark¯ırtit is ahsafe¯ . ). Somefrom of fire these caused names by have lightning. occurred inProbably this article. with a 68 https://www.uni-marburg.de/relsamm/welcome?set_language=en. similar purpose, a third verse adds the list of “the eight praised Nāgas Ananta, Vāsuki, Padma, Mahāpadma, Takṣaka, Kulīra, Karkaṭa and Śankha” (ananto vāsukiḥ padmo mahāpadmaś ca takṣakaḥ / kulīraḥ karkaṭaḥ śaṅkhaś cāṣṭau nāgāḥ prarkīrtitāḥ). Some of these names have occurred in this article. 68 https://www.uni-marburg.de/relsamm/welcome?set_language=en.
Religions 2019, 10, 454 25 of 26
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