The Nâgas - The Mythical Dragons/snakes From The Underground World

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The Nâgas - The Mythical Dragons/snakes From The Underground World

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The Nâgas are mythical beings, half men and half snakes, who, according to Hindu legend, are the sons of Kadrou, one of the women of Kaçyapa: they are supposed to inhabit the underground world or Pâtâla, also called by their name Nâga-loka or world of snakes.

There are a thousand of them; one of them, the Nâga Çecha, serves as a layer for Vishnu and shelters him under the canopy of his multiple heads: when he unrolls his rings, it is the cause of earthquakes: another, Vàsouki, was the rope that allowed the gods and the Asouras to churn the Ocean of milk. Garuda, the king of birds, is their natural enemy.

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Carved nâgas, in Louangphrabang, the former capital of Laos. 

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They also appear in Buddhist legend: in one of his past lives, the Buddha, under the name of Jimoûtavâhana, sacrificed himself to Garouda to save the life of a Nâga: the legend is told in several collections of tales and provided the subject of the Nâgânanda or Joy of Snakes, Sanskrit drama, attributed to King Harsha de Kanauj (7th century).

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During his last life, the Buddha often has to deal with them: the Nâga Moutchalinda shelters him against the storms raised by the devil; he tamed the Nâga of the Kâçyapas; he converted a large number of others, and at his death they were jealous to own a part of the master's relics.

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On ancient Buddhist monuments, the Nâgas are represented as cobra snakes, but with five heads: this is the form that art still attributes to them today.

Greek-Buddhist art gives the Nâgas and their females, the Nâgis, the human form, but always allows the wide-crested snake head, which symbolizes their species, to fall behind their neck.

Groups whose "Eagle Ganymede" had been made into "Ganymede à l'aigle" thus represent Garouda kidnapping Nâgas or Nâgis. Other times the Indo-Greek artists only show them to us at half-body level: the legs get lost in the water or behind the balustrade of a pool. These details specify their character as half-divinities, both aquatic and underground, as the popular imagination still represents them in Kashmir.

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They are the geniuses of the waters and also of the storms: they are the ones who inhabit the fountains, who carry away the harvests in a whirlwind of hail, who, when rivers or lakes pass by, capsize the boats to seize the cargoes that tempt them. They can take the human form, and sometimes their wives marry mortals; they are beautiful, but their snake heads appear at night while they sleep, etc. Moreover, the cult of the Nâgas, despised by the Brahmins, persists throughout India, among women and people of the lower castes: perhaps it is the survival of an ancient cult of snakes to which the current tribes of the Nâgas still owe the name they bear. (A. Foucher).


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