Monday, December 8, 2014

Who are Nagas ( serpents ) ?

Image result for mannarasala

Naga ( serpent ) worship is part and parcel of Hindu religion. Lord Vishnu has Anantha as his bed and Lord Shiva has serpents as his ornaments. Nagas are themselves worshiped across the continent. Temples have been built for them and they are upadevatas in many important temples.

Who are Nagas ?

Sage Kashyapa is the forefather of devas, asuras, dananvas, Nagas and humans. Nagas are all children of Kashyap born from his wife Kadru. Originally they were thousand in number but down generations have multiplied into  millions and millions. 

The important nagas are :

शेषः प्रथमतो जातो वासुकिस्तदनन्तरम् ।
ऐरावतस्तक्षकश्च कर्कोटकधनञ्जयौ ॥
कालियो मणिनागश्च नागश्चापूरणस्तथा ।
नागस्तथा पिञ्जरक एलापत्रोऽथ वामनः ॥
नीलानीलौ तथा नागौ कल्माषशबलौ तथा ।
अर्यकाश्चादिकश्चैव नागश्च शलपोतकः ॥
सुमनोमुखो दधिमुखस्तथा विमलपिण्डकः ।
आप्तः कोटनकश्चैव शङ्खो वालशिखस्तथा ॥
निष्ठ्यूनको हेमगुहो नहुषो पिङ्गलस्तथा ।
बाह्यकर्णो हस्तिपदस्था मुद्गरपिण्डकः ॥
कम्बलाश्वतरौ चापि नागः कालीयकस्तथा ।
वृत्तसंवर्तकौ नागौ द्वौ च पद्माविति श्रुतौ ॥
नागः शङ्खनकश्चैव​ तथा च स्फण्डकोऽपरः ।
क्षेमकश्च महानागो नागः पिण्डारकस्तथा ॥
करवीरः पुष्पदंष्ट्र एळको बिल्वपाण्डुकः ।
मूषकादः शङ्खशिराः पूर्णदंष्ट्रो हरिद्रकः ॥
अपराजितो ज्योतिकश्च पन्नगः श्रीवहस्तथा ।
कौरव्यो धृतराष्ट्रश्च पुष्करः शल्यकस्तथा ॥
विरजाश्च सुबाहुश्च शालिपिण्डश्च वीर्यवान् ।
हस्तिभद्रः पिठरको मुखरः कोणवासनः ॥
कुञ्जरः कुररश्चैव तथा नागः प्रभाकरः ।
कुमुदः कुमुदाक्षश्च तित्तिरिर्हलिकस्तथा ॥
कर्कराकर्करौ चोभौ कुण्डोदरमहोदरौ ॥

Shesha, Vasuki, Airavata, Takshaka, Karkotaka, Dhananjaya, Kaliya, Maninaga, Apurana, Pinjaraka, Elapatra, Vamana, Nila, Anila, Kalmasha, Shabala, Aryaka, Adika, Shalapotaka, Sumanomukha, Dadhimukha, Vimalapindaka, Apta, Kotanaka, Shankha, Valashikha, Nishtyunka, Hemaguha, Nahusha, Pingala, Bahyakarna, Hastipada, Mudgarapindaka, Kambala, Ashwatara, Kaleeyaka, Vritta, Samvarthaka, Padma, Mahapadma, Shankhanaka, Sphandaka, Kshemaka, Pindaraka, Karaveera, Pushpadamshtra, Elaka, Bilvapanduka, Mushakada, Shankhashira, Purnadamshtra, Haridraka, Aparajita, Pannaga, Jyotika, Srivaha, Kauravya, Dhritarashtra, Pushpaka, Shalyaka, Viraja, Subahu, Shalipinda, Veeryavan, Hastibhadra, Pithakara, Mukhara, Konavasana, Kunjara, Kurara, Prabhakara, Kumuda, Kumudaksha, Tittiri, Halika, Karkaraa,Karkara, Kundodara and Mahodara.

There had always been rivalry between the co wives Kadru and Vinata. While Kadru wished for a thousand children of great power and strength, Vinata prayed for two sons who would outshine Kadru's thousand sons. Once they spotted in the sky Uchhaisravas the divine horse which came out when the milky ocean was being churned. An argument broke out between them. Vinata said the horse was white in color while Kadru disagreed. They reached an agreement that whoever loses would become the slave of the other. Kadru knew that the horse was actually white. She told her serpent sons to go and attach themselves to the tail of the horse like hair so that the tail looked black. There were many honest and noble minded among the serpents who did not want to do this. Kadru cursed them that they would all perish in fire. When devas brought this curse to the notice of Brahma he said that it was not totally inappropriate as the serpents had grown cruel, evil minded and short tempered harming all other living beings. He said that however the serpent clan will not be exterminated as steps have already been planned to prevent it.

Due to the fear of the curse of their mother, the serpents went ahead and turned the tail of the horse black by attaching themselves to it. When the time for inspection came,Vinata was established incorrect and she was doomed to servitude. Later on her son Garuda won back her freedom. In the process Indra granted Garuda a boon that the serpents would become his food.

King Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu while hunting in the forest saw a rishi sitting in deep meditation and asked him for directions. The rishi did not answer and an annoyed king put a dead snake around the rishi's neck. The rishi's son cursed that the king would die of snakebite within seven days. The serpent Takshaka took up the task of killing Parikshit. Despite the best of security arrangements Takshaka managed to kill Parikshit, however he also dissuaded Kashyapa another sage from trying to resurrect Parikshit by paying him off. When Pariskhit's son Janamejaya came to know about this  he vowed to destroy the entire serpent clan. He organized a sarpa yajna in which very powerful mantras were recited to drag the serpents into agni. Kadru's curse worked. Serpents got killed in thousands. When Indra offered shelter to Takshaka, Janamejaya ordered that Indra also may be dragged along with Takshaka.

In the mean time, relief from the curse had also been set off. Vasuki the king of nagas offered the hand of his sister in marriage to Jaratkaru a very powerful tapasa. Astika was born of this couple who would come to the rescue of his mother's clan. He walked into the yajna sala and being a great scholar was honored. Janamejaya requested him to ask for anything he wanted. Astika demanded stoppage of the yajna and Janamejaya had to oblige.,

Some of the  important nagas are - Anantha, Vasuki, Karkotaka, Takshaka and Kaliya.

Ananta - Disappointed with his mother's evil acts he separated himself from the family and performed severe penances. Pleased with his austerities Brahma assigned him the task of carrying the worlds on his thousand hooded head. He is an upholder of dharma. At the time of pralaya a form Rudrgni called Sankarshana murthy would come out of his face thus destroying the three worlds.

Vasuki - He is the king of serpents. It was using Vasuki as a rope that the milky ocean was churned. He was so long that when the mighty Garuda tried to carry him even after folding him into two and rising up high in the sky, his body was still touching the ground.

Karkotaka - He once cheated Narada and was immobilized by a curse. He would have to remain in the forest without any movement until King Nala came and rescued him. King Nala was roaming around in the forest with Damayanti after he was defeated in the game of dice by his brother Pushkara and lost everything to him. He left Damayanti thinking that he was only trouble to her and she could go back to the comforts of her father's palace.A great fire broke out and Karkotaka was trapped in it. He started crying for help. Nala rescued him. Karkotaka asked Nala to take a few steps counting. When Nala took the tenth step saying ' dasha ' Karkotaka bit him. Karkotaka had taken a vow that he would bite someone only if he asks for it. In sanskrit ' dasha ' means ten as well as ' bite'. Nala's body turned blue due to the poison. Karkotaka told him that there was no need to worry as the poison would not harm him. It would affect only Kali the the sin God of kaliyuga who had entered Nala and made him to play the game of dice as a revenge for Damayanti marrying Nala ignoring devas present during the swayamvara . This disguise would help Nala to regain all his lost riches. Karkotaka also gave divine garments wearing which Nala could get back his original form.

The story of Kaliya who wreaked havoc in Yamuna and his defeat in the hands of Sri Krishna is very popular.

Patala the nether world is the chief abode of nagas. Veda identifies Sarpas as living on earth, in the atmosphere and also heaven. They are also present in the sun rays and water. They live in plants and trees.

Killing of serpents, damaging their eggs, destruction or soiling of their dwelling places are known to cause naga dosha leading to infertility, skin diseases and various other kinds of problems. Remedies such as sarpa samskara or sarpa pratishta are performed for their mitigation.

Sarpa bali or Ashlesha bali is an elaborate puja performed to propitiate Naga devatas.

Vighnesh Ghanpadi getting ready to perform sarpa bali