Creature Compendium

Creature Compendium: The Naga

The creature compendium is back and we’re off to Asia again. I’ve seen images of the naga plenty of times, but never knew what they represented until now.

The Naga

Naga Female by Carolina-Eade

The naga is the name for a group of serpentine creatures associated with bodies of water and the king cobra. The naga is sometimes treated as a minor-deity, and representations of the naga can be found guarding temples throughout Asia. The naga may change between human and serpent form at will. Its legends have roots in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

In Hindu mythology, the naga are creatures that guard rivers and springs, and can influence the weather. Therefore, the naga are also associated with fertility (rain),  floods, and droughts. They are said to guard treasures, and are the also the enemy of the Garuda. They are protectors of the environment, and will punish those that abuse it.

In Buddhist mythology, the naga is also said to guard bodies of water, and is sometimes equated with the Chinese dragon. In one story, a naga protected the Lord Buddah from a storm. Wise nagas also consulted with the Lord Buddah about how to be reborn as humans, and follow the path to enlightenment.

Traditional representations of the naga vary from country to country:

Nagas
Nagas by Mindy McAdams CC (Cambodia – A hooded serpent with 7 or 9 heads, always an uneven number)
Naga
Naga by Andrea Kirkby CC (India – A coiled woman bearing a lotus flower)
Naga Ho!
Naga Ho! by Kandyjaxx CC (Thailand – colorful naga lining the steps to a temple)

Further Reading:

Region of origin: Asia

Obviously, this was a very pared down summary. I am sure there are legends local to each country and region. The first painting is also obviously a modern, stylized interpretation of the naga. I’m actually a fan  of the Indian version. I’m not sure walking around in the dark and stumbling across a giant seven headed cobra statue would be very reassuring, guardian or not.

4 Comments

  1. This is another one of those creatures that I’m primarily familiar with because D&D pilfered them from other mythologies. In D&D, of course, they’re typically evil, but it sounds like the real story is more complex than that.

    Now you have to do Garuda, and then link to it in this post (and back again). I had to look Garuda up myself. 😛

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Not really evil at all, but a guardian spirit. Snakes/dragons were associated with wisdom in Asia, unlike elsewhere. I guess the Garuda will have to be my next creature!

  2. I almost wrote a more old school version of Naga into my world. I’m still considering swapping them for centaurs. Such a neat idea, especially among pseudo-hybrids.

    If you’re doing a Garuda post, have you checked out China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station?

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