Kashyapa and Nagas

- March 31, 2021

By Shivam Pathania

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Nagas are one of the most prominent mythological beings mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. They are supernatural serpents in Hindu mythology and are depicted as either complete serpents, complete humans with multiple snake hoods emerging from their back, beings with half-snake and half-human body, and some having the ability to shapeshift between these forms. They are said to live in Patal Lok, an aquatic realm under the surface of the earth that is filled with treasures, unimaginable to humankind, and anthills are often considered as holy portals to this semi-divine underworld. Apart from that underworld, Nagas also dwell in other water bodies like lakes, rivers and oceans. These divine creatures with mystical powers are synonymous with nature spirits and are a symbol of rebirth, death, fertility, immortality, medicine, health and wealth. Due to this, snake worship has been a practice in India since ancient times. An iconic festival dedicated to snakes is Nag Panchmi. People all over the country offer their prayers to these nature spirits as a part of the celebrations.

According to Mahabharata, rishi Kashyap and Kadru, daughter of Daksh, are the parents of all nagas. Out of them, Shesha was the eldest, and then came Vasuki, Manasa, and many others. Kashyapa had another wife, who was also Kadru’s sister, Vinata. She gave birth to Vishnu’s vahana, Garuda, an eagle-human hybrid and he became the arch-nemesis of the nagas since eagles consume snakes. In the Ramayana, Indrajit used the Nagapasha astra on Rama and Lakshmana, which hurled venomous snakes over them. The two fell unconscious and Garuda came to their rescue. He got rid of the venomous snakes. There are various stories of enmity between Garuda and nagas in the scriptures, which depict the aggressive nature of the nagas. But on the contrary, there are also some nagas that are mentioned in the scriptures for their good deeds, in both Vaishnavism and Shaivism.

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Dasharatha, the prince of Ayodhya, was out hunting when he heard the sound of an elephant drinking water. Aiming his bow, the prince shot in the direction of the sound. Tragically, the arrow killed a youth who was filling water in a pitcher for his old and blind parents. The anguished father cursed Dasharatha that one day he would die grieving for his son. Dasharatha's son was the valiant and unparalleled, Rama.

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