Nagas are a race of semidivine serpent creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Female Nagas are called Nagis or Naginis. Usually depicted as human above the waist and snake below the waist, Nagas can also change shape to appear fully human or snake. Nagas and Nagis are known for their strength, supernatural wisdom, and good looks. When Nagis take human form, they can marry mortal men, and some Indian dynasties claim descent from them.

According to legend, Nagas are children of Kadru, the granddaughter of the god Brahma*, and her husband, Kasyapa. Nagas lived on earth at first, but their numbers became so great that Brahma sent them to live under the sea. They reside in magnificent jeweled palaces and rule as kings at the bottom of rivers and lakes and in the underground realm called Patala.

Like humans, Nagas show wisdom and concern for others but also cowardice and injustice. Nagas are immortal and potentially dangerous. Some are demons; others seem friendly and are worshiped as gods. Nagas also serve as protectors and guardians of treasure—both material riches and spiritual wealth.

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

immortal able to live forever

prophet one who claims to have received divine messages or insights

One famous Naga named Muchalinda spreads his cobra hood to shelter the prophet Buddha while he meditates. When the god Vishnu* sleeps, he is protected by Shesha, king of the Nagas. Shesha's seven snake heads cover the god. As servants of the god Indra, Nagas oversee the distribution of rain. Sometimes they withhold the rain until forced to release it by the eagle god Garuda.

See also Brahma ; Buddhism and Mythology ; Hinduism and Mythology ; Indra ; Serpents and Snakes .

*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

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