Naga, ( Sanskrit: “serpent”) in Hinduism and Buddhism, a member of a class of semidivine beings, half human and half serpentine. They are considered to be a strong, handsome race who can assume either human or wholly serpentine form. They are regarded as being potentially dangerous but in some ways are superior to humans.
Their particular object in serpent-veneration is the deadly cobra, called naga; and every one of these hooded reptiles was regarded as the living incarnation or representative of a great and fearful company of mythological nagas.
These were demi-gods in various serpentine forms, uncertain of temper and fearful in possibilities of harm, whose ‘kings’ lived in luxury in magnificent palaces in the depths of the sea or at the bottom of inland lakes.
The Mahabharata relates that the Naga possess the traits of both snakes and humans. In Hinduism, Naga are portrayed in similar fashion to the Chinese family of dragons, being natural spirits associated with water sources, but can also be European-style guardians of immense treasure.
Naga are also found in Buddhist tradition – as multi-headed serpents that can transform themselves into human shape. Like the Naga of Hindu legend, the Buddhist version prefers watery dwellings. They particularly like to eat frogs and drink milk.
Arjuna had killed Karna’s son, Vrishasena, in order to make Karna experience the pain that he himself had borne when Abhimanyu was brutally executed. But Karna refused to grieve his son’s death and continued to fight Arjuna in order to keep his word and fulfill Duryodhana’s destiny.
Finally when Karna and Arjuna came face to face, a serpent called Naga Ashwasena secretly entered Karna’s quiver. This serpent was the one whose mother was relentlessly burnt when Arjuna had set Khandava-prastha ablaze. Ashwasena, being in his mother’s womb at that time, was able to save himself from getting charred. Destined to avenge his mother’s death by killing Arjuna, he transformed himself into an arrow and waited his turn. Karna unknowingly released Naga Ashwasena at Arjuna. Realizing that this was no ordinary arrow, Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer, in his bid to save Arjuna’s life, sunk the wheel of his chariot in the ground by pressing his feet against its floor. This made the Naga, who was speedily advancing like a thunderbolt, miss his target and hit Arjuna’s crown instead, causing it to fall on the ground. Disheartened, Naga Ashwasena returned to Karna and asked him to fire him towards Arjuna once again, this time making a promise that he would definitely not miss his target. After hearing Ashwasena’s words, this is what the mighty AngaRaj said to him:
“It is beneath my stature as a warrior to shoot the same arrow twice. Find some other way to avenge your family’s death.”
They live in an underground kingdom called Naga-loka, or Patala-loka, which is filled with resplendent palaces, beautifully ornamented with precious gems.
>The creator deity Brahma is said to have relegated the nagas to the nether regions when they became too populous on earth and to have commanded them to bite only the truly evil or those destined to die prematurely. They are also associated with waters—rivers, lakes, seas, and wells—and are generally regarded as guardians of treasure.
Three notable nagas are Shesha (or Ananta), who in the Hindu myth of creation is said to support Narayana (Vishnu) as he lies on the cosmic ocean and on whom the created world rests; Vasuki, who was used as a churning rope to churn the cosmic ocean of milk; and Takshaka, the tribal chief of the snakes.
The female nagas (or nagis), according to tradition, are serpent princesses of striking beauty, and the dynasties of Manipur in northeastern India, the Pallavas in southern India, and the ruling family of Funan (ancient Indochina) each claimed an origin in the union of a human being and a nagi.
In Buddhism, nagas are often represented as door guardians or, as in Tibet, as minor deities. The snake king Muchalinda, who sheltered the Buddha from rain for seven days while he was deep in meditation, is depicted in the 9th–13th century Mon-Khmer Buddhas (a language family containing Mon, Khmer, and a number of other languages of southeast Asia. These areas now include Thailand and Cambodia). In Jainism, the Tirthankara (saviour) Parshvanatha is always shown with a canopy of snake hoods above his head.
Alexander the Great
After Alexander the Great invaded India it is said that he brought back reports of great hissing monsters in caves. Onesecritus reports that there were two dragons in India and that Alexander earnestly endeavoured to see them. He was said to have lighted upon a dragon in a cave which the Indians worshipped with great reverence as they considered it to be sacred and begged him to leave it alone which he agreed to do. However when the dragon heard the noise made by the passing army it alarmed them all with a great hissing and blowing. It was said to be 70 cubits or over a 100 feet long. It only exposed its head from the cave and its eyes were said to be the size of a Macedonian shield.