The Nagas are a race of serpent beings. Most often they manifest themselves
with half-man, half-serpent bodies, although sometimes they assume the shape
of a dragon, or appear in the guise of a cobra. They can take many different
forms including snakes, humans with snake tails and normal humans, often
beautiful maidens. A precious gem is embedded in their heads endowing them
with supernatural powers including invisibility. Some are demoniac, some
neutral or sometimes helpful.
Nagas are divided into four classes: heavenly, divine, earthly or hidden,
depending upon their function in guarding the heavenly palace, bringing
rainfall, draining rivers or guarding treasures.
In Burma, the Nagas combine elements of the dragon, snake and crocodile. They
have guarded and protected several royal Burmese personages. They also give
rubies to those they favor.
They inhabit lakes and rivers, but their real domain is a vast underground
region called Bila-svarga, or subterranean heavens. There they guard great
amounts of jewels and precious metals. Here they dwell with their seductive
mates, the Naginis who sometimes seduce humans.
One such account is to be found for example in the Mahabharata. Arjuna, the
son of King Pandu, was "abducted" by Ulupi, the Naga princess who enamored
him, into the parallel realm in the river Ganges near Hardwar. After spending
a night with her and begetting a son called Iravan, he returned back. This
incident is also mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana 9.22.32. R. Thompson in his
book "Alien Identities" uses this account to give an example of parallel
The Mahabharata story follows:
"When his residence was thus crowded with divinity, the darling son of Pandu
and Kunti then went down into the Ganges water, to be consecrated for holy
rite. Taking his ritual bath and worshiping his forefathers, Arjuna, happy to
take his part in the rite of fire, was rising out of the water, O king, when
he was pulled back in by Ulupi, the virgin daughter of the serpent king, who
could travel about at her will and was now within those waters. Holding onto
him, she pulled him down into the land of the Nagas, into her father's house.
"Arjuna then saw in the most honorable house of the Naga king, whose name was
Kauravya, a carefully attended fire. Dhananjaya Arjuna, son of Kunti, took
over the duty of the fire, and without hesitation he made the offering and
satisfied the sacred flames. Having done the duty to the fire, the son of
Kunti then said laughingly to the daughter of the Naga king, "Why have you
acted so boldly, O shy and beautiful woman? What is the name of this opulent
land? Who are you and whose daughter are you?"
"Ulupi said: "There is a serpent named Kauravya, born in the family of
Airavata. I am his daughter, O Partha, and my name is Ulupi, lady of the
snakes. I saw you, Kaunteya, when you went down into the waters to take your
ritual bath, and I was stunned by Cupid. O Kuru child, now that the god of
love has stirred me up so, you must welcome me, for I have no one else, and I
have given myself to you in a secluded place."
"Arjuna said: "Dharmaraja Yudhisthira has instructed me to practice celibacy
for twelve months, and I agreed; thus I am not my own master. I would like to
please you, but I have never spoken an untruth. How can I avoid a lie and also
please you, snake woman? If it could be done without hurting my religious
principles, then I would do it."
"Ulupi said: "I understand, son of Pandu, how you are wandering the earth, and
how your elder brother has instructed you to practice celibacy: "There will be
a mutual accord that if any one of us mistakenly intrudes upon the others
during their time with Drupada's daughter, then he must remain in the forest
for twelve months as a celibate brahmacari." That was the agreement you all
made. But this exile you agreed upon is in regards to Draupadi. You all
accepted the religious vow to be celibate in relation to her, and so your
religious vow is not violated here with me.
"Your eyes are very big and handsome, and it is your duty to rescue those who
are in pain. Save me now, and there will be no breach of your religious
principles. And even if there is some very subtle transgression of your
religious principles, then let this be religious rule, Arjuna, that you gave
me back my life. My lord, accept me as I have accepted you, for it will be an
act approved by decent people; And if you will not accept me, then know that I
am a dead woman. O strong-armed one, practice the greatest virtue, which is
the act of giving life. I come to you now for shelter, for you are an ideal
"Kaunteya, you always take care of the poor and helpless people, and I have
gone straight to you for shelter and am crying out in pain. I beg you, for my
desire is so strong. Therefore you must please me by giving yourself; it is
proper for you to make me a satisfied woman.
"Sri Vaisampayana said: "Thus addressed by the virgin daughter of the serpent
lord, the son of Kunti, basing his actions on the religious law, did for her
all that she desired. The fiery hero Arjuna spent the night in the palace of
the Naga king, and when the sun rose he too rose up from Kauravya's abode."
Similar story is recorded in the Harivansha, which is the addendum to the
Mahabharata. Yadu, the founder of the Yadava family, went for a trip to the
sea, where he was carried off by Dhumavarna, king of the serpents, to the
capital of the serpents. Dhumavarna married his five daughters to Yadu, and
from them sprang seven distinct families of people.
Kumudvati, the Naga princess, married Kusha, the son of Rama, as described in
the scripture Raghuvansha.
The following account touches upon the issue of underground hominoid-sauroid
The Vishnu Purana speaks about the Gandharvas, descendants of sage Kashyapa
and his wife Muni. Therefore they are also called Mauneyas. (According to
Hindu Dictionary by Manurishi Foundation, the Mauneyas are a class of
Gandharvas, who dwell beneath the earth, and are sixty millions in number.)
They were fighting with the Nagas in the subterranean regions, whose dominions
they seized and whose treasures they plundered. The Naga chiefs appealed to
Vishnu for relief, and He promised to appear in the person of Purukutsa, son
of King Mandhata, to help them. Thereupon the Nagas sent their sister Narmada
to this Purukutsa, and she conducted him to the regions below, where he
destroyed the Gandharvas. (According to the Ramayana similar Gandharvas were
defeated by Bharata, the brother of Rama, and Hanuman.) The ninth khanda of
the Bhagavata Purana also briefly mentions this story.
The Bhagavata Purana narration is based on the incident which happened to King
Pariksit. He was cursed by a young brahmana to die within seven days as a
result of a snakebite. The boy thought the king had offended his father, who
did not welcome the king in his ashrama being absorbed in deep meditation.
Thus the king left after putting a dead snake on sage's shoulder. The king
decided to accept the curse as a will of providence and sat down at the bank
of Ganges to prepare for his death. At that time the great young sage Shuka,
the son of Vyasa, arrived there and the king asked him to explain the most
important knowledge meant for a person about to die. Thus the sage started to
narrate the great Purana. As a result the king attained self-realization.
His son Janamejaya, however, became angry at the serpents and to revenge his
father's death he started a great sacrifice meant to destroy all the serpents
but later he stopped it to please the sage Astika, their relative. (Astika's
father was the sage Jaratkaru who married Manasa, the sister of the Naga king
Vasuki.) The whole story is narrated in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva.
The origin of the Naga race is described in the Mahabharata, Adi Parva:
"Long ago, in the godly millennium, Prajapati Daksha had two brilliant and
sinless daughters, amazing sisters who were gifted with great beauty. Named
Kadru and Vinata, they both became wives of the primordial sage Kashyapa, a
husband who was equal in glory to the Prajapati. Being pleased with his
religious wive, Kashyapa, with much happiness, offered them both a boon.
Hearing of Kashyapa's joyful intention to let them choose an extraordinary
boon, the two excellent women felt an incomparable joy.
"Kadru chose to create one thousand serpent sons, all of equal strength, and
Vinata hankered to have two sons who would exceed all of Kadru's sons in
stamina, strength, valor, and spiritual influence. Her husband awarded her
only one and a half of these desired sons, knowing that she could not have
more. Vinata then said to Kashyapa, "Let me have at least one superior son."
"Vinata felt that her purpose was satisfied and that somehow both sons would
be of superior strength. Kadru too felt her purpose fulfilled, since she would
have one thousand sons of equal prowess. Both wives were delighted with their
boons. Then Kashyapa, that mighty ascetic, urging them to carry their embryos
with utmost care, retired to the forest.
"After a long time Kadru produced one thousand eggs, O leader of brahmanas,
and Vinata produced two eggs. Their delighted assistants placed the two
sisters' eggs in moist vessels, where they remained for five hundred years.
When the years had passed, the sons of Kadru hatched from their eggs, but from
Vinata's two eggs her two sons were not to be seen. That austere and godly
woman, anxious to have children, was ashamed. Thus Vinata broke open one egg
and saw therein her son. Authorities say that the upper half of the child's
body was fully developed, but the lower half was not yet well formed."
This son was Aruna, the charioteer of Surya, the sun god. His brother was the
powerful Garuda, divine eagle, who became the carrier of Vishnu. Garuda is an
avowed enemy of serpents who are his food. Krishna mentions him among the most
prominent representatives of His power: "Among the Daitya demons I am the
devoted Prahlada, among subduers I am time, among beasts I am the lion, and
among birds I am Garuda." (Bhagavad-gita 10.30)
Nilamata Purana, the ancient history of Kashmir, is centered around the
original inhabitants of Kashmir, the Nagas. In the verses 232-233 it mentions
their capital: "O Naga, the dwelling of the Nagas is the city named Bhogavati.
Having become a Yogi that Naga-chief (Vasuki) dwells there as well as here.
But with his primary body, Vasuki, protecting the Nagas, shall live in
Bhogavati. O sinless one, you (also) dwell here constantly." Bhogavati is also
mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana 1.11.11. Its another name is Putkari.
Bhagavata Purana gives the following description of Bila-svarga, the
subterranean regions compared for their opulence to heaven (5.24.7-15):
"My dear King, beneath this earth are seven other planets, known as Atala,
Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala. I have already
explained the situation of the planetary systems of earth. The width and
length of the seven lower planetary systems are calculated to be exactly the
same as those of earth.
"In these seven planetary systems, which are also known as the subterranean
heavens [bila-svarga], there are very beautiful houses, gardens and places of
sense enjoyment, which are even more opulent than those in the higher planets
because the demons have a very high standard of sensual pleasure, wealth and
influence. Most of the residents of these planets, who are known as Daityas,
Danavas and Nagas, live as householders. Their wives, children, friends and
society are all fully engaged in illusory, material happiness. The sense
enjoyment of the demigods is sometimes disturbed, but the residents of these
planets enjoy life without disturbances. Thus they are understood to be very
attached to illusory happiness.
"My dear King, in the imitation heavens known as bila-svarga there is a great
demon named Maya Danava, who is an expert artist and architect. He has
constructed many brilliantly decorated cities. There are many wonderful
houses, walls, gates, assembly houses, temples, yards and temple compounds, as
well as many hotels serving as residential quarters for foreigners. The houses
for the leaders of these planets are constructed with the most valuable
jewels, and they are always crowded with living entities known as Nagas and
Asuras, as well as many pigeons, parrots and similar birds. All in all, these
imitation heavenly cities are most beautifully situated and attractively
"The parks and gardens in the artificial heavens surpass in beauty those of
the upper heavenly planets. The trees in those gardens, embraced by creepers,
bend with a heavy burden of twigs with fruits and flowers, and therefore they
appear extraordinarily beautiful. That beauty could attract anyone and make
his mind fully blossom in the pleasure of sense gratification. There are many
lakes and reservoirs with clear, transparent water, agitated by jumping fish
and decorated with many flowers such as lilies, kuvalayas, kahlaras and blue
and red lotuses. Pairs of cakravakas and many other water birds nest in the
lakes and always enjoy in a happy mood, making sweet, pleasing vibrations that
are very satisfying and conducive to enjoyment of the senses.
"Since there is no sunshine in those subterranean planets, time is not divided
into days and nights, and consequently fear produced by time does not exist.
"Many great serpents reside there with gems on their hoods, and the effulgence
of these gems dissipates the darkness in all directions.
"Since the residents of these planets drink and bathe in juices and elixirs
made from wonderful herbs, they are freed from all anxieties and physical
diseases. They have no experience of grey hair, wrinkles or invalidity, their
bodily lusters do not fade, their perspiration does not cause a bad smell, and
they are not troubled by fatigue or by lack of energy or enthusiasm due to old
"They live very auspiciously and do not fear death from anything but death's
established time, which is the effulgence of the Sudarshana chakra of the
Supreme Personality of Godhead.
"When the Sudarshana disc enters those provinces, the pregnant wives of the
demons all have miscarriages due to fear of its effulgence."
"The planetary system below Talatala is known as Mahatala. It is the abode of
many-hooded snakes, descendants of Kadru, who are always very angry. The great
snakes who are prominent are Kuhaka, Taksaka, Kaliya and Susena. The snakes in
Mahatala are always disturbed by fear of Garuda, the carrier of Lord Vishnu,
but although they are full of anxiety, some of them nevertheless sport with
their wives, children, friends and relatives.
"Beneath Mahatala is the planetary system known as Rasatala, which is the
abode of the demoniac sons of Diti and Danu. They are called Panis,
Nivata-kavacas, Kaleyas and Hiranya-puravasis [those living in Hiranya-pura].
They are all enemies of the demigods, and they reside in holes like snakes.
From birth they are extremely powerful and cruel, and although they are proud
of their strength, they are always defeated by the Sudarshana chakra of the
Supreme Personality of Godhead, who rules all the planetary systems. When a
female messenger from Indra named Sarama chants a particular curse, the
serpentine demons of Mahatala become very afraid of Indra.
"Beneath Rasatala is another planetary system, known as Patala or Nagaloka,
where there are many demoniac serpents, the masters of Nagaloka, such as
Shankha, Kulika, Mahashankha, Shveta, Dhananjaya, Dhrtarashtra, Shankhacuda,
Kambala, Ashvatara and Devadatta. The chief among them is Vasuki. They are all
extremely angry, and they have many, many hoods - some snakes five hoods, some
seven, some ten, others a hundred and others a thousand. These hoods are
bedecked with valuable gems, and the light emanating from the gems illuminates
the entire planetary system of bila-svarga."
Maricha and Other Shapeshifters
Balls of Light