Snakes or Nagas have their distinct place and play a vital role in the Hindu and other religions of the world.
Snakes are revered in temples and their natural habitat. Devotees offer milk and incense to snakes on Naag Panchami, a festival dedicated to snakes.
Puranas have numerous stories where snakes play a central character which depicts a healthy relationship between nature, divine and human beings.
The snake represents timelessness and dormant sexual energy or Kundalini in the coiled snake form in the Muladhara Chakra in the human body. Through specific practices, the Kundalini ascends until it reaches the highest chakra, the Sahasrara, which is considered the state of enlightenment and the highest bliss. Snakes are also considered the symbol of strength and renewal. The shedding of the skin of snakes is associated with life, death, and immortality.
Lord Vishnu who also manifests himself in the form of the snake, is often depicted as sleeping on the coils of the Shesha Naag. Shiva, the Adi Yogi, has King Cobra as his sacred thread and two snakes Padma and Pingla as his earrings. Many other Gods also adorn themselves with snakes.
As per Puranas, Sage Kashyapa had thirteen wives. Both his wives Kadru and Sursa gave birth to one thousand snakes each. Krodhavasha, his another wife also had fourteen thousand children known as nagas (snakes). Once Lord Brahma got angry, and few hairs from his beard fell on earth which took the form of the snakes. Similarly, there are various other stories regarding the origin of snakes on the planet.
Vasuki, the king of Snakes, along with other snakes, danavs and daityas (demons) reside in the underworld. The Sheshnaag (snake with the thousand hoods) sleeps in the underworld.
A female snake is called Nagi or Nagin. Worshipping Goddesses in the form of a snake is common across many cultures and religions.
Walutahanga, a Melanesian Goddess was hidden by her mother as she was born with eight heads. Her father cut the girl into eight pieces and threw her bones into the ocean when he saw her. The legend says that she torments human beings with the enormous waves as revenge for her murder. She rewards her devotees with coconut and clear water streams.
In ancient Italy, Vanths was considered the serpent Goddess of the underworld who accompanies people to their graves showing them their path with the help of snakes.
Qadesh is an Egyptian Goddess who is depicted as naked wearing cow horns, standing on a lion and holding Lotus (representing female genitalia) in one hand and snakes in her other hand. Snakes represent male genitalia.
Nisaba is one of the most learned serpent Goddess from Sumeria who represents literacy, astrology, temple art, and architecture. Ninhursag is another Sumerian serpent Goddess of birth and rebirth. She lives with her consort, the god of Wisdom. Fed up with the repeated incestuous behavior of her husband with their daughter and granddaughter, she curses him with death and disease. Later, she forgives him.
Kunapipi is a mother goddess from Australian aboriginal mythology who was eternally pregnant and gave birth to human beings, animals, and plants. She could transform herself into a snake and devour men.
Kadi was a Babylonian Goddess of justice who had the body of a snake.
Nu Ka is a Chinese creator Goddess who made the first human beings. She has the body of a serpent and face of the human being. She made human beings with yellow clay, but soon find the work too dull and challenging. The finished ones became noblemen and the rest became poor peasants.
Coatlicue is a serpent goddess from Mexico who mothered sun, stars and the moon who wears a skirt of snakes and a necklace made of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Within her, both womb and grave exist as she devours everyone. She remains pregnant and still is a virgin.
Pidari is a Tantrik Goddess who is regarded as a consort of Shiva or manifestation of Kali. She is offered blood and alcohol in Aghori rituals. She has flaming hair; three eyes holds a noose and drums to scare away the evil.
Janguli is a Buddhist and Tantrik Goddess who has the hood of seven white snakes who could remove venom.
Goddess Manasa is an Indian Goddess who is associated with snakes. She is the daughter of Sage Kashyap and Kadru. Vasuki is her brother. She is worshipped for snake bites and fertility and childbirth. She is also considered a form of Shakti.
As snakes represent the umbilical cord that ties all of us to the land and nature, the serpent Goddesses symbolize both the conception of the universe and the fragility of existence. They represent both calmnesses -good and chaos – evil in life.
Header Image: Goddess Mansa
Header Image Credit: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_detail