Naga-s have always been an integral part of Dharmic traditions. It is believed that they once inhabited the earth along with various other beings, and they carried tremendous amount of spiritual and occult power within them when positively inclined, and caused destruction of whole lineages when negatively inclined. While remnants of Naga worship can be found all across India, Tibet and parts of Asia, it is the negative aspects of Naga-s which have been encoded in jyotisha texts resulting in horoscopic afflictions like sarpa dosa or curse of Naga-s, and so upaya-s designed to counteract such occult maleficience.
Naga-s are highly revered in Buddhism too. Infact after Buddha attained awakening, he was supposed to have been meditating when it started raining with a vengence for 7 days non-stop, and during that time Muchalinda, who is the king of Naga-s in Buddhism, spread his seven hoods on top of the Buddha and protected him from the fury of the elements. Two of the chief disciples of the Buddha, Sariputta and Moggallāna are both referred to as Mahānāga or “Great Nāga”. Some of the most important figures in Buddhist history symbolize nagas in their names such as Dignāga, Nāgāsēna, and, although other etymons are assigned to his name, Nāgārjuna.
In Hindu tradition Patañjali who was the compiler of the Yoga sūtras, was considered to be an incarnation of a Naga. In Adwaitic lore Gauḍapādācārya, guru of Sri Adi Shankaracharya, is also considered as an incarnation of a Naga. Infact most of major Hindu deities all are accompanied by Naga-s: Visnu sleeps on Sesha Naga, Shiva tames Vasuki around his neck, Devi wears a Yagyopavita of Naga-s. While today many explain Naga worship in secularized terms as some kind of Nature worship, the original idea was far more complex than some ancient environmentalism. Infact there is a belief that when a special spiritual soul who is destined to cause great change in the ways of the world attains to the peak stages of liberation, Naga-s, pay them a visit or even act as their protector or guide, and in some cases reveal secret knowledge that ordinary mortals are not privy to.
Photo: An 18th century Naga sculptures from Kerala.