The Expansion of Serpent worship and Naga Race in India

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Nagas, The Ancient Rulers of India, Their Origins and History

(The History of the Indigenous people of India Vol. 2), 2002

by Dr Naval Viyogi

Publisher - M/S Originals (an imprint of low priced publications), A-6, Nimri commercial Centre, Near Ashok Vihar, Phase-IV, Delhi-110052. ISBN 81-7536-287-1

Chapter 2: The Expansion of Serpent Worship and Naga Race in India

[p.19]: Places of serpent worship are probably spread all over India but their highest number is found in hilly area of north.1 But as a result of repeated invasion of foreigners, changes in sovereignties, on plains, their number have reduced to a great extent. However, on the occasion of Nagpanchami festival, serpent worship is practised all over India.2 Important places of serpent worship in different states of India are given below.



In Kashmir different3 temples, lakes and springs are attached to the names of different serpents. Serpent or Naga temples, which are generally outside, but not far away from the habitation area, are constructed in forests. Each of the temples has one priest and two chelas or disciples. In these temples, generally, there are statues of serpents or Naga-men, one is Nagraj and other his minister. Horns of those animals are also fastened to the door which, some times ago, were sacrificed.

Basuki Nag, who is regarded as the presiding deit of the village, has temples in the little town of Bhadarvaha and in two villages, Bheja-uprala (ie upper Bheja, the lower village being called Bheja Jaklā) and Nālti.4

More details of snake worship in Kashmir has already been given in chapter-Ion Pages 5 and 6.

There are several towns in Kashmir having,their name after some Naga, such as Veri Nag, Anant Nag, Shesh Nag etc.

Neela5, the lord paramount of the Nagas or serpents of Kashmir, was believed from early times, to dwell in the main source of the Vitasta (River). Hence this fine spring was known as Neela-Naga or Neela-kunda, "The deep blue colour of the water", as Sir A. Stein observes, "which collects in the spring-basin, may possibly account for the location of the Neel Naga in this particular fountain". It goes by the

[p.20] name of Ver Naga and is surrounded by a stone embankment and to its east are temples of stone. Neelanaga is still worshipped in Kashmir and fairs related to him are also held even today.6

In the district of Nāgām (Ancient Nāgrām) which is watered by the Dudhganga (Milkganga) a small stream which joins the Vitasta at Srinagar, there is a small lake, likewise, known by the name of Neelanaga.

Himachal Pradesh

Himachal Pradesh

Most probably Nagas moved from Kashmir valley and settled in different valleys of Himachal Pradesh. Still today these Nagas can be Seen in numerous temples and heard in legends throughout the modern province of Himachal Pradesh.

Basuki Naga is worshipped in the ex-hill state ot Chamba,7 which comprises the Ravi valley and a portion of the valley of the upper Chinab. It is said that the cult of Basuki was introduced from Bhadravah in the beginning of the nineteenth century because a disease ad spread among the cattle of the state. For some time, the Naga had a temple at the capital likewise, named Chamba, but unfortunately it was burnt down. Evidently the means of his devotees were insufficient to have it rebuilt; the Naga with his vazeir found refuge in a small shrine of the goddess Hirma or Hidimba, which belongs to the ancient temple of Champavati Devi, the family goddess of the king of Chamba. In the temple, the statue of Basuki Nag, the smaller one of the two, wears a royal crown surmounted by an eleven fold hood. In his right hand he holds a sword marked with a snake, and in his left hand a Damaru or hand-drum on each side of his feet is a cobra in an erect attitude. Basuki Naga also has a temple of Himgiri8.

There is also another Naga in Chamba state called Indru Naga. This is the same as Nahusha whose story is told in the Mahabharata. Indru Naga is worshiped at several paces : at Kuārsi on the road leading to Dharmasala, at Samra in Ranhun kothi, at Chinota and Trehta. There is also another temple of Indru Naga at Kanhiarā in Kangra. 9

Among the numerous other serpent deities found in Chamba we wish to mention only Mul Naga and Stūhr Naga. The shrine of Mul Naga is immediately above a very fine fountain at the village of Brehi.

The Stuhr or Satuhr Naga is worshipped at the village of Tur on the road to the Baleni pass by wich the Dhaolā Dhār is crossed10.

This is to be noted11 that Pujari and Chela attached to the Naga temples of Chamba commonly belong to the agricultural caste of the Rāthī, but in good many cases only the Pujari is a Rathi and the Chela is

[p.21]: a Hali. Naga temples are also found in the valley of the Chinab. At Kilār in Pāngi, there is a shrine Det Naga. It is said that he was originally located in Lahul and human sacrifices were offered to him. There is also a temple of Kalihar Naga (Kelang Naga) at (Dughi]], it is famous about this Naga that he also hailed from Lahul12. Similarly Eighteen Nagas or serpents are also worshipped in Kulu 13 valley.

In the local language of this area of Himalayas, 'Kir' or 'Kiri' means serpent, and the people of above area are called 'Kirata', a word used for the people of internal part of Kashmir. in Rajtarangini. Hence Kirat is another form of kirl4. Varahamir also has cited this word Kir. Similarly, in the copper plate, published by Prof Kilborn, this word also occurs.15

There is mention of the word Kirgrama the inscription of Baijnath temple of Kangra valley. This shows that Kirgram would have been local name of this place.16 In the local language, the meaning of 'Kirgram' is "The village of serpent or Naga race". Till today serpent is the most loving deity of Baijnath. Not only this, the venerable deity of people of surrounding area of Baijnath is also serpent. It means that in ancient time this town was inhabited by the Naga people. Kir is ssynonymous of Nag or serpent and it is apparent these Naga worshiping Kir people of Himalaya are near relatives of Dravidian Cher, Ker or Keral of South.

According to Vogel-"The hilly area of Uttarapatha and Nepal is also a homeland of numerous snake shrines and temples and snake worship is a basis of religious life of people."

The North-Eastern region

Being Improved
The North-Eastern region

Serpent origin is also afforded by the ruling house of Manipur17. The peculiar god of the royal family is a species of snake called Pāa-kung-ba, from which ex-Raja claims descent. When it appears, it is coaxed on to a cushion by the priestess in attendance, who then performs certain ceremonies to please it. This snake appears some-times, they say, of great size. His appearance18 is indicative of his being displeased. So long as he remains of a diminutive form, it is a sign of his being in good humour.

Similarly all the eastern region which includes, Assam, Arunachalam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura is inhabited by ophiolatery tribes like, Bodonaga, Kukinaga, Khasi, Mao, Tangkhul, Koliya, Kabui etc.

The Naga tribes of Manipur

[p.22]: T. C. Hodson19 in his work titled 'The Naga tribes of Manipur', has given description of mainly four Naga Tribes in Manipur

(1) The Tangkhul, who inhabits the hill immediately to the east and north-east of valley of Manipur

(2) The Mao and Marām Nagas or Angames who inhabit the hills north of valley;

(3) the Koliya, Khoirao or Mayang Khong group in the hills south of Mao and Karām;

(4) The Kabuis who inhabit the hills to the north-west of the valley.

Most of these tribes came from west. In support of this view, here we give the origin of Tangkhul20 and Koliya Naga. Hodson informs us, "That from the records of Manipur, we gather some important information regarding the origin and antiquity of the Tangkhuls. One of the earliest raids mentioned in the chronicles of Manipur is dated 1435 and is said to have been the work of Tangkhuls wbo then, on subsequent occasions ava1led themselves of the opportunity offered to them by the temporary absence of the forces of Manipur, on what the local historian calls a march of conquest in the direction of Thaungdut to make a raid on the valley." It means Tangkul tribe reached there in 1435 AD as an invader. This shows this Naga tribe is a migrant to this land during Muslim period. Perhaps they were pushed eastward by the muslim invaders from eastern part of Bengal or Nepal since one branch of them was settle ere from the time of Buddha, known as Moriya. Another branch of them along with their Taka coins appears in Chota Nagpur during Kushana period, who gave their name to Dhaka (see chapt VI,P-156) at some later period.

A tradition is prevalent among the Tangkhuls that their fore-fathers were born in a local village named Hungdung.21 But above event of invasion seems to be more reliable and historical, and hearsay cannot be the sole basis of history.

Ethnically, they are a hybrid race of Mediterranean and Mongoloid. Their eyes are brown and black, hair curly and wavy, beards very uncommon and hair on face is very rare.22 It shows the invaders were of Dravidian race who came from west where as earlier native population was Mongolian. Weaving is a speciality of every housewife. Although some villages are specialist in the art of weaving and rest of the male members generally are farmers and some others fishermen.23 It is compulsory for every male member to be a skilful warrior and without head-hunting no young lady comes forward to marry them.24 This reminds us of prevalence of traditions of citizens' army among the Nagas of West, where learning art of use of arms was compulsory for each member. (See Chapt V, P-112 and VI, PP 133-34)

Against matriarchy of Khasi tribe, the Tangkhul Naga families are patriarchal. Hence inheritance goes to sons and not to daughters.25 In case of any epidemic or social troubles they worship Naga Monster Python."

[p.23]: Head of the village clan is known as Khullapha or Luptakpa, who also acts as priest for any religious rite. Hence he is a clan or village administrator as well as priest27 (priest-king).

The custom28 of disposal of their dead bodies is of similar type as found in the graves of Swat valley which were used by the Asuras, it means they used to bury their dead bodies in a grave having stone walls to prevent any earth from touching it. (See chapter IV, P-67)

These institutions prove their close association with the ancient Nagas of North, West and South India. Although they differ in the form of their families from their ancestors, perhaps that would have been due to their association with the Aryan tribe of patriarchal tradition for a very long period, now not known to us.

The Koliya Nagas said to be the descendants of Maram Nagas29, who came from west. It is apparent that Tangkhul and Koliya Nagas both came from west and settled here. The Koliya Nagas were living in Nepal (Ramagrama) during the life time of Buddha (567-487 BC) who were a branch of Sakyas tribe of Buddha (See Chapt VI, PP-164 & 67) later known as Kulinda (Madra).

The Khasi Nagas

Major P.R.T. Gurdon, in his book 'The Khasis', has given description of an event of 1835 AD. This event is related to Assam state where he was posted. He writes" -

"In 1821, an attempt was made to kidnap a native of Sylhet proper and while the agent employed were punished, the Raja was warned not to allow such an atrocity to occur again. Eleven years later, however, four British subjects were kidnapped in the Nowgong district and taken to Jaintia. Three of them were actually sacrificed (to the Thlen serpent monster), but the fourth escaped and reported the matter to the authorities. The Raja (Siem) of Jaintia was called upon to deliver up the culprits, but he failed to do so and his dominions were in consequence annexed in 1835 A. D."

We have described in chapter V that Aryans had patriarchal family and heredity tradition, but on the other hand matriarchal tradition was prevalent among the Naga people. This tradition sometimes ago was prevalent among the Khasi tribes, the resident of Khasi and Jaintia hills of eastern India. Khasi is a Naga Tribe in origin. Matriarchal tradition is prevalent among them, and ownership of the land goes either to the clan or tribe or the village" and not to the individual. As they are great traders, they pay toll tax to their king (Ahom), which is the only source of revenue of state.32

[p.24]: Similarly they build up megaliths on the graves of their dead still today likewise ancient Nagas of south and central India, which may be seen everywhere on hills or land, in which Menhirs Dolmens and Cairns are most important. Taking the different megaliths in order the Menhirs are larger, their height varying from 2 or 3 feet to 12 or 14 feet, but in exceptional instances rising to a more considerable elevation.33

Khasis speak a language which is akin to Mon-khrner group of languages now spoken Chutia Nagpur and a part of Satpura hills in central provinces. These anguages are closely related to the Kolarian group of languages and now also known as Munda language spoken by Munda and Ho tribes.34 skill in the art of war is also a part of the characteristics of the tribe. The Khasis tradition of human sacrifice for Nag demon Thlen can be equated with the ancient tradition of Naga worship. Such a tradition was prevalent in Kambodia and Western Asia (See chapter I, PP 6-7; Legend of Naga king Zohak). The tradition of Naga worship was in vogue in India from the time of Indus Valley Civilization.

Thus in modern age, social, religious and cultural traditions prevalent among them are strikingly the same as were in practice among ancient Naga tribe of Central and South India and middle-east countries, such as burial system of their dead bodies and raising of megaliths on graves, matriarchal family and heredity system, Naga worship, human sacrifice, guild based like economic system. According to AB Keith, Khasi is an Alpine race of Dinaric origin35. It is well known that Khasis are still inhabitant of Kishan Ganga Valley of Kashmir known as Bomba clan36. They37 are a branch of Kanets, inhabitant of Himachal Pradesh, who are at par with the Rathis of Kangra. Khasi Rajput of Uttaranchal and Nepal still claim their origin from the Khasa tribe. They are, according to Manu (X-22) Vratya, like Jhalla, Malla, Nichchhavis, Nat, Karan and Dravids. It shows Khasi moved from west to east.

But according to Gurdon there are evidences of their migration from east to west.38 He produces following evidences in support of his theory:

(1) There is general belief among the Khasis that they originally came from east.

(2) Khasi grammar states that tradition connects the Khasis with the Burmese to whose king they were upto a comparatively recent date, rendering homage by sending him an annual tribute in the shape of an axe, as an emblem merely of submission.

(3) According to Shadwell, the oldest living authority, they originally came from Burma via the Patkoi range having followed the route of one of the Burmese invasions.

(4) Gurdon himself opines that the tendency for outside people to move into Assam from the east still continues. Hence they came from the East.

But there are solid evidences to prove that this movement was from West to East in general. These are being enumerated below. In origin, following traditions, which are a part of characteristics of their society, took their birth in Western Asia :

(1) Cult of mother goddess and Naga Worship.

(2) Megalithic tradition of disposal of dead.

(3) Matriarchal form of family and inheritance.

(4) Priest-king and Nation- in-Arms tradition.

(5) Khasis39 and most of the other Naga tribes speak a language akin to Kolarian or Mon-Khmer group of languages now known as Munda also spoken in the region Chutia Nagpur by the tribes like Santhal, Munda and the Koruks.

These traditions (1 to 5) took their birth in Neolithic-Chalcolithic age (4000-1000 B.C.) in Western Asia (see chapter V for detail) and reached Indus Valley and North and South India in about 3000-800 BC and further reached Vindhyanchal region in the same period. Khasis, Koliya Nag and Tank or Tangkhul (Moriya) were present in the region of Nepal and North Bihar during the life-time of Buddha (567-487 BC). In a period of third century AD many hoards of Taka coins have been recovered from Chutia Nagpur region41 which were introduced by the Taka Nagas of North-West. Lingists have informed that these Taka people reached and ruled in the region of Dhaka of Bangla Desh, since the theword Dhaka is a linguistic (Pali) variation of Taka. This well known Taka coin is still in prevalent in Bangla Desh.

But according to a historical record of Manipur, Tangkhul invaded Manipur in 143543 AD. Perhaps they were pushed eastward from East Bengal by the muslim invaders who had reached as far as Assam in this period. This invasion of Tangkhul Naga, who were in origin ethnically of Dravidian race, was laid on the native people of Mongol race. Perhaps most of the males were killed and women were made inmates which caused to create a blend of complicated race now known as (Indo-China) Mongolo-Dravidian race whose language is an admixture of language of both the races but more akin to Kolarian group of languages. Khasi Nagas ruled in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in historical age and their off shoot Kanet are still residing there. Koliya Nagas were a branch of Sakyas, ruling at Ramagama during life time of Buddha.

Traditions that they came from east now prevalent among these tribes, are of quite a modern period and the evidences I have produced,

[p.26]: are of remote past. Since the Naga rulers of South India made their colonies in Indonesia and Burma, who reached there by sea as early as 137 AD and used power of their navy to launch incursion as far as South Indo-China or Champa.44 They carried aforesaid tradition along with them in that region particularly Megalithic tradition went from South India (see map no. II). Under these circumstances tradition of coming of some tribes from the east has no meaning.

However variation in physical type or tradition in individual tribe may be due to some particular reasons in historical age which should be investigated and found out for the satisfaction of all. But evidences of their movement from west are more realiable and based on historical fact and well proved.

The ex-Raja of Chutia or Chhota Nagpur derives their origin from Naga Pundarika. How it happened is most interesting: Pundarika 45,as the story says, once assumed the form of a Brahman and repaired to the house of a certain Guru at Banaras to acquaint himself with the sacred scriptures. The learned instructor was so pleased with his pupil that he gave him to wife his only daughter, the beautiful Parvati. Unfortunately the Naga even in his human form could not rid himself of his double tongue and his foul breath. He begged his wife not to question him about the secret of these unpleasant peculiarities, but once while they were making a pilgrimage of Puri, she insisted on knowing the truth. He had to gratify her curiosity, but having done so, he plunged into a pool and vanished from her sight. In the midst of her grief and remorse, she gave birth to a child. When the child grew up he became king of Chhota Nagpur. The royal family is progeny of the same Naga King.46

Famous ancient Buddhist university of Nalanda also had relation with the Nagas. J. Ph Vogel47, to show above relations, produces archaeological evidences-"A very fine specimen of a seated Naga (See title page) was found on the site of Nalanda in the course of excavations carried out in the cold season of 1920.This Naga holding a rosary in "his right hand and a vase in his left hand is shown sitting in easy posture on the coils of a snake, whose windings are also visible on both sides of the figure,whilst a grand hood of seven cobra-heads forms a canopy over-shadowing him. This image has been tentatively identified with the Buddhist saint Nagarjuna, master of the Mahayana. The sculpture, how-ever:-presents a type of Naga images peculiar to the medieval art of India. (A. S. R. for 1912-13 Part I PI IX 6), although it would be difficult to point out another specimen of equal artistic merit. In this connection, it is interesting to note that according to the Chinese pilgrims Nalanda was named after a Naga (Hieuntsang, si-yu-ki. (Beal) Vol ii P-167). Other instances may be quoted of Buddhist sanctuaries such as

[p.27]: those of Sarnath and Sankisa, which are at the same time dedicated to Serpent worship.In Amaravati also we find a likewise image of Naga king with snake hood surrounding the head in nimbus like manner. The Naga-maiden grouped in varying attitudes around the throne on which the precious casket is placed are distinguished by a single snake issuing from behind their heads."

Takshila and Panjab

Takshila and Panjab

Takshila was the largest centre of Nagas, which was named after the name of Takshak Naga. In ancient time it was the largest centre, from where most of the Naga chiefs are stated to have moved southward i.e. towards the Punjab plains. Sometimes back North-West Punjab was Known as Taksha, or Takkha or Takka country after the Takka tribe of Punjflb.48

According to Greek historians, in the days of Alexander's invasion, serpent worship was practised in Punjab49. According to writings of Strabo, the king of Abhisara kept two serpents, one of which was 80 and the other 140 cubits in length. As described by JWM Crindle50 of Greece, Indians used to capture animals and besides them snakes, which the Indians, regarding as sacred, kept in caves and worshipped with much devotion.



In addition to Eastern Punjab, Naga Guga Pir is worshipped in Rajasthan31 also. Guga, the ruler of the land of Bāgar, as the great prairies of Rajasthan are called, is said to have been a valiant Rajput of Chauhan clan, contemporary of Prithvi Raj. According to Sir Denzil Ibbetson, he is supposed to be the greatest of the snake deities.

Rajasthan was sometimes the greatest Centre of Naga Rulers. Present Tonk town was a centre of Naga rulers and is called in the Chauhan Chronicles Takatpur after the name of Takshak Naga (Tod I,P-110 Foot note No.3).

Our account of Takshaka52 would be incomplete without noting the curious fact that, down to the present day, the serpent-king of the Paushya-Parvan possesses a shrine in central india, where he is worshipped under the name of Takshakeswara or Takhaji; and curiously enough, he shares the worship of the country folk with Dhanvantri, the Indian Aesculapius.53 The shrine in question stands on a most romantic spot far from the village of Navali or Naoli which is situated on the table land at the foot of which Bhanpura lies. It now forms a part of the

p.28]: territory of Indore and in ancient times must have belonged to the Malava country.

Kathiavar or Sourashtra

[p.28]: Kathiavar54, the peninsula or western portion of the province of Gujrat, is geat centre of Naga worship. There are temples of Basuki and his brother Vanduk locally called Vāsang ji and Bandia Beli respectively, at Than and Mandhogarh. The two55 Nag brothers are Said to have settled here after having rid the country of a dangerous demon, Bhimasur, at the request of five famous Rishis. To the present day no one is allowed to cut a tree in the grove that surrounds Bandia Beli's shrine, and it is said that, should anyone ignorantly cut a stick in this grove, the snake appears to such a person in his dreams and orders him to return the stick and should he fail therein, some great calamity shortly befalls him; and in fact, in or near the grove may be seen many logs or sticks accidentally cut and subsequently returned.

The Vasuki56 temple at Thana contains the image of a three-headed cobra with two smaller monocephalous ones, one on each side-carved on the same slab. Besides which there is a figure of the four armed Vishnu, while on and in front of the altar on which the images are placed are Sāligrām stones and sankh shells. A common votive offering at this shrine seems to be a representative of the three snakes in alto-rilievo on a flat earthen ware tile.

Other shrines in Kathiavar are that of Pratika at Talsānā in Jhalavar, and that of Devānik Charmālia in the village of Chokri under Chuda. But the most famous snake temple of Gujarat is that of the celebrated Dharanidhara or 'Earthholder' situated at the village of Dhemi, a few miles to the North-West of Tharād, in North Gujarat. This shrine is visited by pilgrims from all parts of India. There is a well executed image of a cobra in the temple of the Dhem-Naga, as the Dharanidhara is locally called. There are many other local temples in Gujrat and Kathiavar where cobra is worshipped.57

It is quite clear that Kathiavar is an important centre of Naga worship, which simultaneously is also a big centre of Megaliths. The round headed Alpine race is also settled, here in a very high number.

Bastar, the ex-feudatory state in the south-east corner of the central province, was ruled by a Naga-dynasty, whilst most Gond chiefs in the same province likewise pretend to have descended from the Nagvansa.58

Maharashtra and Vidarbha

Maharashtra and Vidarbha

[p.29]: Ancient Naga59 culture has very deep roots in the cultural and religious life of the people of Maharashtra, which can be seen even today, from the intensive stud of their traditional gods and goddesses. The original symbol of Mātangi is Valmiki (whiteant-hill): Renuka, Enammna and Mātangi are worshipped in the form of Valmiki at different places in south. Santeri is worshipped in the form Bambi or serpent dwelling. This Valmiki is Yoni or vulva of earth and the serpent, who lives in, is representative of manhood or Linga. The meaning of the word Renuka, in origin, is earth (Renu+ka = like Renu) that is why she is called "of Kori Bhumi" or "Kumari Bhumi". Santeri is also known by the synonymous name of "Bhumi-ka" in Gomantaka. Similarly local gods like Marugan, Subrahmani, Khandova, Jyotiva, Khalnath and Bheron, which are worshipped in the form of Valmiki, are considered to be Kshetra-pati or Kshetra-pala (protector or keeper) Nagas.

Subrahmanya still to-day is worshiped by the name and form of Valmiki. Particularly, Manmelār (Manumilar = Melar of earth) in Bellari and Adimelar in Jejuri, situated at the bank of river Kanha, are also Valmiki-Naga. Why does the sculpture of Santeri of Gomantaka, have a serpent in its hand? or why does the worshipper of Matangi are a Nag-garland (Nagkanth) in her hand? It can be understood from its protectorship form of Naga.60

Valmiki is worshipped as an important deity in the temple of Adi-Subrahmanya. Similarly an image of Naga or serpent was also worshipped along with the Valmiki. There is one image of Kartikeya on upper portion of altar, another of serpent king Basuki in centre and third one Sesha Naga below the above in the temple of Subrahmanya.61 It means Bambi or dwelling of snake and snakes are important objects of worship in this temple. These objects are worshipped here, in the form of Subrahmanya, and it is considered to be another name for Kartikeya.

But Subrahmanya is worshipped in the form of serpent. The word Subrahmanya has come into existence from Skand-Nag and Subbarmani Tamill word owing to similarity of sound or fictitious Sanskritization. The original meaning of this word is Nag-mani or Nagraj or Nagashreshthi (superior62 Nag). In South India thi name is meant for skanda and its meaning is serpent and if at any place , any deity is in worshipped by this name, that is also serpent. -

At many places, in the south, where Subrahmanya is worshipped as serpent, along with Valmiki, is recognized as skand-kartikeya. It is also originally a serpent deity. Hence, Subrahmanya does mean a serpent.

[p.30]: Therefore in South Gurgan, another form of Subrahmanya and a well known serpent protector deity, is also considered to be a serpent by the local people. Murug Subrahmanya, a serpent protector, invites special attention among all the deities.63

Jyotiva of Maharashtra and Khalnath of Konkan Gomantak, both are recognize as serpent protector god. Tere is mutual intercourse between the protector deities and the serpents. The reason of this secret is that serpent is protector as well as lord of lands. Valmiki is a form of vulva of earth and serpent is a form of man-hood or Linga. It is being worshipped particularly in the form of giver of issue.64

The Bherava form of Jageshwari and protector of Mhāskovā are famous in Maharashtra likewise Jyotiva of Thamai and Khalnath of santeri, Mhāskovā is particularly a deity of Dhangars. It appears to devotees in the form of serpent with five hoods and take shelter in Valmiki. It seems that there is similarity in between Jyotiva of Mhaskova, Khalnath, Murug Subrahmanya etc famous protector deities.65

It is clear that Jyotiva serpent deity is recognized and worshipped in the form of protector. This serpent is also Kshetra-pati or lord of land. Valmiki is a form of vulva of earth and serpent is a form of manhood or Linga. It is particularly worshipped in the form of deity of issue giver. Most of the protector deities of south are maintaining their form as serpent. Their most favourite and influencing protector deity, Murug, appears to his devotee in the form of serpent. Kartikeya who is identified with Subrahmanya is worshipped in the form of Valmiki and serpent both and he represents serpent King.

South India

South India

[p.30]: In whole of the southern India, serpent worship is more popular. It is specially the cobra which is held sacred. The higher castes consider it a sin to kill it, and believe that the man who does so will be striken with all kinds of misfortunes.66

The great popularity of this cult, in the south, is testified by the snake slabs or Nagakal, which are usually found, sometimes, in great numbers, at the entrance of a town or village. Groups of such stones may be seen in a corner of the coutryard of a temple, either Hindu or Jain, near a tank or under a sacred tree. They are mostly due to childless wives who make a vow to install a snake-stone if they are blessed with an off spring.67

The Naga-Kals show a considerable variety of pattern. The simplest and perhaps commonest type of these snake-slabs exhibit a single cobra-, standing as it were on the tip of his tail and curling upwards with

[p.31]: expanded hood. The number of the heads varies between three, five and seven, but apparently there exists a certain preference for the figure five. The number of heads, it will be noticed, is always uneven.68

Usually the cobra is carved in relief on a stone slab some four feet in height. But at Adichanallur69 (a well known large centre of Magaliths) in the Tinnevelly district, there is a large group of Nagakals which shows the peculiarity that they are carved in the round. The snakes are either single-hooded or many-hooded and several of the later have a little human figure seated on the coils and overshaded by the serpents' hood.

Finally we would notice a type of snake-stones in which the serpent deity appears as a hybrid being, its upper half being human and the lower half serpentine. This hybrid is a female and in all probability represents the serpent-goddess who in Southern India is known by the name of Mudam 70. Over her head, she wears the usual hood combined of three,five or seven snakes' heads. She holds both hands, joined in front of her breast and in each arm she has a baby snake.

In the South Kanara 71 district, on one of the highest mountains of the Western Ghat named, Subrahmanya, there is one of the most famous serpent-temples of India. Here the locality is extremely wild and full of fever excessively, so during the cold and dry seasons; nevertheless, great numbers of pilgrims resort thither especially during the December festival.

Other famous serpent temples are reported to exist at Nagapatnam (or Nega Patam) the well-known ancient seaport on the coast of Coromandel and at Bhomaparanden in the Hyderabad state. The shrine at the former place is dedicated to the serpent deity under the name of Nāganāth. Inside the temple near the image there is a white-ant hill to which large offerings are made in honour of the serpent72 god.

The Malabar73 coast according to Vogel is a great seat of the serpent cult. Usually a clump of wild jungle trees luxuriantly festooned with graceful creepers is to be found in the south-west corner of the gardens of all respectable Malayali Hindus. The spot is free to nature to deal with it as she likes. Every tree and bush, every branch and twig is sacred. This is the Nakotta (Snake Shrine). There is mostly a granite stone carved after the fashion of a cobra's hood set up and consecrated in this waste spot. If the shrines are not respected, it is supposed to have a bad influence on human beings. Leprosy, itch, barrenness in women, deaths of children, the frequent appearance of snakes in the garden and other diseases and calamities supposed to be brought about by poison, are all set down to the anger of the cobras. In this74 district the Naga is the tutelar deity of the house and god and shrine are conveyed with the property and frequently specified in deeds of transfer. Puja is offered at

[p.32]: least once a year, often by a Brahman; and the serpents are periodically propitiated by songs and dances, called 'Nagam-Pattu'. The high75 priest of the serpent cult in Malabar is the Pāmbanmākkād Nambudri who lives in the town of Ponnāni in a house full of cobras which are said to be harmless to his family.

In South Kanara76 two curious rites are known to exist in connection with serpent worship; they have been described as follows : Three afflictions are looked upon as due to the wrath of serpents for having killed a snake in a former life, namely leprosy, childlessness and sore eyes. People so afflicted often perform costly ceremonies to remove the curse which are superintended by the Mādhava Brahmans, originally fishermen, and not acknowledged as Brahmans out of Kanara.

The great festival77 in honour of the serpents in the Nagpanchami, which, as the name indicates, is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the month of savan, the first month of the rainy season. Ananta, Basuki, Shesha, Padma, Kambala and even so Nagas Karkotaka and the serpent Asvatara, Dhritrashtra, Sankhapala, Kaliya and like wise Takshaka and great Naga Pingla are lauded month by month.

The Expansion of Chera (Sera), Nevar, Kirita Nagas In India

The Expansion of Chera (Sera), Nevar, Kirita Nagas In India

[p.32]: Kashmir to Assam, Himalyan ranges have been the largest centre of the abode of Naga race since dark age of prehistoric time. But their traces are still visible in the form of ethnic groups, social and religious traditions, old architectural remains, inscriptions, coins, name of cities and places all over India.

In some parts of Ceylon and in ancient Malabar country , ancient Nagas established their rule. The Tamil literature of first century A.D. has repeated description of Naga-Nadu or the Country of Nagas. Still today Malabar coast is one of the largest Centres Naga Worship. In South, Travancore temple of Nagercoil78 is famous.

CF. Oldham has thrown much light on this subject. He writes79 "The Dravidians were divided into Chera, Choru and Pandyas in ancient time. Chera or Sera (in ancient Tamil Sarai is synonym of serpent in Dravidian language. It is clear from the words like Chera-Mandel (Coromandal) Naga-Dipa (serpent Island), and Naga-Nadu' (Naga country) that Dravidians of South were of Asura or Naga family. In addition to the above, the Cheru or Sirai had also spread in all the Gangatic valley, which are in existence still to-day. They maintain their origin from some Naga deity or Devta. (Elliot, sup Glossary N. W. F. PP 135-36) Cherus are most ancient people. They possessed a large part of Gangatic valley

[p.33]: and lived there from time immemorial. During the incendiary, time of the Muslim invaders, Cherus were forced to draw hands from their lands and now they are landless people. They are undoubtedly blood relatives of Dravidian Cheras."

From the various traditions of Chera people, it seems that they were closely related to Lichchhavis and Nevaras of Nepal such as election of king of five or six families, ceremonial royal functions and coronation and wearing of royal insignia.80 Various customs of both the Nevars an Lichchhavis and Dravidian people of South are quite similar. All are snake worshippers. As Neel Nag is venerable in Kashmir, similarly Karkotak Nag is venerable in Nepal. The venerable deity of Vaisali at the capital of Lichchhavis, was serpent or Nag. The marriage customs of Nevars and Lichchhavis are similar to those of Tamil of South on the basis of these evidences, it can be concluded that these people would have been of one race or tribe in origin.81

Among the Nevars, heredity is decided after the matriarchal tradition. Such a tradition of heredity was sometime prevalent among the Arattas, Andhakas Vahikas and also Takkas or Takhya people of Punjab. It means heredity right was transferred to sister's son instead of once own son82 . Hence Nevars are blood relatives of Dravidians.

Similarly people of Naga race residing in Himalaya region of Himachal Pradesh were known Kirtas. The word Kir means serpent or Nag. Chera people living in the Khasi hills of Assam are also of Naga race. Their chiefs or kings are known as 'siem' whose dead-body is buried in a hallowed out trunk of a large83 tree.

The town of Cherapunji (Means, estate of Cheras) is also named after the name of this tribe. Col James Tod84 informs that, "This ancient relation between the Suryabanshi chiefs and the Chawaras or Sauras of Saurashtra (Saura+ Rashtra) is still maintained after a lapse of more than one thousand years....the present heir apparent of a line of one hundred kings, the prince Jawan Singh (1828-38) is the off spring of Chawara mother, the daughter of a petty chieftain of Gujrat." It is clear from this description that Chawara Rajputs were born from the Sauras or Chauras after whom Saurashtra} took its name. Saura is Gujrati form of Chaura or Chera.

In short, we can say that the Kir or Kirit of Himalaya region, Saraj or Sevraj of Satluj Beas valley, Saura or Chawara of Saurashtra, Sevari or Cheru of Gangatic valley, Saurya of central province, Chera or Sera of Khasi hills and Kera, Chera, Sera or Serai of South India all are worshippers of serpents and they are all different branches of Naga race.85 Chera branch of Khasi has been stated to be of Dinaric Alpine race by

[p.34]: Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya86 and A.B. Keith.It means some of them were ethnically of Alpine race, some others were Dravidians and others blended race of both of them.

Summary and Conclusion

From Takshila, the people, who worshipped serpent and practised the tradition of Naga totemism, spread all over India up to Assam in the east, up to Ceylon in the South. It is clear from the evidences of spreading up of snake-worship and snake worshipper tribes throughout the nation.

Temples of Naga deities are still existing in a very high number in Kashmir valley and are worshipped by the local people. Among them temples of Naga Basuki, Santan Naga, Shesh Naga and Neel Naga are most famous.

Hilly area of Himachal Pradesh also has been one of the largest centre of Naga worship. The temples of Basuki Nag, Indru Nag (Nahusha), Mul-Nag, Stuhr Nag, Det Nag, Kelang Nag, are famous and are spreading all over the Himachal region. It is said that there are 18 Naga deities which are worshipped in Kulu Valley alone.

Neel Naga and Karpati Nag are worshipped in Nepal. The royal families of Manipur and Chhota Nagpur are said to have descended from the Nagas called Pa-Kung-ba and Pundrika respectively. In Assam Naga tribes like Naga-Bodo, Kukki-Naga, Mao, Tangkhul, Khasi, Koliya are still existing.

Takshila has been the most ancient and the largest seat of Takshak Nag. The ancient name of Punjab, Taka-Desha, was named after Takshak or Taka royal family. Gugga Pir is still worshipped in the plateau of Punjab and Rajasthan. Tonk town of Rajasthan once was centre of Naga rulers. A shrine of Takshakeswara or Takhaji in central India exists still to-day. Kathiavar or Saurashtra has been the home of Naga-worshipping people from time immemorial. There are famous centres of worship of Naga deities like Vasuki, Vanduk, Pratika, Devanikcharmalia, Dharnidhar etc in Gujrat state.

Maharashtra is also one of the well known centres of Naga-worship Matangi, Renuka, Santeri, Marugan, Subrahmani, Khandowa, Jyotiva, Khalnath and Bheron are deities related to Naga-worship. Similarly images of serpent or Nagas like Kartikeya, Basuki, Skand Nag, Murug Subrahmanya, are also worshipped in every corner of Maharashtra.

South India has been the home of naga-worship since prehistoric period, where every house and village worship cobra. The great popu-

[p.35]: larity of this cult in South is testified by snake slabs or Nagakals, which are usually found some times in great number at the entrance of town or village. Some famous serpent temples are reported to exist at Nagpatnam, Nagercoil, etc. So it is clear that Naga-worshipping people or Naga race had their sway throughout India in remote past. In short we can say that Kir or Kirit in Himalayan region, Saraja or Sevaraj in Satluj and Beas valley, Soura or Chawara in Saurashtra, Sevari or Cheru in Gangatic vallley, Saurya in central province, Chera or Sera in Khasi hills and Kera, Chera, Sera or Serai in south India all are Naga-worshipping tribes who were putting up and are still putting up in different parts of India. It means they were in power in the whole nation in pre-historic and historic times. Thus the tradition of Nag-worship and Naga race had spread up in the whole nation in ancient time.



1. Vogel J. PH. "Indian Serpent lore" P-250

2. Vogel J. PH, "Ibid". P-225 In Neelmata 1051-1113 ( M. S. 901-65) list of names of prominent Nagas, whom to be worshipped, is given, their number is 561

3. Vogel J PH,-PP 248-49

4. Vogel J. PH. P-250

5. Vogel J PH. P-227

6. Vogel J. PH. "Ibid" P-228

7. Vogel P-252

8. Ibid

9. (a) Oldham "Sun and Serpent Worship" P-73

9. (b) Rose H. A., "Glossary of the tribes and caste of Punjab" Vol I, P-154

10. Vogel P-253

11. Ibid

12. Ibid

13. Vogel P-255

14.Stein, A. "Rajtarangini" Part VII, P-27-67

15. Rapson E. J."JRAS" (July 1900) P-533

16. Jane "JRAS" (1903) P-37

17. (a) Vogel J PH P-35

17. (b) Fergusson, James "Tree and Serpent Worship" P-64

18. Vogel J. PH P-36

19. Hodson T. C. "The Naga tribes of Manipur", P-2

20. Hodson TC P-I1


21. Hodson T. C, P-8

22. Hodson T. C. P-5

23. Hodson T.C. PP 39, 45 and 47

24. Hodson T. C. P-81

25. Hodson T. C. PP-70-7l

26. Hodson TC P-137

27. Hodson T C PP 79-80

28. Hodson T C P-150

29. Hodson T C PP- 4 and 14

30. Gurdon P.R.T. "The Khasis" P-103

31. Gurdon P.R.T. P P-69-70 and Intro XXIII

32. Gurdon P.R.T. PP-67

33. Gurdon P.R.T. P-145

34. Gurdon P.R.T. P XXII Intro

35. Chattopadhyaya S. "Racial Affinities of Early N. I. Tribes" P-7l

36. Saxena K. S. "Political History of Kashmir" P-12

37. Ibbetson Denzil "Panjab Caste" P-198

38. Gurdon P.R.T. PP.10-ll and Intro XXII

39. Gurdon P. Intro XXII

40. Davids Rhys T. W. "Buddhist India" P-9

41. Gupta Chandra Shekhar "Foreign Denomination of early Indian Coins" VIJ (1978) Vol 16 Part 1-2 PP 92-93.

42. B. D. C. R. I Vol I (1939-40) P-192

43. Hodson T.C. P-ll

44. Mahajan V. D. "Prachin Bharat Ka Itihas" P-779

45. Vogel J PH P-35

46. Ibid

47. Vogel J. PH P-43

48. (a) H. L. Kosare, "Prachin Bharatatil Nag" P-179

48. (b) Tod James- "AAR" Vol I, P-43 F/Note no.3

48. (c) Cunningham. A "Ancient geography of India" P-48

49. Crindle JWMC "Ancient India as Described in Classical Literature" P-34

50. Crindle JWMC P-145

51. (a) Cunningham A, "ASR" Vol XIX P-79 FF vol XVII P-15.

51. (b) Vogel J. PH PP-263-64

52. Vogel J. PH P-206

53. Ibid

54. Vogel J. P.H. P-268

[p. 37]

55. Vogel J. P.H. P-269

56. Ibid

57. Ibid

58. Vogel J. P.H. P-36

59. Dr. Dhere R. C. "Lajjagauri" P-65 cited by Kosare H. L. P-215

60. Dr. Dhere R. C. "Lajjagauri" P-65 cited by kosare HL. PP-215-216

61. Kalyan Tirthak year 31 no 3 January 1957 P-324 Mentioned by H. L. Kosare P-216

62. N. V. Mandlik, "Writing and speeches of late Vishvanath Narayan Mandlik," Bombay 1896 P-245 Mentioned by H. L. Kosare P-216

63. Mandlik N. V. PP 159-61 Mentioned by H L Kosare P- 216

64. Mandlik N. V. P-162 Mentioned by Kosare H L P-217

65. Mandlik N. V. PP-188-89 Mentioned by Kosare P-218

66. Vogel JPH p-270

67. Ibid

68. Vogel JPH P-271

69. Ibid

70. Vogel JPH P-272

71. -Ibid

72. Vogel JPH P-273

73. Vogel JPH PP-273-74

74. Vogel JPH P-274

75. Ibid

76. Ibid

77. (a) Vogel JPH P.274-75

77. (b) Rao Gopalachari TA, "Element of Hindu econography" vol-II Nagpur university

78. Proceedings of the 7th All India Oriental conference PP 248-49

79. Oldham CF.; "The Sun and the Serpent" PP.157 and 191

80. Sherring M.A., "Races of N. W. Province" PP.376-77

81. Sherring M. A. P-376

82. M. B. Karan Chpt. 15

83. Gurdon PRt PP 138-39

84. Tod James I, P-123

85. Beal Semul, "Si-yu-ki" I, P-195

86. Chattopadhyaya Sudhakar, P-7l