Religious Significance of the Naga
In Buddhism, the 27 physical realms are inhabited by a wide range of supernatural beings. The Nagas
In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, candidates undergoing ordination as monks are first given the name “Naga”, and are only bestowed a Buddhist name once they have been fully ordained.
“Stories abound of the Buddha’s disciples subduing troublesome Nagas. Some legends even tell of powerful monks travelling into the realm of the Nagas to retrieve Buddhist relics to be enshrined on Earth.”
This practice is carried on in memory of a Naga who disguised himself as a human monk, but was later discovered and excommunicated by the Buddha. The Buddha told the Naga that it would never be able to attain enlightenment. In order to stand a chance of being reborn as a human and pursue his teachings however, he advised the Naga to observe the Buddhist precepts as well as Uposatha days. In a similar parallel, a student ceases to be called a ‘Naga’ once he is ordained and walks on the Buddhist path as a monk. (Read Part 1 of our Naga series.)
There is some symbolism to this practice. The shedding of the name ‘Naga’ implies the taming of the bestial, reptilian nature of a person as they undertake their journey on the Dhammic path.
Stories abound of the Buddha’s disciples subduing troublesome Nagas. Some legends even tell of powerful monks travelling into the realm of the Nagas to retrieve Buddhist relics to be enshrined on Earth.
“Are Nagas a mere myth?”
Nagas are known to fiercely guard relics and Buddhist scriptures (such as the Prajnaparamita Sutra
of certain sutras, which they spread amongst humankind at an appropriate time. They thus also act as propagators of the Dhamma, perpetuating its teachings through countless millenia. Although Nagas are great merit-makers however (and thusly, accumulators and hoarders of wealth), they remain unable to attain enlightenment.
On a philosophical level, the passing of relics from the realm of the Nagas into the realm of humans, is also symbolic of the passage from
mere merit-making and seeking to improve one’s karma through worship and devotion, to actively walking the path of the Dhamma in search of higher understanding and attaining Dhammic liberation.
Are Nagas a mere myth? There is some geological and geographical evidence to support their existence, which we will now explore.
The Cave of the Naga
A peculiar rock formation in Thailand, resembling a gigantic fossilized Naga, may be found in the Tham Naga
A stone resembling the head of a Naga is situated not far from the Naga Cave, and it is believed to be the head of the same serpent, with the cave wall being formed from its body. (see pics above).
It is said that this cave originated in the ancient Kingdom of Rattapa Nakhon
The legend goes that a Naga Princess named Nakkarintrani
Fearing that his daughter Nakkarintrani would suffer a broken heart otherwise, the Naga King agreed to the marriage and the 2 Kings met. For 7 days and 7 nights, the two kingdoms united in celebration, and the Naga King shared all the treasures of his realm with King Pu Uue Lue, in the interest of cementing relations between them.
“The curse can only be lifted when a new city is built upon the land again.”
Although Prince Fahroong tried his level best to hide the fact that his wife was a Naga, Princess Nakkarintrani was eventually found in her serpent form by a chambermaid. In disgust, King Ue-Lue exiled her from the palace.
When her father heard of the incident, he returned to retrieve the family treasures, but King Ue-Lue refused, having already combined them with his own. In a fit of rage, the Naga King levelled the city.
When Princess Nakarintrani heard about what had happened, she returned in search of the remains of her beloved Prince Fahroong, but to no avail. Heartbroken, she returned to the Naga realm, and died shortly after.
What remained of Rattapa Nakhon city, was split up and it was reestablished as a new city under the name of Bueng Kan Province. The people of the new city set up a shrine dedicated to Uue Lue (San Chao Pu Uue Lue in Thai)
The Pu Uue Lue Shrine
In another version of the legend, the Nagas were supposedly further punished by the gods for their role in the wanton destruction of the city, and they were petrified into stone, thus giving rise to the numerous Naga-like rock formations littered across the area.
Some of the Nagas however, were spared, and tasked with protecting the humans who called the area home. It is believed that these Nagas still walk among us today, and there are certain places that serves as a dimensional gateway between our world and theirs.
In Part 4 of our series, we will explore the strange accounts surrounding Kham Chanot
Sources of Reference:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ea3iEqzcGCg – The Naga Cave.
- Relics Of The Buddha, John S. Strong, Pg 168 – 170.