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Nagas and serpents

abridged and modified April 2007/January 2014

CC-BY-SA: bh. Jan

English original: November 1998, e.g. here
Portuguese translation
quotes from Bhagavata Purana a Caitanya caritamrta: (c) BBT International

1. Introduction: Arrival of the Serpent

In recent decades the alien image underwent a significant change, from the ridiculed "little green men" of early fifties to well-known "grays" as benevolent "space brothers" in seventies. Later, however, they have become more and more malicious and associated with the phenomena of cattle mutilation and human abduction.

But in the past few years came into a spotlight a new alien type: the "reptilians" (also called "reptoids," "sauroids" etc.). The media and market became flooded by reptile/dragon/dinosaur character, from children toys and cartoons to movies. This phenomena is analyzed to some extent in the file The Cult of the Serpent and others. There are many topical websites as well.

These "alien files" available online present a compilation of manifold information about aliens in earth's history and presence including incidents regarding space and underground explorations. They also include quotations from various scriptures including the Bible and the Vedas. (Note: The term "Veda," literally "knowledge," Indologists usually apply to the four Vedas: Rg, Sama, Yajur and Atharva. However, in broader sense, it is also used for the related literature as the Puranas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Itihasas etc.)

The fact that in these files are reptilians associated with the nagas of the ancient Vedic tradition is one of the reasons I have decided to write this article, wishing to add to the wealth of information by using the Vedas as very valuable, yet so far underused resource, together with others.

2. The Saurian Connection: Historical Background of the Serpent

The snake (serpent spirit) has been a symbol of wisdom, eternity, healing, mystery, magical power, and holiness throughout most of the ancient world. Serpent was worshiped or sometimes demonized in ancient Babylon, Mexico, Egypt and many other places. Its symbol is still used today in medicine and its descendants are hailed as sacred and used in everything from cancer drugs to sex potions.

The following is written by Soror Ourania from the Gnostic point of view (from "Thelemix and Therion Rising"):

"The word Naga is rooted in Sanskrit and means "serpent". [Further meanings from the Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier-Williams: m. "not moving," a mountain (in Atharva Veda); the number 7 (because of the 7 principal mountains; any tree or plant (in Mahabharata); the sun.] In the East Indian pantheon it is connected with the Serpent Spirit and the Dragon Spirit. It has an equivalence to the Burmese Nats, or god-serpents. In the Esoteric Tradition it is synonymous for Adepts, or Initiates. In India and Egypt, and even in Central and South America, the Naga stands for one who is wise.

"The [buddhist philosopher] Nagarjuna of India, for example, is shown with an aura, or halo, of seven serpents which is an indication of a very high degree of Initiation. The symbolism of the seven serpents, usually cobras, are also on Masonic aprons or certain systems in the Buddhist ruins of Cambodia (Ankhor) and Ceylon. The great temple-builders of the famous Ankhor Wat were considered to be the semi-divine Khmers. The avenue leading to the Temple is lined with the seven-headed Naga. And even in Mexico, we find the "Naga" which becomes "Nagal." In China, the Naga is given the form of the Dragon and has a direct association with the Emperor and is known as the "Son of Heaven"... while in Egypt the same association is termed "King-Initiate." The Chinese are even said to have originated with the Serpent demi-gods and even to speak their language, Naga-Krita. For a place that has no serpents, Tibet, they are still known in a symbolic sense and are called "Lu!" (Naga). Nagarjuna called in Tibetan, [becomes] Lu-trub.

"(...) An apocryphal tradition says that Apollonius of Tyana, while on a visit to India, was taught by the "Nagas" of Kashmir. (See The Life of Apollonius, by Philostratos) (...)

"Naga is one of a handful of rare words surviving the loss of the first universal language. In Buddhism, Wisdom has always been tied, symbolically, to the figure of the Serpent. In the Western Tradition it can be found as used by the Christ in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (10:16), "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."

"In all mythological language the snake is also an emblem of immortality. Its endless representation with its tail in its mouth (Ouroboros), and the constant renewal of its skin and vigor, enliven the symbols of continued youth and eternity.

"The Serpent's reputation for positive medicinal and/or life-preserving qualities have also contributed to the honors of the Serpent as STILL seen by the employment of the caduceus [staff around which two snakes are wrapped]."

3. Serpent in cultural traditions

3.1. Slavic folklore

Slavic folklore often mentions snakes as guards of treasures hidden underground or in caves closely following the Vedic tradition. Some are said to possess a crown which is an interesting detail as we will see. Although one may be tempted to discount the folklore as unreliable source there is an evidence which seems to support it.

Czech herpetologist Jiri Hales writes in his book "Moji pratele hadi ("My friends, the snakes") about his travels around eastern Slovakia in '70 in search of unusually great snakes and mentions several interesting accounts told by local people. One even involved a military unit which was called to destroy an alleged 15 ft long snake. (Snakes of such length are unknown in Europe.) Another account was about a ranger who noticed a number of snakes in a forest crawling in one direction and out of curiosity followed them. Thus he has come upon a great "snake king" with a crown on his head surrounded by many snakes. Scared, he quickly left. Other accounts involved small children who claimed to play with great snakes and even communicate with them. Hales concludes that these accounts are credible as they include many details which a layman could not possibly make up without a personal experience.

3.2. North America: Hopi tribal tradition

The Hopi legend is that there were two races, the children of the feather who came from the skies, and the children of the reptile who came from under the earth. The children of the reptile chased the Hopi Indians out of the earth. These evil under-grounders were also called Two Hearts.

Hopi legend of Creation tells of three different beginnings. One story says that Hopi have arisen from an underground paradise through an opening called Sipapu. The underground paradise was wondrous with beautiful clear skies and plentiful food sources [cf bila-svarga]. It was because of the existence of those called Two Hearts, the bad ones, that refuge was sought in the upper world by the Hopi, the peaceful ones. The underworld was not destroyed but only sealed up to prevent the Two Hearts from rising upon to the surface world.

The second story tells of the descent of the Hopi from the Blue Star of a constellation called the Seven Sisters. One version tells of their travel to earth on the back of Enki, the eagle. Grandfather, the Great Spirit, allowed the first man to select his home from the many stars of the universe. Enki told first man of his home earth, and brought him to visit. First man's exploration of the earth convinced him that this was where he wanted his children to be born and to grow. He returned to tell Grandfather of his decision. Grandfather was pleased and granted him the right to call earth his home. First man returned to the green place or Sakwap with his family shortly afterwards.

This legend reminds of the Vedic story of Kashyapa Muni and his two wives, Kadru, the mother of serpents, and Vinata, the mother of Garuda.

3.3. Western Africa: The Legend of Da

The world was created by Nana-Buluku, the one god, who is neither male nor female. In time, Nana-Buluku gave birth to twins, Mawu and Lisa, and it is they who shaped the world and control it still, with their fourteen children, the Vodou, or lesser gods.

In the beginning, before Mawu had any children, the Rainbow Serpent, Da, already existed - created to serve Nana-Buluku. The creator was carried everywhere in Da's mouth. Rivers, mountains, and valleys twine and curve because that is how Da moves. Wherever they stopped for the night, mountains arose, formed from the serpent's dung.

Now, when Nana-Buluku had finished creating, it was obvious that the earth just couldn't carry everything - all the mountains, trees, peoples, and animals. So, to keep the earth from capsizing, the creator asked Da to coil beneath it to cushion it - like the pads the African women and girls wear on their heads when they are carrying a heavy load.

Because Da cannot stand heat, the creator made the ocean for him to live in and there Da has remained since the beginning of time, with his tail in his mouth. Even though the water keeps Da cool, he sometimes shifts around trying to get comfortable, causing earthquakes.

Nana-Buluku tasked the red monkeys who live beneath the sea to keep Da fed, and they spend their time forging the iron bars that are the serpent's food. But the supply of iron is bound to run out and Da will have nothing to eat. Famished with hunger, he will start to chew on his own tail, and then his writhings and convulsions will be so terrible that the whole earth will tilt and slip into the sea.

This legend mentions the serpent serving the creator god. This serpent resembles Ananta Shesha, who serves Vishnu as a bed and supports the universal structure. They are both situated at the bottom of the universe in the great ocean Garbhodaka.

3.4. Scandinavia

The Norse Ragnarok involves the destruction of the earth and the abodes of the Norse demigods called Asgard. It is said that during Ragnarok the world is destroyed with flames by a fire giant called Surt, who lives beneath the lower world (Hel) and was involved in the world's creation. By comparison, the Bhagavata Purana (3.11.30) states that at the end of Brahma's day, "the devastation takes place due to the fire emanating from the mouth of Sankarshana." Sankarshana (Ananta Shesha) is an expansion of Krishna "at the bottom of the universe" (Bhagavata Purana 3.8.3), beneath the lower planetary systems.

3.5. Tibet

"Among all the creatures of the six realms, humans are the most fortunate, and have the best opportunity for attaining the ultimate achievement. Gods and demi-gods dwell in immeasurable happiness, exhausting the fruits of their positive karma, and are too distracted with worldly pleasure to seek liberation from cyclic existence. Hungry ghosts and hell beings are too disturbed with suffering and animals are too dumb. Humans, who enjoy both pleasure and pain are the only ones who can seek liberation. (...)

"Unseen forces are believed to be as numerous as those we can see: in every pond, forest, tree, house, dwell creatures big and small, important and humble which occasionally appear to humans in various forms, as well as in visions and in dreams.

"All these creatures are believed to be ruled by the protectors of the ten directions. These deities include gods from the Hindu pantheon such as Brahma and Indra. They are gods, and though they are immensely powerful and believed to control all the forces of the universe they are not beyond the wheel of cyclic existence and thus cannot be an object of refuge for humans aspiring for liberation. They may or may not be sympathetic to the Buddhist doctrine, but their help and cooperation can be cultivated and is considered essential, since they control all other non-human creatures, gods, demi-gods and ghosts. Tantric rituals always include an offering to them at the beginning to assure their non-interference.

"The creatures dwelling in individual places are called sa-dag - land owners, or guardian deities. They belong to the realm of demi-gods or ghosts (not all ghosts are miserable creatures, some are wealthy and powerful demons). They may appear to people as ghosts, demons, or in dreams in an infinite variety of forms, including the human one and may either help or harm depending on their disposition. Many of the creatures in lakes, ponds and rivers are nagas, or serpent beings who belong to the animal realm. They sometimes appear in the form of snakes, or as half snakes and half humans with elaborate jeweled crowns. They are believed to be infinitely wealthy and to owe their present form to a previous life of unethical generosity. [bhogonmukhi-sukrti, or pious activities that bestow material opulence. They are of godless nature but involve kindness to other beings, with a view toward material happiness.]

"Human activity is bound to encroach on the well-being of living creatures including those of other realms. Coming to a plot of land and inadvertently building a house, cutting trees or mining and digging natural resources will upset nagas and sa-dags just as it does animals and insects in such a situation. It is said that sa-dags and nagas equate the unauthorized use of land and natural resources they occupy to pilfering their personal possessions. The weaker ones among them will undergo great hardship or die off, while the more powerful will react with anger and strike back at the offenders, inflicting disease, death, and sudden catastrophe. They will not necessarily strike at the humans having committed the harm, as most cannot identify the actual offenders, but at any human they see, and innocent people may fall ill or die for no apparent reason, or the whole area be affected with epidemics or cases of leprosy.

"The following story was related by a Dema Locho Rinpochey, from Drepung, and occurred in the 1950s in Tibet. One day, one of the monks who was responsible for having the trees in the debating square watered, developed a large sore on his thigh. Suspecting it was caused by harm from nagas, he asked Rinpochey to consult an oracle in a nearby village - a nun who was possessed by nagas - to find out the cause of his illness. The naga, speaking through the oracle admitted having caused the harm: 'Yes, it was I who struck at that monk.' When Rinpochey asked the reason, it replied: 'I was angry at humans for other reasons and I saw this monk's luck was down and that he was vulnerable, so I caused him to develop this sore'.

"Humans are most vulnerable to nagas and sa-dags when their luck is low, as it is said that any weakness is immediately apparent to these other-worldly creatures. In order to avert unlucky circumstances which may bring one harm, people hang up strings of different prayer flags bearing the image of a horse. The 'wind-horse' or Lung-ta is the symbol of one's luck. The Tibetan expression 'His wind-horse is running' or 'is broken' refers to this luck, and the prayer flags fluttering in the wind, a tradition of Bon origin, is believed to give the upper hand to one's wind-horse.

"Since humans cannot survive without some form of land exploitation and building, Tibetans take certain measures to prevent unnecessary mishaps." (Cho-Yang, Year of Tibet Edition)

3.6. China

Historian of religion Bhakti Ananda Goswami says: "In the Northern Buddhism the celestial form of Ananta Shesha Naga is the good 'Dragon of Heaven' associated with 'Father Heaven'. In much of Chinese art this dragon can be seen battling his look-alike dragon of evil or chaos. Sometimes they can be distinguished by the number of toes. When Mother Kuan Yin rides on her peaceful protector, the celestial dragon, she can be easily identified with Sri Lakshmi, Our Lady in Japan."

4. Serpent in scriptural accounts

4.1. Middle East

"The possibility that an ancient reptilian-saurian race may exist below the surface of this planet is not an idea which is relatively new. This infernal yet physical race has been referred to in spiritual and historical records which date back to the beginning of time. Ancient Hebrew history, for instance, records that our human ancestors were not the only intelligent, free-will beings who inhabited the ancient world. Genesis chapter 3 refers to the "Serpent," which according to many ancient Hebrew scholars was identified with a hominoid or bi-ped reptilian being. The ancient Hebrew word for "Serpent" is "Nachash" (which according to Strong's Comprehensive and other Biblical concordances contained in itself the meanings: Reptile, Enchantment, Hissing, Whisper, Diligently Observe, Learn by Experience, Incantation, Snake, etc. all of which may be descriptive of the serpent-sauroid race which we have been referring to). The original "Nachash" was not actually a "snake" as most people believe, but actually an extremely intelligent, cunning creature possessed with the ability to speak and reason. It also stood upright as we've said, as did many of its descendants, the small "saurian" predators which ambled about on two legs." (from "The Cult of the Serpent" file, edited by Branton)

In the book of Genesis Elohim punished the Serpent for deceiving Eve by ordering him to crawl on his stomach and creating enmity between human and serpent race.

Interestingly, in John 3:14 Jesus compared himself to a serpent: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." This refers to Numbers 21:8,9.

Also Satan is compared to a serpent, in this case the bad one. The Book of Revelation describes eschatological accounts when the enmity between human and serpent race escalates into an open conflict: "...And there was war in heaven: Michael fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels... and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world..." (Rev. 12:7)

Like in the Chinese tradition, we can see two serpents in opposition.

4.2. India: Nagas of the Underworld

Nagas are a race of serpent beings. Most often they appear 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. A precious gem is embedded in their heads endowing them with supernatural powers including invisibility. Some are demoniac, some neutral or sometimes helpful.

Their origin is described in the Adi Parva of Mahabharata. Prajapati Daksha had two daughters, Kadru and Vinata. They became wives of sage Kashyapa. Being pleased with his religious wives, Kashyapa, offered them both a boon.

"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."

"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 sun god Surya. His brother was Garuda, powerful 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 birds I am Garuda." (Bhagavad-gita 10.30).

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. They 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 where they guard great amounts of jewels and precious metals with their seductive mates, the naginis who sometimes seduce humans (cf Sirens).

One such account is found 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.

Similar story is recorded in Harivansha, an addendum to 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 his capital. Dhumavarna married his five daughters to Yadu, and from them sprang seven distinct families.

Kumudvati, the naga princess, married Kusha, the son of Rama, as described in Raghuvansha.

Nilamata Purana, the ancient history of Kashmir, is centered around nagas, the original inhabitants of Kashmir. Verses 232-233 mention 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.

The Vishnu Purana speaks about gandharvas, descendants of sage Kashyapa and his wife Muni. Therefore they are also called Mauneyas. (According to Hindu Dictionary by Manurishi Foundation Mauneyas are a class of Gandharvas, who dwell beneath the earth, and are sixty millions in number.) They were fighting with nagas in the subterranean regions, seizing their dominions and plundering their treasures. Naga chiefs appealed to Vishnu for relief, and He promised to appear in the person of Purukutsa, son of King Mandhata, to help them. 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. 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. 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. The sage started to narrate the great Purana and as a result the king attained self-realization. His son Janamejaya, however, became angry at the serpents. To revenge his father's death he started a great sacrifice to destroy all the serpents but later he stopped it.

Bhagavata Purana 5.24 describes Bila-svarga, the subterranean regions compared for their opulence to heaven:

"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.

"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 age.

"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."

5. Divine connection

5.1. Shiva

Shiva ("auspicious One"), also called Rudra, is one of the members of trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), in charge of the material mode of ignorance (tamo-guna):

"Yamaraja said: My dear servants, you have accepted me as the Supreme, but factually I am not. Above me, and above all the other demigods, including Indra and Candra, is the one supreme master and controller. The partial manifestations of His personality are Brahma, Visnu and Siva, who are in charge of the creation, maintenance and annihilation of this universe. He is like the two threads that form the length and breadth of a woven cloth. The entire world is controlled by Him just as a bull is controlled by a rope in its nose." (Bhagavata Purana 6.3.12)

His position is between the living beings (jiva-tattva) and the Supreme Lord, Vishnu (vishnu-tattva), in the category of his own, shiva-tattva. His power comes from Visnu: "With offerings I propitiate the branches of this swift-moving God, the bounteous Visnu. Hence Rudra gained his Rudra-strength: O Asvins, ye sought the house that hath celestial viands." (Rig Veda 7.40.5)

Since Shiva and Vishnu are aspects of one God, Shiva occurs as one of Vishnu's names in Vishnu-sahasranama.

His association with the serpents is obvious from his epithets: Nagabhushana, Vyalakalpa ("having serpents as ornaments"), Nagaharadhrik ("wearing serpent-necklaces"), Nagaraja, Nagendra, Nagesha ("king of Nagas"), Nakula ("mongoose," one who is immune from the serpent venom), Vyalin ("one who possesses snakes"), etc.

One of his features is time (Bhagavad-gita 11.32, Bhagavata Purana 3.5.26-27, Brahma-samhita 5.10), the separating factor between the material and spiritual world (Bhagavata Purana 3.10.12) and a medium to perceive the Lord's influence (Bhagavata Purana 3.26.16).

5.2. Ananta Shesha

Some nagas are multi-headed. Ananta, also called Shesha, the supreme naga, has unlimited heads. According to the Bhagavata Purana 5.25.3, He is the source of Rudra, an expansion of Shiva. When Krishna lists the most prominent representatives of His power, He says, "Among the Nagas I am Ananta". (Bhagavad-gita 10.29)

"My dear Lord, at the end of each millennium [here Brahma's life] the Supreme Personality of Godhead Garbhodakashayi Vishnu dissolves everything manifested within the universe into His belly. He lies down on the lap of Shesha Naga, from His navel sprouts a golden lotus flower on a stem, and on that lotus Lord Brahma is created. I can understand that You are the same Supreme Godhead. I therefore offer my respectful obeisances unto You." (Bhagavata Purana 4.9.14)

As He is the residue or remainder of the universe during cosmic dissolutions He is called Shesha. Bhagavata Purana 5.25 describes Him in detail. From Bhagavata Purana 8.4.17-24 it is clear that both Garuda and Shesha Naga are servants of Lord Vishnu, or Krishna.

Sage Patanjali, the author of Yoga-sutras, is considered by some to be an incarnation of Shesha. His name allegedly represents that he fell as a small snake from heaven into the palm of Panini (pata - fallen, anjali - palm).

South Indian Vaishnava philosopher and spiritual leader Ramanuja (11th century) is also considered an incarnation of Shesha.

5.3. Balarama

"According to expert opinion, Balarama, as the chief of the original quadruple forms, is also the original Sankarshana. Balarama, the first expansion of Krishna, expands Himself in five forms: (1) Maha-Sankarshana, (2) Karanabdhishayi, (3) Garbhodakashayi, (4) Kshirodakashayi, and (5) Shesha. These five plenary portions are responsible for both the spiritual and material cosmic manifestations. In these five forms Lord Balarama assists Lord Krishna in His activities. The first four of these forms are responsible for the cosmic manifestations, whereas Shesha is responsible for personal service to the Lord. Shesha is called Ananta, or unlimited, because He assists the Personality of Godhead in His unlimited expansions by performing an unlimited variety of services. Shri Balarama is the servitor Godhead who serves Lord Krishna in all affairs of existence and knowledge. Lord Nityananda Prabhu, who is the same servitor Godhead, Balarama, performs the same service to Lord Gauranga by constant association." (Chaitanya Charitamrta, Adi-lila 5.10, purport by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)

"The foremost manifestation of Krishna is Sankarshana, who is known as Ananta. He is the origin of all incarnations within this material world. Previous to the appearance of Lord Krishna, this original Sankarshana will appear as Baladeva, just to please the Supreme Lord Krishna in His transcendental pastimes." (Bhagavata Purana 10.1.24)

Balarama appeared as Krishna's older brother and took part in Krishna's Vrindavana pastimes. Balarama had only one wife, Revati, daughter of King Raivata, and two sons, Nishatha and Ulmuka. He is represented with fair complexion and clad in a dark-blue cloth. His weapons are the plow and the club. Thus He is called Phala, Hala, Halayudha ("plow-armed"), Halabhrit, Langali ("plow-bearer"), Sankarshana ("one who attracts everything") and Musali ("club-holder"). As He has a palm tree for a banner, He is called Taladhvaja. He represents guru-tattva, the principle of spiritual master.

6. Conclusion

Although this overview of the position of a Serpent is far from exhaustive the conspicuous similarity of accounts from different traditions, places and cultural contexts suggests that the Vedic tradition spread in the distant past over large parts of this world.

Om tat sat

7. Main bibliographical references

Richard L. Thompson - Alien Identities (ch. 7.2.6-7, 9.5-6)
Bhagavad-gita, translation by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Bhagavata Purana, translation by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
The Bible
The Cult of the Serpent (file, edited by Branton)
Manurishi Foundation - Hindu Dictionary
J. Ph. Vogel - Indian Serpent-Lore or The Nagas in Hindu Legend and Art
Mahabharata, translation by Hridayananda das Goswami
Nilamata Purana
Kalhana - Rajatarangini
Monier Monier-Williams - Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Nagini in Ural, by Pavel Bazhov
an example of symbolics

Note: This article was abridged and modified in 2007 for its Finnish translation (published in Seita magazine). Its original translator experienced unusually vivid dreams of snakes and after waking up a strong feeling of a presence in her apartment, which scared her and she refused to finish the translation. According to my acquaintance, M. dasa, from whom she got the original to translate and who later finished it, she was healthy but already had some esoteric experiences with snakes.

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