The Nagas in Ancient India


BY: SUN STAFF - 29.6 2020

Sastric and historical references to the Naga kings and their descending lines.

The Nagas are borne of Lord Brahma, who lay down while doing the work of creation and dropped hair from his body that transformed into snakes. Even while his body crawled along with its hands and feet contracted, there sprang from it ferocious serpents and Nagas with their hoods expanded. The Uragas are also serpentine beings, who are not exactly demigods but between the demigods and human beings.

In the realm of the asuras, the abode of the Nagas is described in numerous passages from the Bhagavatam.

Srimad-Bhagavatam 1:11:11

"The Nagaloka planet is situated below the earth planet, and it is understood that the sun rays are hampered there. The darkness of the planet is, however, removed by the flashes of the jewels set on the heads of the Nagas (celestial serpents), and it is said that there are beautiful gardens, rivulets, etc., for the enjoyment of the Nagas. It is understood here also that the place is well protected by the inhabitants."

Canto 5, Chapter 24 of Srimad Bhagavatam further describes 'The Subterranean Heavenly Planets', and the abode of Nagaloka:

Srimad Bhagavatam 5.24.31

tato 'dhastat patale naga-loka-patayo vasuki-pramukhah sankha-kulika-mahasankha-sveta-dhananjaya-dhrtarastra-sankhacuda-kambalasvatara-devadattadayo maha-bhogino mahamarsa nivasanti yesam u ha vai panca-sapta-dasa-sata-sahasra-sirsanam phanasu viracita maha-manayo rocisnavah patala-vivara-timira-nikaram sva-rocisa vidhamanti

"Beneath Rasatala is another planetary system, known as Patala or Nagaloka, where there are many demoniac serpents, the masters of Nagaloka, such as Sankha, Kulika, Mahasankha, Sveta, Dhananjaya, Dhrtarastra, Sankhacuda, Kambala, Asvatara and Devadatta. The chief among them is Vasuki. They are all extremely angry, and they have many, many hoods -- some snakes five hoods, some seven, some ten, others a hundred and others a thousand. These hoods are bedecked with valuable gems, and the light emanating from the gems illuminates the entire planetary system of bila-svarga."

Valmiki's Ramayana (Book 6, Yuddha kanda, Sarga 7) also describes the residence of the Nagas, as Bhogavati city, their abode in Patala. Here, the asuras are speaking to inspire Ravana with these words:

"Oh, king! Our army, equipped with iron bars (parigha shakti), javelins (shuula), double edged swords (pattasa), darts and sharp-edged spears, is very great. Why are you getting worried? After proceeding to Bhogavati city (the abode of the Nagas in Patala, one of the seven regions under the earth), the serpents there were defeated by you. Kubera (the bestower of riches) who resides on the peak of Mount Kailasa, surrounded by many yakshas surrendered to you after doing a great battle."

The links of naga with s'ankha and riches (Kubera's s'ankha nidhi) points to the people who were s'ankha workers. On the earth planet, this S'ankhadvipa is not far from the mouth of the Rivers Narmada and Tapati, which emanate from the region where the Naga are venerated, surrounding the nearby irrigation tanks of Vidisha. The link with maritime people who created the Sarasvati civilization is clearly indicated by these metaphors.

Besnagar, in the Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh, is also identified with ancient Vidisa (Nagara), and is renowned in ancient literature as the capital of Akara and Dasawa. It is a centre of cultural activities, with trade routes passing through it. Cunningham discovered the famous Heliodoros pillar there (mentioned in a past Sun series). More systematic excavations in the area in 1963-5 by M.D. Khare [1] brought to light the following sequence of cultures. This places the Naga on an historical timeline established by archeologists, which is interesting when compared to the timeline according to sastric references:

Period I A - with pre-pottery non-geometric microliths
Period I B - with pre-pottery geometric microliths
Period II A - Chalcolithic
Period II B - Chalcolithic but with the PGW (painted gray ware)
Period III A - pre-NBPW
Period III B - NBPW (northern black polished ware)
Period III C - Sunga-Satavahana
Period IV A - Naga-Kushan
Period IV B - Ksatrapa, Gupta
Period V - Late historical
Period VI - Medieval and modem

On the analogy of either Mesolithic sites, the period may be dated to c. 5000 B.C. The dates of the lower and upper limits of the Chalcolithic deposit may be worked out as c. 1800 to 900 B.C. based on the analogy of Kayatha and other Chalcolithic sites of central India and the upper Deccan. While Period III A is marked by the continuity of the black-and-red ware and by the presence of a negligible quantity of iron, the 14 C dates being 2420 + 105, 2350 + l00 and 2260 + I40 B.P., Period III B has punch-marked and Vidisa city-state coins, terracotta mother goddesses, a large number of iron objects and the NBPW.


The Nagas of Padmavati

The Nagas of Padmavati are also known as the Nagas of Narwar. Naga kings are known to have ruled from Padmavati, Kantipuri, Mathura and Vidisha. Thus far, twelve Naga rulers are known from these places. One of the most common types of historical evidence of their rule is found on coinage of the day. Following are some of the designs typically found on the obverse (face) of the Naga coins:


One important that's been cataloged is the copper coin issued by Ganapati Naga, c. 340 A.D. On the obverse of the coin is a brahmana bull standing within a dotted crescent. On the verso (reverse side) is an inscription in Brahmi script, which states "Maharaja Shri Ganendra". This is a rare example where the full inscription is still readable on a Naga coin of this era. [2]



Vidisha, Sanchi and Udayagiri complex, together with Dhar, Mandu and Eran, all in Madhya Pradesh, have yielded ancient metallic objects (exemplified by the Delhi iron pillar), which have been investigated by archaeo-metallurgical teams led by Prof. Balasubramaniam of IIT, Kanpur and Dr. Anand M. Sharan of Memorial University of Newfoundland. After all, the Delhi iron pillar was made in Udayagiri, Sanchi and the pillar is shaped like the Heliodorus pillar. One is made of non-rusting iron, the other of stone. Both are a celebration of a unique, unparalleled technological heritage combined with the dharma-dhamma civilizational. The unique monuments of Vedic civilization exemplify the merging of artha, wealth and dharma as purushartha (goals of life).

By making a study of the many artistic representations of personalities in the Naga line, crafted in various materials and mediums that are specific to certain historical eras, it is possible to gather significant evidence of the Naga role in Vedic culture and civilization.



[1] (IAR 1963-4, p. 16; 1964-5, p. 19)

[2] H.V. Trivedi: Catalogue of the Coins of the Naga Kings of Padmavati, published by The Department of Archaeology & Museums, Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior, 1957.

Sources: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust; some material, author unknown.