In Indian mythology, the serpent, as a deity, has a pre-Vedic past. A lot of excavated material, recovered from various Indus sites, reveals that there prevailed the cult of serpent worship in the primitive Indian society. Influenced by the tremendous popularity of the serpent deity in the concurrent Indian society, the Brahmanical literature, the Puranas in special, came with legends that re-emphasised the significance of the serpent as a celestial being and associated it with Vishnu and Shiva like divinities. A number of serpents, to include Shesh, or Ananta, Vasuki, Takshaka, Padma, or Nabha, Karkotaka, Mahapadma, Kulika etceteras, are as much Puranic entities as are Indra, Marut, Garuda etceteras. According to Padma Purana and The Mahabharata, these great serpents along with one thousand others were born of Kadru, the daughter of Daksha, by sage Kashyapa. In the Great War, the Mahabharata, Takshaka and other serpents played a great role and Vasuki was often a great help to gods. In ocean churning Vasuki acted as the churning rope. Vasuki was the string of the bow, which Lord Shiva had made of Mount Mandar for annihilating Tripura. Nagaloka, Nagadhanvatirtha and Nagpur were three ancient seats of Nagas. This serpent form emerges more powerfully in Tantra, again an ancient cosmic science prevalent in India since pre-Vedic or even pre-Aryan days. The serpent is the symbol of energy of both, the cosmos and the individual. As the cosmic energy circuits have an inherent serpent form, the Kundalini Shakti, the coiled and dormant cosmic power, the supreme force in human body, the coiled up energy, has also the shape and the character of the serpent. Under the Tantra, this Kundalini, the serpent energy in human body is the supreme instrument of all achievements, the absolute light, knowledge and bliss. It is by arousing the Kundalini that the dormant energy is reoriented and undergoes transformation. When the Kundalini keeps sleeping, man's awareness of the world restricts to his immediate earthly circumstances. But when the Kundalini awakes, a stage when she absorbs within herself all kinetic energy, the individual does not remain restricted to his own perception but participates in the source of light and attains cosmic transformation. This Kundalini Shakti has been perceived in the visual form of the serpent. The tantrika, hence, recommends serpent worship because it kindles the Kundalini within and routes the cosmic energy in. The Naga-pata is, thus, a votive object for the performance of rites, related to the serpent deity, and kindling Kundalini and thereby all kinetic energy circuits with which the different psychic centres are charged.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.