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Naga: In Indian Iconography and Art
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Naga: In Indian Iconography and Art
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About the Book

 

Ophiolatry or serpent- worship (most commonly referred to in India as (Naga cult) seems to have been one of the oldest and most widespread form of religion the world has ever known. The cult assumed a special significance and importance for India as in no other part of the world was it more widely distributed or developed in more varied and interesting forms. The problems associated with Naga worship comprise psychological, religious, sociological, political, iconographical, art and many other aspects and each aspect offers splendid scope of research. Whik handling the art and iconographical aspects of linga cult in India, the present book has analysed to show how the cult was associated with the different religious systems of ancient India and how this association is reflected in the art and iconography of the respective religious systems-both brahmanical and non- brahmanical.

 

The antiquity of Naga worship in India may be traced to protohistoric times if not earlier. The seals and sealings of the Harappan times provide the earliest protohistoric evidence.

 

The concept of Ahi-Budhmya in the early and later Vedic literature is the germ of serpent worship in ancient India which takes a magnified form in the subsequent ages. During the millennium beginning with 600 BC, possibly keeping with the changing social conditions, not only were the new gods created, but the functions of the old gods underwent modification and alteration. Contact with the indigenous cults was responsible not only for the importation of new objects of worship, but also for assimilation of new mythologies in older cults. The Naga cult had, by this time, assumed the cult of the masses. How, in the changing circumstances, the different religious systems of ancient India made systematic attempts to wean people from the Naga cult into their own fold is an interesting story. Not only did they adopt some of the features of the Naga cult into their own faith but assimilated them. The result was that from 600 BC onwards we find all religious systems of India incorporating Naga as integral part of their creed. Not only the brahmanical cults like Vaisnavism, Shaivism. Saktism and their various forms admitted Naga into own religion, but even non- brahmanical religious systems like Buddhism and Jainism followed the practice. How in the iconography and art of each of these religious systems is Naga depicted in different mythological backgrounds is the subject matter of research incorporated in the present book.

 

About the Author

 

Dr. R.K. Sharma (b. 1932), Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Ardlill'ology and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jabalpur (MT.), retired in 1992. His contribution to the cause of Indian archaeology in general and archaeology of Madhya Pradesh in particular is widely acclaimed.

 

His prestigious publications include: Madhya Pradesh evam Chattisgarh ke Puratattava ka Sandarbh Granth (Bhopal), 1974 , 2010); The Temple of Chausatha Yogini at Bheraghat (Delhi, 1978); Art of the Paramaras of Malwa (ed.) (Delhi, 1979);’The Kalachuris and their times (Delhi, 1980); India Archaeology Archaeology of Bhopal Region (Delhi, 1980);’Indian Archaeology- New Perspective (ed.) (Delhi, 1982); Nagas-The Tribe and the Cult (Delhi, 2006); History, Archaelogy and Culture of the Narmada Valley (ed.) (Delhi, 2007) and Coinage of Central India (Delhi, 2007) and Coinage of Central India (Delhi, 2011). Several of his other publications are in process.

 

Preface

 

Ophiolatry or serpent-worship (most commonly referred to in India as Naga cult) seems to have been one of the oldest and most widespread form of religion the world has ever known. The scope and extent of serpent-worship is so universal and antique in nature that practically there is no country in the ancient world where it did not prevail. Abundant testimony of serpent-worship is available in Persia, Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Italy, northern and western Europe, Mexico, Peru, America, China, Japan, Ceylon, etc. But the Naga cult assumed special significance and importance in India, for, in no other part of the world is it more widely distributed or developed in more varied and interesting forms. The problems associated with Naga worship are complicated and manifold. Its character comprises psychological, religious, sociological, political, iconograpical, art and many other aspects and each aspect offers splendid scope of research. While handling the art and iconographical aspect of Naga cult in India, the present study proposes to analyze how the cult was associated with the different religious systems of ancient India and how its association is reflected in the art and iconography of the different religious systems both brahmanical and non-brahmanical.

 

Naga is painted, though not profusely, in the rock art of India and these do not necessarily represent the cult. Protohistoric evidence is provided by the seals and sealings of the Harappan times. The concept of Ahi- Budhnya in the early and later Vedic literature is the germ of serpent-worship, which takes a magnified form in the subsequent ages. During the millennium beginning with 600 BC, possibly keeping with the changing social conditions, not only were the new gods created, but the functions of the old gods also underwent modification and alteration. Contact with indigenous cults was responsible not only for the importation of new objects of worship, but also for assimilation of new mythologies in older cult. The Naga cult had, by this time, assumed the cult of the masses. How, in the changing circumstances, the different religious sects made systematic attempts to wean people from the Naga cult into their own fold is an interesting story. Not only did they adopt some of the features of Naga cult into their own faith but assimilated them. The result was that from 600 BC onwards, we find all important religious systems of India incorporating Naga as integral part of their creed. Not only Saivism, but Vaisnavism, Buddhism, Jainism, Saktism, Surya and other minor cults admitted Naga in their own religion.

 

The Jatakas are full of stories regarding the association of the Buddha with the Nagas. The Nagas and their wives, crowned with snake hoods, are sculptured profusely as devotees of the Buddha in the sculptures of Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati. Further, we find snake goddess Janguli among the Buddhist deities of the Mahayanists. When the Buddha died, among the contestants for obtaining his mortal remains, we find presence of the Nagas. There are innumerable instances of this kind. In Buddhist iconography, Naga is found as an accessory in several forms of the Buddha, Buddhasaktis, Bodhisattvas and their emanations.

 

Similarly, in Jainism, we find the use of five-hooded Naga over the head of the seventh Jina Suparsvanatha and seven-hooded snake over the head of Parsvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara, as their representative symbols. In almost all Jaina temples, the presence of snake images is found. Naga is closely associated with the Yaksas and Yaksis of the Tirthankaras together with their Mahavidyas, Upadevatas and Bahubali.

 

In case of brahmanical religions, such instances of association with the cult of Naga may be multiplied in case of Saivism, pariviira devatiis of Siva, Sakti, Surya and other minor religious cults. Vaisnavism too absorbed the Naga cult into its fold but in a different fashion. The hostile attitude towards the cult is indicated by Visnu’s vahana Garuda, the enemy of serpent, and the subjugation of Naga Kaliya by Krsna, but the friendly attitude is reflected in the use of Sesa or Ananta as the couch or seat of Visnu. More significant is the belief that Balarama is the incarnation of Sesa and thereby a follower of Naga cult. This leads to the corollary that his brother Krsna too was a follower of the cult of Naga. The death of Balarama is pictured as the departure of a huge white serpent from his mouth towards the sea. Still more significant is the story in the Anusasana Parvan that by worshiping the serpent Baladeva, one acquires the strength of Varaha, an incarnation of Visnu Curiously enough, in late sculptures of this incarnation, Sesa appears as supporting one of the feet of Varaha.

 

It is clear that the association of Naga with brahmanical and non-brahmanical divinities was great and the cult of Naga played a significant role in popular belief, and snakes, human figures with hoods of an uneven number (one, three, five, seven, nine, etc., presumably to produce a symmetrical effect with the central hood directly over the head) and mermaid figures, half-human and half-serpentine, served to represent the Naga in sculptures and paintings related to brahmanical and non- brahmanical religions of India. How in the iconography and art of each of these religious systems is Naga depicted in different mythological background is the subject matter of the present research.

 

Research work on some aspects of Naga cult in India was started nearly a century and a half ago and distinguished scholars like J. Fergusson, H. Oldenburg, E.W. Hopkins, Kern, M. Winternitz, Prazyluski, Monier Williams, James Hastings, J. Ph. Vogel, K.P. Jayaswal, T.V. Mahalingam, P.K. Maity, etc. have worked on a few of the varied aspects of Naga cult. Six years back, the author of the present project work too, with the assistance provided by the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, conducted a project entitled "Nagas of North India: A Political Study". With further modifications, it has been published in a book form entitled Nagas: The Tribe and the Cult (M/ s Aryan Books International, Delhi, 2006). In the work, a critical history of the Naga as a tribe as well as a cult has been traced in a chronological order. Armed with this specialized knowledge about the serpent worshipping cult of India, the author has delved further into the subject to analyze how the cult made tremendous impact on the different religious systems of ancient India-both brahamanical and non-brahmanical-as is revealed by their art and iconography and the tradition continues even today.

 

The study has been planned as per chapterisation that follows.

The author is grateful to the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, for sanction of Research Project Grant to enable him to complete this project in time. The authorities of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon, particularly Or. Vandana Sinha, Director (Academic), provided all possible facilities available in the Reference Library and the Photo Archives of the Institute and the author is extremely thankful to them.

 

Thanks are due to Shri Rajendra Tiwari, Senior Advocate, Jabalpur and Chairman, Mahakoshal Shiksha Prasar Samiti as well as Dr. B. Bhatnagar, Principal, C.P. Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Jabalpur, for providing all possible assistance in their institution to conduct this project smoothly. Adequate thanks are also due to Professor S.N. Mishra, Head, Deptt. of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, R.D. University, Jabalpur and Professor R.N. Shrivastava, Head, Deptt. of History, Mankunwar Bai Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Jabalpur, who provided all possible assistance in the matter of making available books and journals available with them personally as well as in the reference libraries within their control. Without their ready assistance, it would have been very difficult for the author to execute this project.

 

The author will fail in his duty if he does not acknowledge gratitude to his wife Smt. Sarla Sharma whose sustained interest and ceaseless inspiration helped him completed his work at the earliest.

 

Contents

 

 

Preface

v

 

Abbreviations

xi

 

List of Illustrations

xiii

1.

Origin and Antiquity

1

2.

Types of Naga in Indian Iconography

11

3.

Naga in Pre and Protohistoric Art

46

4.

Naga on Early Indian Coins

52

5.

Vaisnavism and Naga - I

60

6.

Vaisnavism and Naga – II

99

7.

Saivism and Naga – I

134

8.

Saivism and Naga – II

187

9.

Naga in the Iconography of Sakti

233

10.

Minor Hindu Deities and Naga

257

11.

Naga in Buddhist Art and Iconography

275

12.

Naga in Jaina Art and Iconography

307

13.

Naga as a Decorative Motif in Indian Architecture

331

14.

Epilogue

347

 

Select Bibliography

359

 

Index

365

 

Sample Pages



Naga: In Indian Iconography and Art

Item Code:
NAJ994
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2014
ISBN:
9788173055157
Language:
English
Size:
12.0 inch x 8.5 inch
Pages:
412 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 2.6 kg
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$165.00   Shipping Free - 4 to 6 days
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About the Book

 

Ophiolatry or serpent- worship (most commonly referred to in India as (Naga cult) seems to have been one of the oldest and most widespread form of religion the world has ever known. The cult assumed a special significance and importance for India as in no other part of the world was it more widely distributed or developed in more varied and interesting forms. The problems associated with Naga worship comprise psychological, religious, sociological, political, iconographical, art and many other aspects and each aspect offers splendid scope of research. Whik handling the art and iconographical aspects of linga cult in India, the present book has analysed to show how the cult was associated with the different religious systems of ancient India and how this association is reflected in the art and iconography of the respective religious systems-both brahmanical and non- brahmanical.

 

The antiquity of Naga worship in India may be traced to protohistoric times if not earlier. The seals and sealings of the Harappan times provide the earliest protohistoric evidence.

 

The concept of Ahi-Budhmya in the early and later Vedic literature is the germ of serpent worship in ancient India which takes a magnified form in the subsequent ages. During the millennium beginning with 600 BC, possibly keeping with the changing social conditions, not only were the new gods created, but the functions of the old gods underwent modification and alteration. Contact with the indigenous cults was responsible not only for the importation of new objects of worship, but also for assimilation of new mythologies in older cults. The Naga cult had, by this time, assumed the cult of the masses. How, in the changing circumstances, the different religious systems of ancient India made systematic attempts to wean people from the Naga cult into their own fold is an interesting story. Not only did they adopt some of the features of the Naga cult into their own faith but assimilated them. The result was that from 600 BC onwards we find all religious systems of India incorporating Naga as integral part of their creed. Not only the brahmanical cults like Vaisnavism, Shaivism. Saktism and their various forms admitted Naga into own religion, but even non- brahmanical religious systems like Buddhism and Jainism followed the practice. How in the iconography and art of each of these religious systems is Naga depicted in different mythological backgrounds is the subject matter of research incorporated in the present book.

 

About the Author

 

Dr. R.K. Sharma (b. 1932), Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Ardlill'ology and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jabalpur (MT.), retired in 1992. His contribution to the cause of Indian archaeology in general and archaeology of Madhya Pradesh in particular is widely acclaimed.

 

His prestigious publications include: Madhya Pradesh evam Chattisgarh ke Puratattava ka Sandarbh Granth (Bhopal), 1974 , 2010); The Temple of Chausatha Yogini at Bheraghat (Delhi, 1978); Art of the Paramaras of Malwa (ed.) (Delhi, 1979);’The Kalachuris and their times (Delhi, 1980); India Archaeology Archaeology of Bhopal Region (Delhi, 1980);’Indian Archaeology- New Perspective (ed.) (Delhi, 1982); Nagas-The Tribe and the Cult (Delhi, 2006); History, Archaelogy and Culture of the Narmada Valley (ed.) (Delhi, 2007) and Coinage of Central India (Delhi, 2007) and Coinage of Central India (Delhi, 2011). Several of his other publications are in process.

 

Preface

 

Ophiolatry or serpent-worship (most commonly referred to in India as Naga cult) seems to have been one of the oldest and most widespread form of religion the world has ever known. The scope and extent of serpent-worship is so universal and antique in nature that practically there is no country in the ancient world where it did not prevail. Abundant testimony of serpent-worship is available in Persia, Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Italy, northern and western Europe, Mexico, Peru, America, China, Japan, Ceylon, etc. But the Naga cult assumed special significance and importance in India, for, in no other part of the world is it more widely distributed or developed in more varied and interesting forms. The problems associated with Naga worship are complicated and manifold. Its character comprises psychological, religious, sociological, political, iconograpical, art and many other aspects and each aspect offers splendid scope of research. While handling the art and iconographical aspect of Naga cult in India, the present study proposes to analyze how the cult was associated with the different religious systems of ancient India and how its association is reflected in the art and iconography of the different religious systems both brahmanical and non-brahmanical.

 

Naga is painted, though not profusely, in the rock art of India and these do not necessarily represent the cult. Protohistoric evidence is provided by the seals and sealings of the Harappan times. The concept of Ahi- Budhnya in the early and later Vedic literature is the germ of serpent-worship, which takes a magnified form in the subsequent ages. During the millennium beginning with 600 BC, possibly keeping with the changing social conditions, not only were the new gods created, but the functions of the old gods also underwent modification and alteration. Contact with indigenous cults was responsible not only for the importation of new objects of worship, but also for assimilation of new mythologies in older cult. The Naga cult had, by this time, assumed the cult of the masses. How, in the changing circumstances, the different religious sects made systematic attempts to wean people from the Naga cult into their own fold is an interesting story. Not only did they adopt some of the features of Naga cult into their own faith but assimilated them. The result was that from 600 BC onwards, we find all important religious systems of India incorporating Naga as integral part of their creed. Not only Saivism, but Vaisnavism, Buddhism, Jainism, Saktism, Surya and other minor cults admitted Naga in their own religion.

 

The Jatakas are full of stories regarding the association of the Buddha with the Nagas. The Nagas and their wives, crowned with snake hoods, are sculptured profusely as devotees of the Buddha in the sculptures of Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati. Further, we find snake goddess Janguli among the Buddhist deities of the Mahayanists. When the Buddha died, among the contestants for obtaining his mortal remains, we find presence of the Nagas. There are innumerable instances of this kind. In Buddhist iconography, Naga is found as an accessory in several forms of the Buddha, Buddhasaktis, Bodhisattvas and their emanations.

 

Similarly, in Jainism, we find the use of five-hooded Naga over the head of the seventh Jina Suparsvanatha and seven-hooded snake over the head of Parsvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankara, as their representative symbols. In almost all Jaina temples, the presence of snake images is found. Naga is closely associated with the Yaksas and Yaksis of the Tirthankaras together with their Mahavidyas, Upadevatas and Bahubali.

 

In case of brahmanical religions, such instances of association with the cult of Naga may be multiplied in case of Saivism, pariviira devatiis of Siva, Sakti, Surya and other minor religious cults. Vaisnavism too absorbed the Naga cult into its fold but in a different fashion. The hostile attitude towards the cult is indicated by Visnu’s vahana Garuda, the enemy of serpent, and the subjugation of Naga Kaliya by Krsna, but the friendly attitude is reflected in the use of Sesa or Ananta as the couch or seat of Visnu. More significant is the belief that Balarama is the incarnation of Sesa and thereby a follower of Naga cult. This leads to the corollary that his brother Krsna too was a follower of the cult of Naga. The death of Balarama is pictured as the departure of a huge white serpent from his mouth towards the sea. Still more significant is the story in the Anusasana Parvan that by worshiping the serpent Baladeva, one acquires the strength of Varaha, an incarnation of Visnu Curiously enough, in late sculptures of this incarnation, Sesa appears as supporting one of the feet of Varaha.

 

It is clear that the association of Naga with brahmanical and non-brahmanical divinities was great and the cult of Naga played a significant role in popular belief, and snakes, human figures with hoods of an uneven number (one, three, five, seven, nine, etc., presumably to produce a symmetrical effect with the central hood directly over the head) and mermaid figures, half-human and half-serpentine, served to represent the Naga in sculptures and paintings related to brahmanical and non- brahmanical religions of India. How in the iconography and art of each of these religious systems is Naga depicted in different mythological background is the subject matter of the present research.

 

Research work on some aspects of Naga cult in India was started nearly a century and a half ago and distinguished scholars like J. Fergusson, H. Oldenburg, E.W. Hopkins, Kern, M. Winternitz, Prazyluski, Monier Williams, James Hastings, J. Ph. Vogel, K.P. Jayaswal, T.V. Mahalingam, P.K. Maity, etc. have worked on a few of the varied aspects of Naga cult. Six years back, the author of the present project work too, with the assistance provided by the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, conducted a project entitled "Nagas of North India: A Political Study". With further modifications, it has been published in a book form entitled Nagas: The Tribe and the Cult (M/ s Aryan Books International, Delhi, 2006). In the work, a critical history of the Naga as a tribe as well as a cult has been traced in a chronological order. Armed with this specialized knowledge about the serpent worshipping cult of India, the author has delved further into the subject to analyze how the cult made tremendous impact on the different religious systems of ancient India-both brahamanical and non-brahmanical-as is revealed by their art and iconography and the tradition continues even today.

 

The study has been planned as per chapterisation that follows.

The author is grateful to the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, for sanction of Research Project Grant to enable him to complete this project in time. The authorities of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon, particularly Or. Vandana Sinha, Director (Academic), provided all possible facilities available in the Reference Library and the Photo Archives of the Institute and the author is extremely thankful to them.

 

Thanks are due to Shri Rajendra Tiwari, Senior Advocate, Jabalpur and Chairman, Mahakoshal Shiksha Prasar Samiti as well as Dr. B. Bhatnagar, Principal, C.P. Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Jabalpur, for providing all possible assistance in their institution to conduct this project smoothly. Adequate thanks are also due to Professor S.N. Mishra, Head, Deptt. of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, R.D. University, Jabalpur and Professor R.N. Shrivastava, Head, Deptt. of History, Mankunwar Bai Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Jabalpur, who provided all possible assistance in the matter of making available books and journals available with them personally as well as in the reference libraries within their control. Without their ready assistance, it would have been very difficult for the author to execute this project.

 

The author will fail in his duty if he does not acknowledge gratitude to his wife Smt. Sarla Sharma whose sustained interest and ceaseless inspiration helped him completed his work at the earliest.

 

Contents

 

 

Preface

v

 

Abbreviations

xi

 

List of Illustrations

xiii

1.

Origin and Antiquity

1

2.

Types of Naga in Indian Iconography

11

3.

Naga in Pre and Protohistoric Art

46

4.

Naga on Early Indian Coins

52

5.

Vaisnavism and Naga - I

60

6.

Vaisnavism and Naga – II

99

7.

Saivism and Naga – I

134

8.

Saivism and Naga – II

187

9.

Naga in the Iconography of Sakti

233

10.

Minor Hindu Deities and Naga

257

11.

Naga in Buddhist Art and Iconography

275

12.

Naga in Jaina Art and Iconography

307

13.

Naga as a Decorative Motif in Indian Architecture

331

14.

Epilogue

347

 

Select Bibliography

359

 

Index

365

 

Sample Pages



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