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Delving into Naga

By Tilly Campbell-Allen
Buddhistdoor Global | 2019-11-06 |


Naga Kanya by Tilly Campbell-Allen

In this pocket-sized exposition, I aim to elucidate, just a little, on the history, the energy, the symbolism, and archetype of the naga—its possible meanings, the ways in which this particular magical creature bestows its influence, and on the lateral thoughts we can surmise from it for our psychological and emotional health.

Naga Kanya bestows treasures. What treasures do they represent in your life? And, in invoking her energy, how can she help you? Strictly speaking she is a nagi or nagini, whereas the male is a naga. These nagas are found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Naga Kanya is arguably the unification of the warring nagas and the garuda of ancient Buddhism and Hinduism—the unification of opposites; the middle way.

The secret teachings of the Prajnaparamita were said to have been given to the nagas for safekeeping and, when the time was ripe, the nagas gave them to the philosopher monk Nagarjuna (c. 150–c. 250 CE). These sacred texts on the true nature of reality became fundamental to Mahayana Buddhism and were detailed in one of the first—if not the first—printed books. 

This reality and our relationship with the teachings, including the nature of non-inherent existence, is one that modern science only began to understand from the early 20th century. Yet all those years ago, this information appeared to have been embedded in the image of a serpent-human hybrid. And these immortal serpent-human hybrids are often found protectively flanking gods—the masters that ascended these mortal coils. Gods as personifications of the supreme consciousness, of every drop in the ocean of cosmic proportions.

Naga Kanya, however, is a multifaceted energy that presents us with a multitude of gifts. 

Here, in addition to protection, she offers magic, blessings, prosperity, and aligned relationships in all forms and on all planes of existence. She is an immortal, ultimate treasure-bringing Goddess. She is, in my opinion, ancient information in symbolic form.


Johannes Hevelius' Hydra from Uranographia (1690)

It is interesting to note the form of the constellation Corvus, the raven, which sits on the trail of Draco the water serpent, and in ancient Greece was associated with Apollo, the foremost of the muses—the foreseeing healer who understood harmonics, as we appreciate through music, and the transcendence of communication through the use of words in poetry. There’s deeper information embedded in all that, to which we can surely relate with our own naga.


Johannes Hevelius' Aquia from Uranographia (1690)

But with her aquila (eagle) wings of the garuda, we could also say that she carries the thunderbolts of Zeus/Jupiter, the beneficent guru planet.

Notice her shape?


Naga Kanya. Image courtesy of the author

 Typically very similar to that of the Caduceus.


The Caduceus. Image courtesy of the author

 Even Isis (and her high magical powers, cleverly gained from a snake bite to Ra).

Isis. Image courtesy of the authorIsis. Image courtesy of the author

And even the misunderstood and much-maligned winged, serpent-related Lilith.


Left: 13th Century statue Notre Dame cathedral Paris. Right: The Burney Relief:
Innana, Ishtar, Lilith. Images courtesy of the author

Finally and undeniably, the shape reminds us of the female reproductive system. From the vaginal entrance to the uterus—the seat of creation, our first home—and the ovaries. There is a theory that, in fact, it is the uterus that is implied symbolically in many of these aforementioned images, more so than the DNA double helix or Kundalini rising. 

Creation happens when there is the unification of opposites—at every level, but most obviously at the mundane. As we know, naga is the Sanskrit term of deity in the form of a serpent, essentially a water snake.

Throughout mankind’s history and in one form or another, ophiolatry (serpent worship) has been ubiquitous. One can even surmise that its fervent demonization has been a form of worship and it is my contention that such zeal for condemnation comes from a deep-seated place of fear. And a great fear is that of truth. It is upon this “truth” that I will attempt to expound, although I would always encourage anyone interested to delve deeper, as there is a plethora of information out there.

So to dive into the symbolism of the snake. The salvation from its toxin lies within itself. It sheds its worn-out skin revealing to the world a fresh new one. It is the interminable cyclic nature of the ouroboros. It is the ever-renewing torus energy. It is the energy rising, the awakening Kundalini.

The naga is associated with water and typically said to be found everywhere from small ponds to oceans. Water represents our emotional body. The naga is an aquatic serpent into human form with eagle wings. Water, earth, air, one could say. But where is the fire to complete this foursome? In fact, it could be said that she is her own fire. The unfettered dakini. She is pure kundalini energy, pure creation. Awakened, she is what connects us to higher consciousness.

The conch. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Bon tradition, the conch has been used as both a water (emotional body) container and a trumpet for announcing, calling, and awakening to the Buddhadharma and is Lord Vishnu’s attribute (where his wealth-giving goddess consort Lakshmi resides.)

The conch is also an ocean creature, living in the warm shallow waters, and though possibly unrelated in this historical context, I think of the nautilus and how it feeds in shallow waters by night but descends to depths of nearly 2,000 feet during sunlight hours. It makes me think of dark, hidden places—even in the midday sun—to assimilate the nourishment it has consumed.

Naga Kanya offers us this conch, this treasure of emotional nourishment. And we could say that it is offered from the heart of her womb.

A silk painting of the treasure-giving Naga. Powerful, glowing, yet translucent, like the water itself, with organic algae as her silk scarf. She is on fine ahimsa silk that is wrapped over a gilded canvas. The gold shimmers through the silk as the light changes with the angle of the viewer. Twenty-four-carat gold is also used as sacred highlights on the painting.


Naga Kanya by Tilly Campbell-Allen. Ahimsa silk on gilded canvas

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