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Importance of Snake around the Neck of Lord Shiva

Matsya Purana states when depicting Bhagvan Shiva, the Lord should be garlanded with snakes. Most images of Shiva in modern day only depict a single snake around his neck. The five-headed snake forming a canopy over Shivling is another common representation. Puranas and other holy scriptures have numerous tales associating snakes and Lord Shiva.

Snakes (Nagas) have been a part of worship in Hinduism from the very beginning. The most famous myth of Lord Shiva’s association with snakes is when he drinks the poison (kalakuda) from Snake Vasuki’s mouth during the churning of ocean to get amrit. From that day, Lord Shiva becomes blue throated and is called Nilakantha.

It is said the serpent on Shiva’s neck represent the endless cycle of birth and regeneration. Another symbolism is that the snake on neck represents ego which once controlled can be worn as an ornament.

Another important aspect is that Lord Shiva is depicted with snakes when he is in the Kailasa (Himalaya). Snakes serve Lord Shiva as necklace, armlets and appear in his clothes. They also serve as his bowstring.

Legend has it that all the snakes found on Lord Shiva’s body became ornaments during his marriage with Parvati. It is also said that Shiva made ornaments out poisonous snakes and submitted it to Pravati as gift.

Snakes, especially cobras, are said to carry ‘mani’ (rubies) in their head. It is said that these rubies serve as lamp during night to Parvati and Shiva.

Since there is no written guidance in depicting Lord Shiva, artists have made use of their widest imagination when depicting snakes along with Lord Shvia.

Story of Snake Vasuki