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Snake Sculptures In Hindu Temples – Importance Of Naga Sculptures In Hinduism

Snake sculptures are an essential part of Hindu Temples. It symbolically represents fertility and water (birth and life). Naga sculptures in Hinduism have aboriginal connections. One of the earliest evidence of snake sculpture is found in one of the Harappan seals (starting from 6000 BC). The seal depicts a naga honoring a yogi.

As per Hinduism, it is believed that snakes moved to underground or patala so that humans can reside on earth safely. Shesha or Ananta is the king of Nagas and it is also believed that the earth is held atop the thousand-head of Ananta.

The term Naga in Hindu religion is a general term for quasi divine hybrid beings that guard the mineral wealth of the earth.

Snake sculptures in Hindu temples have varying number of hoods. Often, serpents are portrayed as handsome men wearing crowns, large earrings and ornaments, accompanied by beautiful women with single cobra hoods over their heads.

In Hindu temples and sacred places, nagas appear as subservient to or adjuncts of important deities or as popular household guardians of rivers, tanks, wells, ponds etc.
In South India, various types of Naga murtis (idols) are created and are place under huge trees. They are protective deities and are also associated with fertility. Couples desiring children set up votive naga stones under the trees and worship them.

In temples Vishnu is shown as Anantasayana – sleeping on coiled thousand-headed snake Ananta. In some sculptures, Ananta forms a canopy over Lord Vishnu. Krishna and his brother (incarnation of Ananta) are also depicted with Nagas. Krishna was protected from rain during his birth by Ananta. Krishna also defeats the evil Kaliya serpent. This is an important theme in many temples.

Shiva is always depicted with snakes. A snake always form canopy over the Shivling.
The famous episode of Snake Vasuki used as rope in churning of the ocean is also part of numerous sculptures.

Symbolically Nagas in Hindu Temples represent:
  • Episodes from Hindu scriptures
  • Guardians of wealth
  • Protectors of the village or region
  • Fertility
  • Water
  • Abundance
  • Good health and harbinger of good rains
  • They are also associated with good harvest
Bibliography
The Art of Ancient India (1985) – Susan L Huntington – Wealth Hill New York – Tokyo
The Development of Hindu Iconography (1956) J N Banerjee – University of Calcutta, Kolkata.