Naga is the sacred name of mythical serpent in Southeast Asian and Indian literature. In Thailand, the figure has deeply impacted in aspects of Thai traditional arts, especially in architecture and sculpture. The reference materials related to Naga are very scanty however and it seems that they only concentrate on a few books written by the Thai and foreign scholars.
Through the works, the authors implicitly confirm that the Naga in Southeast Asian cultures origins from India. Some others, however, have also talked briefly about the indigenous serpent cult without proving clear scientific evidences. Thus, a big question is raised whether there was a form of indigenous serpent cult existed in Siam peninsular and mainland Southeast Asia or not. And my 9 month research project in Thailand will be an expectation to answer partially this difficult question.
Serpent in indigenous cultures of Thailand and Southeast Asia
Serpent as a form of animism
The serpent cults were by no means exclusive to India and it seems that the worship of snakes, as symbols of fertility and water, occurred independently in many parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia where the water culture played a crucial part in the residents’ daily life activities (10. Michel Freeman and Roger Warner 1987: 124). In Siam peninsular, the color painted pots of earthen ware were discovered at Ban Chieng (บ้านเชียง), Udonthani (อุดรธานี) province and Ban Kao (บ้านเก่า), Kanchanaburi (กาญจนบุรี) province, which showed many waving like serpent designs decorated around the pottery body. These findings are evidence that the serpent cult was possibly practiced by the primitive society in Siam peninsular in the Metal Age (ยุคโลหะ), dating about 2,000 – 3,000 years ago.
The serpent cult of Southeast Asian region has been mainly found among the resident communities living along the banks of Mekhong River (แม่น้ำโขง), from Yunan (ยูนาน) province, China, to the lower section of its river course. Here, the indigenous ethnic groups believe that the serpent is the creator of nature and life and that it nourishes human beings. The serpent, furthermore, is also supposed to have assisted people in establishing the cities, the citadels and bestowing prosperity and richness. But the serpent can also punish people by releasing an over supply of water, causing flood and destroying the cities. Most of the nonsense legends are truly believed by the indigenous residents, especially the serpent legends related to the cities, citadels and the kingdoms construction; stories of the serpent being at the origin of the matriarchy lineage and human race are very popular among the resident communities in Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
A Tai Lu (Water Tai) legend called the story of Nang Sa (นางส้า) tells how the Tai race originated from the water serpent. Tai men in Sipsongpanna (สิบสองปันนา, Yunan province, China), Sipsong Chu Tai (สิบสองจุไท, the North of Laos and the Northwest of Vietnam) and the North of Thailand usually tattoo the water serpent on their back and arm as an obligatory rite when they come of age. Chinese and Vietnamese chronicles called them “Khin – man” that means “great snake” (16. Sumet Jumsai 1997: 138). Hitherto, a few old Thais residing in the North and Northeast of Thailand still called the mythical water serpent “Tua Luong” (ตัวลวง) that is nearly similar with “Thuong Luong” in Vietnamese legendary. The two words have a similar sound and imply that the belief of the serpent ruler of the water world has its source from human imagination. They could also be ancient names for the mythical water serpent of the Southeast Asian minority groups.
Serpent as a symbol of water
Water plays a very crucial role in the daily life and agricultural activities of primitive people in Southeast Asia. Water is sometimes so much abundant that it causes floods; at other times, it’s is really scarce. Thus, belief in a water entity found its way in people’s consciousness to help them face the unexplained when nature strikes. Primitive people believed that there must be a beast residing in the water realm, which creates water and controls it, eventually bestowing it to the human world; or that was understood as a giant water serpent in the human mind. In his work, Naga - Origin of Siam and West Pacific Culture, Dr. Sumet Jumsai also reasoned that “no explanation can account for serpent (Naga) being equated to water except for the genealogy of form” (16. 1997: 16).
According to traditional beliefs, Thais and Laotians think that the mythical serpent lived in a zone of terrestrial moisture under the human world, called Muang Badan (เมืองบาดาล), the sacred citadel, located somewhere in the Mekhong river bed, the river course between Nong Khai province, Thailand and Vientiane capital, the People Republic Democracy of Laos. From Muang Badan, the underworld river rose, and mythically linked to all the rivers and oceans all over the world. Muang Badan is also considered as a mythical kingdom which provides for the endless water source to keep the Mekhong River (แม่น้ำโขง) and all other rivers from drying out. Its water also contributes to the ecological environment and takes care of residents’ life along the riverside regions. In the traditional agricultural understanding, the term “Nak hey nam” (นาคให้น้ำ - serpent giving water) refers to the water amount needed for rice planting, as estimated by a Thai farmer evaluation [16. Sumet Jumsai 1997: 24]. The Thais furthermore also think that if there’s but one unique serpent in the field with them during a year, they will have enough water for cultivating rice. But if, all of seven serpents stay together in the field, there’ll be a drought because the serpents will envy each other for supplying water. According to the ancient belief, the Thais and Southeast Asian people thought that the serpent spirits only lived in the water realm. With the influence of Indian culture, they came to believe in the serpent living in heaven (35. Suchit Wongthet 2003: 2). Thus, in the early rainy reason, the Thai farmers would listen carefully for the direction of the thunder, because the serpent will give indication on the water supply. If it thunders in the North the serpent will release an over supply of water. Flood will inundate the land. If it booms from the Southeast, the serpent will release ample rain and rice will be plentiful. In the rain prayer festival, Bun Bang Fai (เทศกาลบุญบั้งไฟ), which is yearly held in Yasothon province in the middle of June, village men launch the serpent shape bamboo rockets into the sky. The rockets send the human message to the God of Thunder, Phra In (พระอินทร์, Indra in Hindu), to ask him to enter into his serpent cloud and make rain. When looking at a rainbow stretched across the sky, a Thai would see the “Nak kin nam” (นาคกินน้ำ - the serpent drinking water), the rainbow symbolizing the giant multi colored serpent rearing its head to the ocean and drinking water (23. Pamela York Taylor 1994: 62). These beliefs might have come from Indian culture, after having been assimilated into the Thai folklore, especially in E - San region which suffers from lack of water all year round.
Serpent in acculturation with Brahmanism and Theravada Buddhism in Thailand and Southeast Asia
Serpent and Brahmanism
Brahmanism (ศาสนาพราหมณ์) is considered as the Arians’ main religion, founded in the Vedic period, about 3,000 years ago. Buddhism (ศาสนาพุทธ) came later, in the 5th century BC. Both of them however spread to Southeast Asian region at the same period, in the first centuries AD. The god serpent was called Naga in Sanskrit and Nag in Pali. These terms are used to designate both the king cobra and the elephant. It appears that the worship of the Naga as a type of totem originated from the Dravidian culture. Later it became the holy beast of Brahmanism in the post - Vedic Era, when the Arian absorbed the Dravidian’s indigenous cults. The Naga was called Nak (นาค), Phaya Nak (พญานาค) or Tua Nak (ตัวนาค) in Thai. In my opinion, those words derive from the Sanskrit or the Pali languages but they are pronounced with Thai phonetics. Moreover, the term of Naga is used to refer to the naked people, for instance the Naga tribes living in Naga Hill, Assam state, the Northeast of India. The Tam Nan Urangkathat (ตำนานอุรังคธาตุ), a Thai ancient chronicle, states that Naga was the term used to designate the ethnic people originally residing in Nong Sae (หนองแส), South of Yunan province, who emigrated by small groups for settlement along the banks of Mekhong River (35. Suchit Wongthet 2003: 4).Thus, Naga was undoubtedly referring to the Tai race who emigrated southward as the development process of their ethnic history. In the first chapter of the Tam Nan Urangkhathat (ตำนานอุรังคธาตุ), there is a part quoted from Indian trade men’s narration as the following “Suvannaphum region is the living quarters of Naga race” (35. Suthit Wongthet 2003: 5). According to Indian chronicle, Suvannaphum (สุวรรณภูมิ) or Suvarnnabhumi means “the Golden Land” where it is nowadays believed to be Siam peninsular or mainland Southeast Asia. There, the indigenous residents were naked people as the descriptions in Funan Ki, by Khang Tai, the ambassador who was sent to the Funan royal court as the Chinese emperor’s envoy in the Three Kingdom period. In other words, the Thai Tam Nan Urangkathat term of designating the indigenous people as Nagas must have come from the Indian influence.In short, Naga is also the preferred term used (by Indian) to imply to the indigenous groups of Southeast Asia who practiced the system of serpent worshipped cult or considered the serpent as a form of animal totems. Since accepting Indian culture, the Southeast Asian people have merely taken the term “Naga” from India for the sake of increasing the sacred nature of the mythical indigenous serpent. At first, when Brahmanism appeared in Southeast Asia, it was considered as a new religion, it was confronted to the old belief system of serpent worshipping. The confrontation is represented in Thai legends which tell about Phra Isuan (พระอิศวร - Shiva in Hindu) and Phra Narai (พระนารายณ์ - Vishnu in Hindu) fighting fiercely with the Naga kings in a mythical combat. Eventually victory went to the Brahmanist Gods, who proclaimed the superiority of the new religion on the old belief system. The old belief, however, wasn’t lost, but became part of the new religion with a more sacred role. The Naga cult was assimilated to the indigenous serpent cult and turned into a state depended god who is a protector of the new religion and the king’s holy lineage. This is illustrated in the legend of a Brahmin, Kaudinya who married a Soma princess (พระนางโสมา), the daughter of the Naga king, thereafter giving birth to the kings’ descendants. A similar story was carved in the Champa stone inscription in My Son, the holy land, the Central of Vietnam, after which it was specifically narrated in the legend of the Funan Kingdom (อาณาจักรฟูนัน) established by Ambassador Khang Tai in the 3rd century AD. The Khmer also have a similar story that tells of Prince Preah Thong marrying Princess Nang Neak, daughter of King Naga, and ultimately it was adapted into the “Phra Ruong” (พระร่วง) story by the Thais, in 13th century AD, explaining the serpent princess lineage (Nang Nak - นางนาค in Thai) of the first king of Sukhothai Kingdom (อาณาจักรสุโขทัย). Along with the assimilation of Indian culture into indigenous cultures, all of the stories also bear the stamps of popular stories told in the South or Southeast of India (as the Indian Kings’ stories under Manipur and Pavallas dynasties). Mahabharata (มหาภารตะ), the Indian poem epic in verses, moreover, told the story about Hero Ajuna marrying Princess Naga Ulupi, the daughter of King Naga Nila who was dominating Potala, the water realm. Nevertheless, there is main difference in the details among the legends; the Southeast Asian stories always tells of the serpent princess Soma or the empress Lieu Diep’s very important role in the indigenous societies. She is both a supreme ruler of a powerful kingdom and a military chief but doesn’t care about being clothed until her marriage to a Brahmin husband. These details are good illustrations of the cultural and society background of Southeast Asia in Pre - Indian influenced period. The indigenous residents are nearly naked and lived in a matriarchal society, with the female position respected within the family and community circles.
When Brahmanism becoming a dominant religion in the royal courts, the God - King (Devaraja) system found its justification of the king having a sacred role. The Naga was an essential symbol of matriarchy related to the kings’ noble lineage. In The Customs of Cambodia, by Chou Ta Koun, a diplomatic attaché of Chinese Yuan dynasty, visiting the royal court of Angkor in 13th century AD, told the story of the Khmer king who each night was expected to mate with a nine headed serpent princess to continue the royal lineage and ensure the prosperity of the kingdom. In the other Thai legend stories, the Naga is solemnly narrated as the state protector of devout kings; the Naga assists people to dig rivers for irrigation, protects water dams and constructs cities for human beings. On the contrary, if the kings or their subjects are malefic, anti – religious, the Naga will punish them by raising water and sinking the cities, damaging the soil and tearing villages down. Such instances are the stories which occurred to the ancient cities of Nong Han Luong (หนองหานหลวง), Vieng Nong Lom (เวียงหนองโล่ม) and Yonoknagaphan (โยนกนาคพันธ์) in the North of Thailand, Nakhon Suvankhomkham (นครสุวรรณโคมคำ) in the People Republic Democracy of Laos. Phadeng Nang Ay (ผาแดงนางไอ่), the E - San Thai poem epic in verses, also tells the story of King Naga Suttho, who rules Muang Badan, and leads his serpent troops to flood the mainland and kill the entire people who ate his son meat, Prince Naga Phangkhi.
Serpent and Theravada Buddhism
The conflict between Theravada Buddhism (ศาสนาพุทธนิกายเถรวาท) and serpent worshipped cult is reflected in the legends in Thai folklore. Bang Fai Phya Nak (บั้งไฟพญานาค), the E - San Thai legend tells of the Naga living in the Mekhong River before the time when the crown prince Sakya – Muni (สักกายมุนี) founded the religion in India. Other legends state that as Buddha came to preach his religion to E - San region, he met many powerful Naga kings who were dominating the area long time before. Those stories show that the serpent worshipped cult was firmly entrenched and had permeated residents’ spiritual activities in Siam peninsular in Pre – Buddhist period. Here, the issue needs to be understood in two main aspects of Theravada Buddhism, history and mythology. If the Lord Buddha had preached his religion in E - San region, this implies that Buddhism has expanded into this area, but it can’t be true in the historical range because the Buddha has never set foot into Southeast Asia.
Urang Kathat tells many conflicting stories between Lord Buddha and the Nagas. All of them, however, are described in the same main motif as following: the Lord Buddha was meditating in a certain sacred peak, located near the Naga kings’ fief. The aureole behind his head shines so dazzlingly that it reached the Naga’s realm, irritating the Naga kings. Thus, the Naga kings lead their serpent troops to creep into Lord Buddha’s meditated seat and attack him by using their magical power. But the Lord Buddha could not be harmed, and the Nagas got tired and weak. The Lord Buddha brought his tenets and calmly explained them to the Nagas. The Nagas, henceforth, were persuaded and accepted to obey Buddhist regulations. When the Lord Buddha made his journey to Laos, the Nagas asked him to set his footprint (Buddhapad) as a memoir for the next generations to worship. The Lord Buddha met the Nagas request, after which he continued preaching the religion in Laos and the Nagas staid to protect his relics.
Among the legends related to the Buddha and the indigenous animist serpent cult, one can rarely find out any story which describes the Buddha fighting against the Nagas as the legends in Brahmanist mythology. It is significant that Buddhism peacefully chooses an associational path in harmony with the animist serpent cult, rather than imposes its victory on the indigenous belief system. The similar case also has occurred between Buddhism and Naga belief in India before. Thus, the belief of the Nagas and the indigenous serpent cult plays a crucial part in Buddhist culture in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Along with the animist beliefs, Buddhism not only adapted Vedic philosophical elements but also accepted the Brahmanist gods’ presence in its sacred temple.
The Signification of Naga in Thai architectural ornaments
According to Thai mythology, the Nagas had so faithfully served the Buddha’s truth that there were given key positions on Buddhist temples under variable forms. The Nagas usually appear on finial, gable board, arch, balustrade, along the tiers of temple roof, and especially on skillfully carved stairs leading to the main shrine (Viharn in Thai). Most of the Naga significations in Thai architecture, however, possibly find their origin in Brahmanism which Theravada Buddhism had assimilated. In accordance with Thai Buddhist conception, Buddhist temples symbolize the holy mount, Phra Sumen (พระสุเมรุ), so called Mount Meru in Vedic cosmology, which represents Tavatimsa Heaven where Queen Siri Mahamaya (พระนางสิริมหามายา) (Buddha’s mother) and Hindu Gods reside. Nagas decorated along the tiers of temple roofs represent the cosmic river of life source which springs from Mount Phra Sumen streaming down to the human world. This emanates from a Vedic belief which tells of a time during the Ice Age when a Naga swallowed all the waters of the world and coiling its serpentine body to hibernate on the top of Mount Meru. The earth suffered from a severe drought and living beings were dying. To restore life to earth, God Indra (Phra In - พระอินทร์ in Thai) hurled his thunderbolt to the deadly serpent. The bloated Naga busted, causing water to stream down the mountainsides, circulating as rivers throughout the parched world (23. Pamela York Taylor 1994: 57).
In Theravada Buddhist architecture, the Naga shape carved stairs always hold a very important position in the temples, symbolizing the three ladders mythically linking earth to heaven. The pious believers’ souls are said to be lead up to Nirvana (นิพพาน - heaven in Buddhism) on the magic ladder by the Naga. The gods use them to descend on earth. Theravada Buddhist mythology also says that the Buddha yearly uses the Naga ladder to descend to earth on a sacred day, middle of November (วันออกพรรษา) after having preached to his mother and the gods in Tavatimsa Heaven. Besides the signification of Buddhist mythology, a Thai folk legend also tells of Nagas bring earth from the bottom of rivers to built base of temples. Thus, the Naga shape carved stairs are present everywhere in Buddhist temples in Thailand. The most beautiful ones are found in Wat Phumin (วัดภูมินทร์) in Nan (น่าน) province, Wat Supat Thanaram (วัดสุปัฎฐนาราม) in Ubon Ratchathani (อุบลราชธานี) province, Wat Doi Suthep (วัดดอยสุเทพ) in Chieng Mai (เชียงใหม่) province, Chedi Phra That Chomkitti (เจดีย์พระธาตุจอมกิตติ) in Chieng Saen (เชียงแสน) district, Chieng Rai province (Wat วัด means temple in Thai, Chedi เจดีย์ means stupa) where the wave like long serpentine stairs are skillfully carved, called Nak Sadung (นาคสะดุ้ง) in Thai, to symbolize primarily the cosmic water source streaming down to the parched world as in the description in Vedic mythology.
Moreover, the Naga is also identified with the rainbow shaped lintels. In the superstitious thought of the Thais and the Southeast Asian nations, the rainbow symbolizes both the bridge from earth to heaven and the giant water serpent rearing its head to the ocean for drinking water. Freeman and Roger Warner reasoned that “a rainbow is the bridge to heaven, and the rainbow is linked to the image of a water serpent, the mythical Naga. This serpent, though known throughout South and Southeast Asia, was used so much at Angkor and other sites that it became identified with Thai architecture…”(10. 1987: 117). On another note, the mythical Naga is considered as a guardian (Dravapala - ทวารบาล) in the Theravada Buddhist temples, which frighten monsters away; therefore they may appear on Buddhist constructions as nothing more than in this capacity. There are, to sum up, variable forms of the Nagas found in Thai architectural art but all of them are present in harmonized relationships within cosmology, religions and the water culture.
The Meaning of Naga in Thai sculptural ornaments
In Buddhist mythology, the Naga figures have faithfully accompanied the Buddha since he was about to be born up to his reclining in Nirvana. Nagas even stay in the world of men to serve the Buddhist Trinity or the Triple Gem, which comprise of the Buddha, Dharma (Law), and Sangha (religious community) and to guard the Buddhist vestiges for the future generations. Buddhist mythology also states that when crown prince Siddhartha (เจ้าชายสิทธัตถะ) was newly born in Lumpini (ลุมพินี) royal garden (in Nepal), the multi – headed Naga caused warm waters to gush forth for the baby prince’s first bath. The Jataka (called Chadok (ชาดก) in Thai), a Buddhist literature work, created by the Ceylonese (Sri Lanka) in 5th century AD, telling of the 547 Buddha’s reincarnations, mentions in the Bhuridatta Jataka (ภูริทัตชาดก) episode how the Buddha was once born in a Naga form before being reincarnated into the crown prince Siddhartha. The Naga theme, in Thai Buddhist sculpture, is represented in many ways as followed:
Naga - protecting - Buddha
The theme called Pang Nak Prok (ปางนาคปรก) in Thai, which depicts the Buddha seated on top of the serpentine coils. Behind the Buddha, the Naga is rearing up its multi head as a canopy to protect him. This theme was very popular in the Mon and Khmer stone sculptural arts in Pre - Thai Era, dated 7th - 13th centuries AD. In 1238, Sukhothai kingdom was established as the first Thai state; the Thais later inherited the Khmer theme of Naga - protected Buddha which they transformed into their own styles. The most distinguished statue was found at Chedi Jet Theo (เจดีย์เจ็ดแถว), Si Satchanalai (ศรีสัชนาลัย) province. Many statues in this theme are also exhibited in the National Museum Bangkok. They are the most popular statues to be worshipped in Thai temples, especially in temples in the North and the Northeast of Thailand where the belief of the Naga is predominant.
The meaning of the Naga - protected Buddha found is a classic reference to Buddhist mythology, which tells how the Buddha meditated for the first seven weeks in different positions. At the sixth week, he was seated under the Mucalinda tree, home of a serpent god called Muca – Linda (มุจลินท์). When a strong rainstorm suddenly poured down, the Mucalinda crept out of its lair. The Naga coiled its body into seven circles and lifted the meditating Buddha up above the powerful stream. In my opinion, the Naga - protected Buddha image was possibly transformed from the Brahmanist legend of Vishnu (วิษณุ) reclining on the coils of the cosmic serpent Shesha - Ananta (endless serpent) and giving birth to Brahma (Phra Phrom - พระพรหม in Thai) the God Creator from a lotus blossoming out from his navel as recounted in the Bhagavad Gita bible, a part of the Mahabharata epic. Before the Naga - protected Buddha image was known in Indian sculptural art; it appeared that people had come across the statue of Naga coiling around the Jainists’naked body with its seven heads spreading as a canopy. There are, however, some differences: Vishnu is seen to recline on the serpentine coils whereas the Jainists represent the Naga coiling around their bodies and the Buddha is shown to meditate on the Naga. The Buddha and the Muca – Linda might have been Indian traditional images which were formed in the Pre - Buddhist Era and later transformed in the Buddhist Era.
Naga and Garuda
Garuda, the sun eagle (Khrut - ครุฑ in Thai), is the relentless enemy of the Naga, accordingly to the original description of these two holy beasts in Vedic mythology. In Indian iconography, people usually carve the Garuda image standing on the Naga, the two hands of the bird clasping the tails of the Naga but the Naga cannot be killed as it is also immortal as its enemy, the Garuda, according to the mythology.
The Thai sculpture depicts the image from both the Indian and the Khmer arts but the Thais think that event though Garuda is standing on Naga, it is not destroying Naga. Together Naga and Garuda constitute a balance between sky, earth, rain and sunlight. The light from the Garuda illuminates the earth and the water source of the Naga gives growth to the cereals, allowing for continuous life. Differing with the Indian thought, the Thais consider the relationship of Garuda and Naga as a symbiotic association, resulting in plentiful harvest. In the traditional iconography, the Thai artists carved Garuda riding on Naga along the walls of Wat Si Sawai (วัดศรีสวาย) in the ancient citadel of Sukhothai (สุโขทัย) or Garuda riding on Naga appears on the front of Wat Na Phra Men (พรหน้าพระเมรุ), Ayuthaya (อยุธยา) province and etc. The wooden instrument carved in the Mon style, in the National Museum Bangkok, shows Garuda clutching two flower strings in his talon, Naga, instead of the real Naga figure. In the Hindu temples, located at Phimai (พิมาย) plateau, the Khmer artists created long queues of Garuda - riding on Naga with two hands lifting the temple roofs. The motif was enthusiastically adapted by the Thai artist when they made a string of Garuda clasping the tails of Nagas, symbolically lifting up Wat Phra Keo (วัดพระแก้ว), Bangkok. The image represents the symbiotic association of Garuda with Nagas rather than their destruction.In some Thai temples, one sometime sees Garuda riding on Naga with God Phra Narai (Vishnu’s reincarnation) on his back. This illustrates the association between the two holy beats, both of them being Phra Narai’s holy rides. Although the theme is taken its inspiration from Hindu myth, its signification leans toward Buddhism and is only popular when Theravada Buddhism flourishes in Thailand. It is rarely to be found on the Khmer’s Hindu temples whereas they appear everywhere in mural paintings in Thai temples, especially on the walls of Wat Phra Keo (in the Grand Palace). The motif, Vishnu on Garuda clasping Naga on its talons, moreover, is present on a variety of artifacts in Thai art. On the black and gold lacquered cabinet exhibited in the National Museum Bangkok, thick swirling carved designs show Garuda carrying Phra Narai on its back with two legs stepping on Naga and its talons tightly clasping the serpentine tails.
Naga and Makara
Makara (mythical sea monster) is Varuna’s holy mount, God of the Ocean in Vedic mythology. The Indian describes Makara as having the shape of a fish, crocodile, and even lion or dragon. When the Makara impacted on Thai culture, it was eventually made to resemble a Naga or a crocodile. The Makara has a unique head with two ears on the sides, an elephantine nose and a wide mouth with sharp teeth. Especially, in Sukhothai period, the Sawankhalok potters made the ceramic Makara statues by adding two horns, their mouths holding “a pearl” as Chinese dragon. The statues can be seen in the National Museum Bangkok. In Thai culture, the relationship between Makara and Naga is clearly recognized in sculptural art. Thai artists usually make Makara – spouting - Naga on roofs, stairs of Theravada Buddhist temples. There is no such theme, of Makara spouting Naga in neither Indian mythology nor its sculpture. This theme only appears in Thailand and some Southeast Asian countries for instance Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (Funan and Champa Kingdoms). Besides this signification, they also act as holy beasts which frighten monsters away; they may carry a fertility meaning because both of them symbolize water and fertile soil. In Makara - spouting - Naga from its mouth, people can see Makara spouting vegetables or plants on wood or stone carving sceneries in Thai temples.
On a field trip at Wat Chom Chang (วัดชมช้าง) and Chedi Phra That Chomkitti in Chieng Saen district, Chieng Saen province, I once witnessed many Makaras - spouting - Nagas on roofs and stairs. But here, Makaras’ claws and fangs were broken and their eyes blinded by two cement pieces. The villagers considered Makaras as monsters which could be evil. Their fangs and claws if left intact, the Makaras could come out in the field and kill cattle. As we can see, Nagas symbolize the good deeds but Makaras personify evil. The Makara - spouting - Naga implies that he has no ability to harm the other animals. And the villages think that if they blind the Makaras, and take away their fangs, they are harmless. When I traveled to the other regions afterward I also see many statues of Makara - spouting - Naga but the Makaras are till intact. It proves that there are different conceptions of Makara in Thai culture, according to the identity of each region in Thailand.
Naga and Dragon
In China, the dragon (มังกร - Long) is believed to be a sacred and beneficent animal. Legend has it that it hibernates in the ocean in the autumn but it ascends to the sky in the spring, bringing beneficial rains onto the dry earth. Similar to Naga in Thailand, the Long is considered an auspicious creature because it brings forth blessings, festivity, and happiness, benefiting everything on earth. The importance of the dragon to the Chinese people is indisputable. There are many Chinese legends and much classical literature about the origins and shapes of the dragon. Its appearance in the cosmology dates back to a legend of the formation of the Universe. The legend describes Nuwa, the first female "human being" on earth, who had a human head and a serpent's body, and Fuxi, the first male "human being," who had a human head and a scaly dragon's body. After consummation, they gave birth to human beings on earth. This legend was engraved on a stone wall during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 24 - 220) by an artist who carved a picture of the intercourse of Nuwa and Fuxi, depicting them as a union of the bodies of a dragon and a snake with human faces. To the primitive people in ancient China, the dragon and serpent were interchangeable.
During 15th - 16th centuries AD, the Thais adapted so much element of Chinese culture among which the dragon theme. I however haven’t formally seen any dragon images in Sukhothai period or saw its influence on Naga as a few scholars’ hypotheses. After surveying the Sawankhalok ceramic statues of Makara in National Museum Bangkok, I might say that the dragon’s image partly assimilated Makara, rather than Naga. One can state that the Naga is fully done combination of indigenous and Indian serpent cults whereby it impacts on Thai arts. In the Shang dynasty (16th – 11th century BC) of China, an engraving on a musical instrument shows the shape of the dragon. This engraving has brought about the theory that the dragon's image came from the crocodile. Furthermore, all the Makaras of Vedic myth are simply a crocodile in simple form. Thus, the dragon and Makara possible derive from the same root although they appear in two different cultures. Thailand is place they crossed, becoming an important element in the sculpture of Sukhothai period. The artifacts of National Museum Bangkok show most of the dragon carvings were officially created by the Thai artist in the early 19th century AD although the dragon image had impacted in Thai sculpture before. The dragon was possibly spread to Thailand by the Chinese emigrant and the Thais were very flexible in accepting and combining it to Naga for creating Hera (เหรา). In my opinion, the Hera is a Thai invention that can’t be found in any other Asian countries. The Hera is imagined as an aquatic beast born by father dragon and mother Naga. Thus, it has the face and body of Naga but the feet of a dragon. This motif appeared as stylized decoration on some Thai traditional architecture and sculpture. The wooden carvings of National Museum Bangkok indicate that Hera are represented with Chinese dragon styles and themes, for instance “Two Dragons Playing a Diamond”, “Two Dragons Flanking a Sun” or “Two Dragon Flanking a Moon”, with the two dragon images replaced by Heras. Sometime, Hera is resembled as a reptile. Among nine divinities guarding the solar system in the Theravada Buddhist cosmology, the Neptune is described as a human god ridding on Naga. But since Hera appeared in Thai culture, many bas – relieves dating back Rattanakosin period show that Naga image has been relayed by Hera. It means that the Neptune ride on Hera instead of Naga.
Tua Nak and Tua Luong
“Tua” (ตัว) means a beast or only an additional word without clear meaning in Thai. The Thais use “Tua Nak” (ตัวนาค) to mention the Naga which is popularly represented in Thai art and literature. Unlike the Tua Nak, “Tua Luong” (ตัวลวง) is not a common name for the Naga. It seems that this folk term relates to the mythical water serpent as used by a few old men in the North of Thailand and the E - San. It is believed that the term “Tua Luong” possibly derives from “Long” (dragon) in Chinese but I personally don’t think so. Supposedly, if the Tua Luong is a variant of the “Long” it would have been acknowledged in the entire parts of Thailand, and particularly in Bangkok where the predominance presence of a strong Chinese community has exited. On another side, The Tua Luong has never been considered as a holy beast in mythical Himaphan forest (หิมพานต์). Furthermore, the Tua Luong is an independent beast which doesn’t accompany or mix with any creatures or gods. In iconography, Thai artists usually carve Tua Luong on the roofs of Viharn (วิหาร) and in Buddhist ritual tools. The particular trait to distinguish Tua Luong is that it’s always decorated with two bird wings in both its sides, Tua Nak comes without wings. Moreover, Tua Luong never emanates from Makara’s mouth. These styles are only widespread in the North and the Northeast of Thailand, so called the Lan Na (ล้านนา - Kingdom of Million Rice Fields) and Lan Chang (ล้านช้าง - Kingdom of Million Elephants) styles, especially in temple roofs. Ubon Ratchathani National Museum has exhibited Tua Luong shaped artifacts, especially two large wooden pipes which are used to contain holy water at Maca – Bucha, the sacred day of Theravada Buddhism, originating from Wat Luong, a well - known temple in the Northeast of Thailand.
The animist serpent cult of Siam peninsular, Southeast Asia and the Southern China was found in the Metal Age where water played a preponderant role in human activities. Archaeological sites show that primitive people naturally inhabited along basins of rivers, streams and around lakes. Water was regarded as crucial highways, living means and it has affected their cultural activities during this ancient period. Because of their shape and living environment, snakes were then considered as the symbol of water, fertility of the soil, of living beings, men and a totem. The oldest remnants of serpent cult were also discovered in some places in Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Southern China.
When Brahmanism and Buddhism expanded to Southeast Asia and Thailand, these new religions clashed with the old system of the serpent cult. The clash vestiges can be easily traced in Thai folk literature. If Brahmanism imposed its victory on the system of old belief, on the contrary, Buddhism peacefully fused with indigenous animism. It is said that Buddhism has played an important role in contributing to the preservation of the indigenous serpent legends up to now. Thus, in Thailand, the Naga images are abundantly represented in the Buddhist architectural and sculptural ornaments.
The signification of Naga in Thai architectural and sculptural ornaments is a representation of the association of the water culture, indigenous legends and philosophical influence of Brahmanism and Theravada Buddhism. Furthermore, the architectural and sculptural images are inherited from different cultures such as India, Sri Lanka, Mon, Khmer, Java and China resulting into a specific Thai cultural identity, a sum of diverse influences. The serpent cult however did not last in Thailand and Southeast Asia as it did in Southern India. The reason was the widespread adoption of Buddhism, and the fact that Naga stories had permeated Buddhism to such a degree it became impossible to worship Nagas independently of the Buddha.
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 The country name was instituted in the Law of the Three Seals by king Rama I in 1787. The name was changed to Thailand in 1939, reverted to Siam in 1946, and again changed to Thailand soon afterwards. Today both names officially apply although Siam is used mainly for auspicious occasions and in royal titles. Siam has geographical, multi - racial, and multi cultural connotations
 The World Cultural Heritage in Udonthani province, the Northeast of Thailand
 An archaeological site of the Metal Age in Kanchanaburi province, the South of Thailand
 Called Mae Nam Khong in Thai; Mae means mother, Nam means water; Mae Nam refers to the river; Khong means things; Mekhong River means the river full of things.
 A main character’s name in a legend of the Tai Lu groups those living Sipsongpanna. The story tells that in olden times, a young woman named Nang Sa went fishing in Mekhong River near her home in Southern Yunnan, and touched what she believed to be a log floating in the water. Later, she gave a birth to 10 baby boys. A serpent king one day showed up claiming that the boys were his son. Nang Sa was scared to take her children to run away but the youngest boy couldn’t escape. Thus, Naga King came to lap him, after which brought him to bath in Mekhong River. When 10 baby boys grew up, Nang Sa asked for girls’ hand for them. Then, the youngest boy was appointed to be leader of the tribe and this clan multiplied the descendents who became Tai groups. Among those, there were the ancestors of Thai and Laotian people
 The same racial name of Thai although it is used to means those living outside Siam
 Is used solely for the name of the race representing the majority of people in Siam. The adjectives Thai and Siamese are interchangeable because of the pre dominance of Thais in the country
 A sacred city under Mekhong river course, which is the water realm of Nagas in Thai and Laotian legends
 Literally “Naga giving water”, this is a Thai system of converse measurement of water
 Bamboo rockets used in rain propitiation
 Literally “Naga drinking water”, it is a Thai term to show a rainbow stretching across the sky
 Considered as the symbol of Thailand Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative. It is also one of six symbols of Kingdom of Thailand includding in Naga (Nak), Garuda (Khrut), Lotus (Dokbua), Eravan (Elephant), Nang Wack and Orchid
 Shiva, the God of Destroyer in Hindu myth
 Vishnu’s avatar in Hindu myth
 Ancient Indianized Kingdom located in the Central of Vietnam was destroyed by Vietnamese in 17th centuries. Nowadays, there are still Muslim and Hindu Cham communitis living in the Central and the South of Vietnam
 Early Indianized State in Southeast Asia, its central is suggested to be located in Mekhong Delta (Southern Vietnam). The French scholars hypothesized Funam Kingdom as pre - Khmer empire
 Means the Dawn of Happiness in Thai. Sukhothai is considered as the first independent state of Thai nation
 Is a district in Udon Ratchathani province. In Thai legend, Nong Han Luong is considered as a Great Lake where Naga living before becoming mainland
 An archaeological site is located at Chieng Rai province. Vieng means City, Nong means Lake and Lom means Sink. Vieng Nong Lom means Lake Sunk City. This name reminds more or less to a Thai myth to tell of Naga king who sunk down the city as the human king and his court officials ate a great white eel caught from Mae Khong River
 Kingdom of Naga Race, that implies to a certain mythical land in the North of Thailand
 The story of Thai E - San and Laotian tells of a Naga Prince, who wishes to marry a Khmer princess. So the Prince, Phangkhi, transforms into a squirrel to be near her. The Princess asks her hunter to get it for her. But, she orders a poison arrow to be used by mistake, and the Prince is killed. she shares his meat with most everyone in the city. When the Naga King finds out, he marches his army to the city and kills everyone who dared to eat the meat of his son
 Each year, at nights in the middle of November, there is so much blame lighted out of the Mekhong River, in the current between Nong Khai province and Vientiane of Laos. The legends explain that Phya Nagi (King Naga) vomits the blame to welcome the Lord Buddha who descends to the men world from Tavatimsa heaven after preaching to his mother and Hindu gods
 Called Phra Sumen in Thai, pyre usually shapes in receding tiers to represent Mount Meru
 Naga in wave - like motion, used in several parts of the monastery including balustrades and compound walls
 The Buddhist literature that tells about the Lord Buddha’s 547 previous incarnations. Based on Jataka, the Thais adapted into the new one, called Panasa Jataka or Chadot
 A mythical serpent protected Buddha for his meditation
 Endless Serpent carries Vishnu on the Milky Ocean
 God of Universal Creation, who was born on a lotus base blossoming out from Vishnu’s navel in Bhagavad-Gita Gita
 Khrut in Thai, mythical bird – man, a carrier of God Vishnu
 Sea monster resembles to crocodilian shape that is considered as holy ride of Varuna God of Ocean in Vedic myth
 Aquatic beast is born by father dragon and mother Naga. Hera possible appeared in Thai culture in early 19th century
 Mythical forest is located at some where on the slopes of mount Himalaya, according to the Buddhist legend
 Kingdom of Million Rice Fields includes in contemporary provinces in the North of Thailand
 Kingdom of Million Elephants includes in contemporary provinces in the Northeast of Thailand and Laos