The Nagas in Ancient India, Part Two

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Sastric and historical references to the Naga kings and their descending lines.

The country known as Cambodia today was previously known as Kambuja, associated with the name of a great brahmana, Kambu. Kambu had once been an Indian king who led a successful campaign into the East. His victorious expedition (digvijaya) in the East culminated with his party’s entrance into a region of jungles that were ruled by a Naga king. Defeating the king, Kambu married his daughter and remained there to develop the area. The combination of the names ‘Kambu’ and ‘Mera’ is thought to be the origination of the name Khmer.

The beginning of the Kambuja empire can be traced to Emperor Shrutavarma of Kaliyuga’s 32nd century (the 1st century A.D.) Shrutavarma and his descendant kings carried aloft the flag of sanatana-dharma and Vedic culture in the Kambuja empire. Later, from Kaliyuga’s 38th to 46th centuries (7th to 15th c. A.D.), the kings of the Shailendra dynasty ruled over Kambuja.

The Nagas are much more prominent in modern Cambodian culture and in nearby countries than in India today. Cambodian Nagas look quite different from the typical representations found in India, where the Nagas are generally shown like Sesanaga, being multi-headed or standing with collar fully extended. In Cambodia, however, the Nagas are generally more frightening and often associated with flames, like many of the Buddhist Nagas are depicted.

According to their tradition, the Cambodian people as a race were born of the Naga Princess who married Kambu, the Indian brahmana, thus creating the merged line of humans and reptilians. Even today, Cambodians describe themselves as being “born from the Naga”.

Many of the Naga depictions found in Cambodia, such as those at the famous Angkor Wat temple region, are seven-headed serpents. They represent the seven different races said to be found in the Naga society.

The mixed human and Naga lines emerging in Cambodia are but one of numerous instances where these two races crossed. Some of the others include:

Naga Nahusha, who is also mentioned as a king in the Lunar Dynasty of Arya kings

King Riksha of the Puru race, a branch of the Lunar Dynasty, said to have married the daughter of a Naga in the line of Takshaka

Naga Aryaka was the grandfather of Queen Kunti’s father

Iravat was the son of Arjuna and a Naga woman named Uloopi, born in the lineage of Airavata

The Sage Somasrava, a priest of Janamejaya, was the son of Srutasrava brahmana and his Naga wife

Sage Astika was the son of a sage in the line of the Yayavara brahmanas, and his Naga wife, who was the sister of Vasuki. The boy was raised in the palace of the Nagas, and helped prevent the destruction of the Naga race at the hand of Janamejaya.

In Kerala, the Namboodiris married Naga women, known as the Nakar women, thus creating the Nair caste of Kerala.

Among the large collection of Khmer artifacts held at the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris is the extraordinary Naga pictured below. It was re-assembled and put on display in 2001 for the first time since 1889, when a French expedition brought the carving back to France from Cambodia, in pieces.


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