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Serpent Symbolism

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Serpent Symbolism in India Culture Animals and their symbolism have historical influence on the cultures and religions of India. There are many religions practiced in India, but those most prominent are Buddhism and Hinduism. Each incorporate animal symbolism through art, rituals, and religious texts. I have observed that of all animals revered as sacred, there is one animal that holds mysterious power, the serpent. This led me to the question: “What is the symbolic importance of serpents in Buddhism and Hinduism?” For the purposes of this paper, I will explore three aspects of serpent symbolism that shed light on its importance in Indian culture. To grasp the symbolic importance, one must consider that in lieu of poisonous snakebites,…show more content…
According to old myths, Garuda is the son of Vinata, daughter of the Prajapati Daksha and Kashyapa, an ancient sage. Vinata was married to Kashyapa along with her 13 sisters, one of whom is Kadru, the mother of one thousand snakes. Garuda is most often depicted by having a human face but with an eagle beak, a strong human body and great wings. He hatched from an egg after a 500 year incubation where “he gave off such an immense luminosity that the gods mistook him for Agni, God of Fire.”(Beer 65.) There are many different origin stories behind the great enmity between birds and serpents especially in Hindu and Buddhist mythology, I will summarize the differences here. It is told throughout that Garuda’s mother Vinata and her sister Kadru had a bet and that the one who lost would become the others’ prisoner. When Kadru won the bet, fixed of course by her children, being the one thousand snakes, Kadru took away Vinata to her subterranean realm, Patala. When Garuda heard of his mothers’ disappearance, he goes to rescue her only to find snakes guarding her. For his mothers’ ransom, Garuda agrees to get amrita, the elixir of immortality, from the gods. Garuda goes on a long quest to retrieve the nectar and give it to the snakes. Once back in Patala, Indra learned of Garuda’s deal and took back the amrita, though a few drops spilled and the greedy snakes licked it up causing…show more content…
Nagas are believed to possess many powers and are said to be responsible for the weather, causing droughts and floods by releasing the rain. It is popularly believed that if you appease a snake they will be benevolent however, if you pollute or threaten their environment they will inflict disease or cause natural disasters. Many even today still believe that snakes or nagas will cause damage to the community if they are threatened, one such example is from an account told by Beer. “In 1974 a new ring road was being built around Kathmandu city. At the foot of Swayambhu hill, just outside the city and within the ring road perimeter, there was a swift stream where everyone would wash their clothes , myself included. On the far bank of this stream two large snakes, about seven feet long, could regularly be seen basking in the sun. One day, as the road construction neared Swayambhu, these two snakes disappeared. The local people were extremely upset, believing that these nagas had left, some dreadful calamity would soon occur. A few weeks later the stream began to dry up, doubtlessly due to some water diversion caused by the ring road construction. Whether viewed superstitiously or scientifically, the outcome was the same; it is all a question of belief.”(Beer 70.) This small excerpt reminded me of an anthropologist named Marvin Harris who
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