But what are the Nāgas? What do they represent? And why are they so represented in Khmer (Cambodian) art?
The Nāgas are mythical half-snake, half-human beings of Hinduism. They are considered the guardians and protectors of nature's treasures. They are a symbol of fertility and immortality, and are thus known to bring prosperity.
The Nāgas are also considered water spirits, mediators between heaven and earth, and symbolize the rainbow which connects the terrestrial world to the divine world.
According to legend, the first ruler of Cambodia, Queen Neang Neak, was none other than the daughter of the King of the Nāgas.
These mythical beings were thus widely represented on the archaeological site of Angkor in Cambodia, where they can be found in different forms depending on the mythological episodes represented.
But even though Nāgas originate from Hindu mythology, its popularity can also be explained by pre-Indian beliefs about spirits inhabiting the lands and waters.
Beliefs which thus found echo within Hindu and Buddhist stories, and which were incorporated into Khmer art.
Because yes, we find the Nāgas in Hindu mythology, but also in Buddhist mythology.
Indeed, Nāga also appears in the life of the Buddha. One day, during the Buddha's long meditation after his awakening, a violent storm arose and caused the waters to rise. However, the Buddha did not notice this and continued to meditate despite the danger. It was then that a Nāga named Muchalinda appeared between the roots of the tree under which Buddha was meditating, and wrapped itself around him to protect him until the waters receded.
Thanks for making it this far! Moreover, on the occasion of the Khmer (Cambodian) New Year, we have prepared a capsule collection for you inspired by Khmer mythology, the famous Nāga and the Buddha! 🎉🇰🇭
Discover this collection now by clicking on the image below 🙌