Animal Kingdom (Tiryak) in Epics

by Saranya P.S | 2019 | 51,616 words | ISBN-10: 8190396315 | ISBN-13: 9788190396318

An English study the Animal Kingdom (Tiryak) in Epics.—The present thesis is based entirely on Ramayana and Mahabharata although an attempt is made to analytically compare the Animal kingdom with Mriga-pakshi-shastra—‘The ancient Indian science of of Animals and Birds’....

Chapter 5.2 - Ashtanaga—Eight important Nagas

Out of the one thousand serpent children Kadru had, 8 important nagas are called Ashtanagas. They are:

  1. Ananta,
  2. Vasuki,
  3. Takshaka,
  4. Karkotaka,
  5. Shankha,
  6. Padma,
  7. Mahapadma,
  8. Gulika.

They are the nagas that are worshipped. Many of the ashtanagas are important characters in the Itihasa Puranas.


He is the most important of the ashtanagas. The name itself means one who has to end. It means he is infinite. About the birth of Ananta, ValmikiRamayana says like this. From Mahavishnu came Brahma and from Brahma came the Prajapatis. From this it can be surmised that Ananta is a Prajapati.[1] But as per the Mahabharata,Ananta is born to Prajapati Kashyapa in his wife Kadru.[2]

When Kadru and Vinatha, two of the wives of Kashyapa, were fighting and to win in the bet Ananta was asked to hang from the tail of Iravata. Ananta lost his peace and so went to places of pilgrimage and fasted.[3] Immersing himself in reflections on Brahma, he obtained a boon from him. The boon was that even if the entire universe burns down, Ananta will not perish. That is how Ananta becomes Adi Shesha and the leader of nagas. He also became the bed and shade of Mahavishnu. It was because of the boon he received he went into the Hades and began to hold the worlds upright supporting them with his hoods. It is garuda that helps Ananta in this task of holding the worlds.[4]

Ananta has one thousand hoods and on the main hood there is the mark of Svastika. This indicates the Sun and Vishnu. As weapons he holds a plough in one hand and an iron pestle or mace in the other. He is served by Shridevi, Varuni Devi, Nagakanyaka and many other goddesses. The belief is that Ananta dwells in the abode of Varuna in the West.[5]

Ananta is not merely the eldest of the brood, but he is the noblest and occupies an elevated niche in the hierarchy of things. He is softspoken, philosophical and has an ascetic character. He is the one who leads the group of ideal serpents.[6]

Two of Ananta avatars are Lakshmana, the younger brother of Rama and Balrama, the elder brother of Krishna[7]. The Anantashayanam indicates the mutual relations between Vishnu and the Serpent.


He is the son of Kashyapa and brother of Ananta. He spent his childhood with his parents. As a devote of Shiva, he dwells in the body of Shiva. According to the Puranas, it is thought that Vasuki is the ring on the finger of Shiva. In the quarrel between Kadru and Vinata, Vasuki did not support his mother and so he was cursed and therefore he had to live away from his mother in a different group.[8]

Vasuki has a special place amongst the important deities of Shaivas. Vasu means diamond. The one with a diamond on the head is Vasuka, that is Kashyapa. the son of Vasuka is Vasuki. Vasuki has the white colour of diamonds. When the Devas and Asuras churned the Ocean of Milk, they used Vasuki as the coir for binding the Manthara Mountain which was used as the churning stick.[9]

For the protection of the nagas, Vasuki gave his sister to the ascetic Jaratkaru as his wife[10]. Astika is the son of this sister.[11] It is this Astika who blocked the sarpasatra.[12] It is presumed that Vasuki was present at the time of the birth of Arjuna[13] and as per the request of Aryaka persuaded the nagas to give the divine potion to Bhimasena.[14]

In the Mahabharata, it is said that the nagas[15] and the goddesses[16] anointed Vasuki and the king of nagas.

During the burning of Tripura, Vasuki worked as the bowstring of the bow of Shiva and the hold of the chariot.[17] Moreover he gave Subrahmanya two parshadas.[18] Vasuki who is the one of the seven nagas[19] that hold the earth went to the Hades to receive Balarama when he went there after his death.[20]


Takshaka is one of the naga chiefs born to Kashyapa in Kadru.[21] Takshaka has an important role in the story of Parikshit and the burning of Khandava. Takshaka was one of the nagas who was cursed and sent out because of the anger of Kadru. Then he went and stayed in the Khandava forest. When Arjuna burned the Khandava forest he came safely out of it.

Shringi, the son of Shamika, cursed Parikshit who was the emperor and the grandson of Arjuna. The curse was that Parikshit would die after being bitten by Takshaka. Parikshit died that way. Then his son Janamejaya carried out a sarpasatra. All these famous things are described elaborate in the Puranas.

Astika blocked the sarpasatra and therefore Takshaka is saved. Takshaka was generous and helps others. He has terrible form and powerful venom and the Puranas are full of his stories. His colour is red. His hood has the mark of svastika.


Karkotaka is the terrible serpent which is the garland of Sri Parameshvara. Karkotaka was caught in the forest fire because of a curse from Narada. But Nala who was afflicted with the curse of Kali saved Karkotaka from the fire. He bit Nala and disfigured him. He did that to help Nala in his incognito life.[22] He advised Nala about the ways to overcome the curse of Kali and gave him a silk cloak. He told him that when he wore the new cloak he would get back his original shape. In the Nalacarita, Karkotaka plays a major role.

There is a belief that if one remembers Karkotaka, the curse of Kali can be overcome. The colour of Karkotaka is black.

Shamkha (Samkhapala)

Shamkha is a fiery serpent who has many heads and a lot of power. Although he looks ferocious he is not harmful. Shamkha is also known an Shamkhapala. Shamkha is the naga born to Kashyapa in his wife Kadru.

Once Narada introduced this Naga to Matali who is the charioteer of Indra.[23] During the death Balabhadra (Balarama), Shamkha was one of the important nagas that came to accompany the soul of Balabhadra into Hades.[24]


Padma is the Mahasarpa that holds the north-west part of the earth aloft. Padma was born to Kashyapa in his wife Kadru.[25] Padma’s place is on the right side of Vasuki. Padman has only one head4 and his red colour is that of lotus.[26]


He is also known by the name Shankhapadma. On his hood the mark is the trident. He has the prime place among nagas. His colour is white.[27]


In the Ashtanaga square, the place of Gulika is on the left side of Ananta. It has strong venom and red colour. It has a single head like a cobra and is almost of the same size. It is considered ferocious and its venom is very powerful. It instils fear into others. It has an important place in astrology.[28]

Footnotes and references:


Valmiki Ramayana 3.14.7.


Mahabharata .Adi.65.41






Mahabharata .Udyoga.110.18


Nagaradhana keralathil.p.39


Mahabharata .Adi.67.152




Kamba Ramayana 6


Mahabharata .Adi.13.47












Mahabharata .Shalya.37.22










Mahabharata .Adi.38.5










Sarparadhanayum prakrithisamrakshanavum p.41





Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: