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1000 Headed Sheshnag Snake

In Hinduism, it is not just the Gods and Goddesses who are worshipped by devotees, but also their vehicles or vahanas. Nandi, Garuda, Sheshnag, etc., are some examples of such divine vahanas who have the status of deities.

Sheshnag or Adishesha is depicted as a large snake with 1000 heads. He is also called Nagaraja or the King of the Naga (snake) race. In Buddhism, he is Vasuki.

As per the Puranas, Sheshanaga holds all the planets on his huge hoods. He is a loyal devotee of Lord Vishnu and is always singing the glories of Vishnu. Another name for him is Ananta Shesha, meaning the Infinite One. Supposedly, it is when Adishesha uncoils that time starts to move forward, and creation occurs. When he goes back to his coiled state, time stops, and the Universe will cease to exist.

1000 headed snake

Depiction of Sheshnag

The 1000-headed snake is depicted as a huge serpent that lies coiled and floats in space or on the Milky Ocean. He is the bed on which Lord Vishnu reclines in the Milky Ocean, with Goddess Lakshmi, his consort and the God of Wealth, at his feet.

Sometimes he has only 5 or 7 heads. But usually, he has 1000 heads, and each head wears a crown.

His name means “the One which Remains”. This is because Shesha will always exist despite all the Pralayas or Great Floods that destroy everything in the Universe.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “Anantaascha Asmi Naagaanam”. It means, “Of the Nagas, I am Ananta (or Shesha)”. This reveals Sheshnag’s importance.

The serpent is Vishnu’s devoted servant and a form of Vishnu himself. Hindu mythology says that appeared on Earth as Lakshmana (Lord Rama’s brother) and Balarama (Lord Krishna’s brother).

Sheshnag’s Birth

The Mahabharata says that Sheshnag was the son of Rishi Kashyapa and his wife, Kadru. Kadru was the daughter of Daksha. Kadru gave birth to a thousand snakes, including Shesha, who was the eldest. Vasuki, Airavata and Takshaka came after him. Sheshnag’s brothers had a cruel nature and liked to harm others. Kashyapa had another wife, Vinatha, the sister of Kadru. He had a son, Garuda, by Vinata. Sheshnag’s brothers treated Garuda and his mother badly.

Angered by his brothers’ behavior, Shesha left his family. He began severe austerities and penance, living only on air. He did meditation in places like Gandhamadana, Badrikashrama, Pushkara, Gokarna, and the Himalayas.

Brahma was pleased with his penance and appeared before him. He told Shesha to ask him for a boon. The serpent said that he wished to keep his mind always under control in order to continue his ascetic practices. Brahma agreed.

Brahma then demanded a favor from Shesha – that he should go under the Earth and stabilize it. Shesha accepted the new responsibility and went to Patal Lok (the netherworld). Then he raised his hood and balanced the Earth over his hood. He is believed to support the Earth even today.

The Snake in Hindu Philosophy

Snakes are among the most feared creatures. It often represents evil, as in Christianity. But in Hinduism, snakes adorn the body of Lord Shiva, one of the Trimurtis. Snakes are both mysterious and mystical. They represent our hidden passions. By wearing snakes around his neck, Shiva indicates that he has achieved the heights of Siddhi by conquering all desires. Therefore, he has the power to control Prakriti (nature), Maya (illusion), and Samsara (the birth-death cycle).

Sheshnag as Sankarshana

People refer to Vishnu reclining on Sheshnag as Anantashayana, meaning ‘the one who reclines on Ananta’. In the Bhagavata Purana, Shesha has the name, Sankarshana, which is the tamasic energy of Vishnu. He lives in Patala and was alive even before Brahma created the Universe. When each epoch ends, he supposedly creates 11 Rudras from himself, who will destroy the existing Universe and create a new one.

Sankarshana is Vishnu’s foremost manifestation. He has no beginning or end and is the main reason for the material world. It was he who created Brahma himself in the form of Garbhodakshayi-Vishnu when the Universe began. Thus, Sankarshana is an aspect of Vishnu himself. He is also one of the four Vyuha forms (troop formation during battle) of Vishnu or Krishna. The other three Vyuha forms are Vasudeva, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha.

Sheshnag’s Incarnations

Adishesha, being devoted to Vishnu, always accompanied Vishnu during his incarnations. When Vishnu incarnated as Rama, Shesha was born as his younger brother, Lakshmana, who was so devoted to him that he accompanied him on his exile. It was Sheshnag who helped Vasudeva during his perilous journey to Gokul, as he carried the newborn Krishna and waded through the flooded Yamuna during torrential rains. He also served as the rope during the churning of the Milky Ocean.

During Vishnu’s Krishna avatar, Shesha was his elder brother, Balarama. It is said that Adishesha was with Krishna even during the Kurukshetra war. Supposedly, Shesha supported the wheels of Arjuna’s chariot. Thus, he protected Arjuna from harm during the war. When Vishnu’s avatar comes to an end, Sheshnag also returns to his home in Patala.

Acharya Ramanuja, a great exponent of Vaishnavism, Manavala Mamunigal, one of Ramanuja’s followers, and Sage Patanjali, who spread the knowledge of Yoga on Earth, are all supposedly incarnations of Sheshnag.

People believe that it was Sheshnag who dug the Sheshnag lake near the Amarnath cave in the Anantnag district, Jammu and Kashmir. They also think that he still lives in the lake.