The dragon in china and japan

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Marinus Willem de VISSER



extrait de :


par Marinus Willem de VISSER (1876-1930)

Johannes Müller, Amsterdam, 1913, pages I-IX, 1-134 (Book I), 231-237 de XII+247 pages.

Édition en format texte par

Pierre Palpant

avril 2015


INTRODUCTION : The Nāga in Buddhism, with regard to his identification with the Chinese dragon.

§ 1. The Nāga according to European scholars.

§ 2. The Nāga according to some translated texts.

§ 3. The Nāga as a giver of rain.

§ 4. Sūtras recited in rain ceremonies.

CHAPTER I : The dragon in the Chinese classics.

§ 1. Yih king.

§ 2. Shu king.

§ 3. Li ki.

§ 4. Cheu li.

§ 5. I-li.

CHAPTER II : Divination and geomancy.

§ 1. Lucky omen.

§ 2. Bad omens : A. Fighting dragons - B. Dead dragons - C. Dragons appearing at wrong times - D. Dragons appearing in wrong places.

§ 3. Dragon-horses.

§ 4. Geomancy.

CHAPTER III : General information.

§ 1. Enormous light-giving mountain gods.

§ 2. Nature of the dragons.

§ 3. What dragons like and dislike.

§ 4. Shape of the dragons.

§ 5. Male and female dragons.

§ 6. Different kinds of dragons.

§ 7. Kiao lung.

§ 8. Rearing and taming dragons.

§ 9. Dragons ridden by sien, or drawing the cars of gods and holy men.

§ 10. Dragon-boats.

§ 11. "Dragon-tail-road" and other words connected with the dragon.

§ 12. Dragon-gate.

§ 13. Dragon's dens.

§ 14. Dragon herds.

§ 15. Dragon's pearls.

§ 16. Dragon's eggs.

§ 17. Dragon's bones, skins, teeth, horns, brains, livers, placentae and foetus, used as medicines.

§ 18. Dragon's blood, fat and saliva.

CHAPTER IV : Ornaments.

§ 1. Symbols of Imperial dignity and fertilizing rain, represented on garments, honorary gates, coffins etc.

§ 2. Nine different kinds of dragons, used as ornaments.

§ 3. Ornaments used by Wu-ist priests and mediums.

§ 4. The dragons and the ball.

CHAPTER V : Causing rain, thunder and storm.

§ 1. The gods of thunder, clouds and rain.

§ 2. Violent rains accompanied by heavy winds and thunderstorms.

§ 3. Rain magic and prayers.

§ 4. Buddhist rain ceremonies.

CHAPTER VI : Emperors connected with dragons.

§ 1. Hwang Ti rode on a dragon.

§ 2. Yao and Kao Tsu were sons of dragons.

§ 3. Shun was visited by a yellow dragon.

§ 4. Yu drove in a carriage drawn by dragons, and was assisted by a ying lung.

§ 5. Ming Hwang's vessel was moved forward by a dragon.

§ 6. Two yellow dragons threatened to upset Yu's vessel.

§ 7. Shi Hwang died on account of having killed a dragon.

CHAPTER VII : Transformations.

§ 1. The dragon's transformations are unlimited.

§ 2. Appearing as old men or beautiful women.

§ 3. Appearing as fishes.

§ 4. Appearing as snakes, dogs or rats.

§ 5. A cow transformed into a dragon.

§ 6. Appearing as objects.

CHAPTER VIII : The indian Nāga in China.

§ 1. Reborn as a dragon.

§ 2. Ponds inhabited by Dragon-kings.

§ 3. Temples of Dragon-kings.

§ 4. Palaces of Dragon-kings.

CHAPTER X : Conclusions.




p.V The student of Chinese and Japanese religion and folklore soon discovers the mighty influence of Indian thought upon the Far-Eastern mind. Buddhism introduced a great number of Indian, not especially Buddhist, conceptions and legends, clad in a Buddhist garb, into the eastern countries. In China Taoism was ready to gratefully take up these foreign elements which in many respects resembled its own ideas or were of the same nature. In this way the store of ancient Chinese legends was not only largely enriched, but they were also mixed up with the Indian fables. The same process took place in Japan, when Buddhism, after having conquered Korea, in the sixth century of our era reached Dai Nippon's shores. Before a hundred years had elapsed the Japanese mind got imbued with foreign ideas, partly Chinese, partly Indian. To the mixture of these two elements a third one, consisting of the original Japanese conceptions, was added, and a very intricate complex was formed. Whoever studies the Japanese legends has the difficult task of analysing this complex into its parts.

No mythical creature is more familiar to Far-Eastern art and literature than the dragon. It is interesting to observe how in Japan three different kinds of dragons, originating from India, China and Japan, are to be found side by side. To the superficial observer they all belong to one and the same class of rain bestowing, thunder and storm arousing gods of the water, but a careful examination teaches us that they are different from each other.

The Indian serpent-shaped Nāga was identified in China with the four-legged Chinese dragon, because both were divine inhabitants of seas and rivers, and givers of rain. It is no wonder that the Japanese in this blending of Chinese and Indian ideas recognized their own serpent or dragon-shaped gods of rivers and mountains, to whom they used to pray for rain in times of drought. Thus the ancient legends of three countries were combined, and features of the one were used to adorn the other. In order to throw light upon these facts we must examine the p.VI Buddhist ideas concerning the Nāgas which came from India to the East. Being not acquainted with the Sanscrit language, we have to refer to the works of European scholars and to translations, in order to explain the western elements found in Chinese and Japanese dragon legends. This being our only aim with regard to the Nāgas, we will deal with them only by way of introduction.

In the First Book we have systematically arranged the most interesting quotations concerning the dragon in China, selected from the enormous number of passages on this divine animal found in Chinese literature from the remotest ages down to modern times. In order to give the original conceptions we did not quote the numerous poems on the dragon, because the latter, although based upon those conceptions, enlarged them in their own poetical way...

I avail myself of this opportunity to express my hearty thanks to Professor De Groot, whose kind assistance enabled me to largely extend the Chinese part of this paper. Not only was his very rich and interesting library at my disposal, but he himself was an invaluable guide to me through the labyrinth of many a difficult Chinese passage. Moreover, from the very beginning his splendid works, especially the Religious System of China, formed the basis of my studies in Chinese and Japanese religion and folklore.

I also tender my best thanks to Professor Speyer, who with great kindness gave me most valuable information concerning the Nāgas, and to Miss E. Schmidt, who kindly put her knowledge and time at my disposal in undertaking the weary labour of perusing the manuscript and correcting its language.

Leiden. M. W. de Visser.


The Nāga in Buddhism, with regard to his identification with the Chinese dragon


§ 1. The Nāga according to European scholars

p.001 In order to learn the Buddhist conceptions on the Nāga's nature, and the reasons why the Chinese identified this serpent with their four-legged dragon, we have to consult the works of some authorities on Buddhism : Kern, Hardy, Grünwedel and others. For the Nāga, known in the Far East, is clad in a Buddhist garb, and the legends about him which became popular in China and Japan were all imbued with Buddhism. Kern, in his History of Indian Buddhism 1, states that the Nāgas occupy the eighth rank in the system of the world, after the Buddhas, Pratyekabuddhas, Arhats, Devas, Brahmas, Gandharvas and Garuḍas, and before the Yakshas, Kumbhāṇḍas (goblins), Asuras (demons), Rākṣasas (giants), Pretas (ghosts, spectres) and the inhabitants of hell.

"They are water spirits, represented as a rule in human shapes, with a crown of serpents on their heads.

And in his Manual of Indian Buddhism 2 we read that they are "snake-like beings, resembling clouds". As to the enumeration of the beings, this is different in some other texts, as we learn from a note in the same Manual 3. In the initial phrase of all the Avadānas Buddha is said to be worshipped by men, Devas, Nāgas, Yakshas, Asuras, Garuḍas, Kinnaras and Mahoragas 4. These are, however, not exactly the "Eight classes" often mentioned in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist works. These are Devas, Nāgas, Yakshas, Gandharvas, Asuras, Garuḍas, Kinnaras and Mahoragas 5.

p.002 Hardy's Manual of Buddhism gives the following details corcerning the Nāgas.

"The Nāgas reside in the loka (world) under the Trikuta-rocks that support Meru, and in the waters of the world of men. They have the shape of the spectacle-snake, with the extended hood (coluber nāga) ; but many actions are attributed to them that can only be done by one possessing the human form. They are demi-gods, and have many enjoyments ; and they are usually represented as being favourable to Buddha and his adherents ; but when their wrath is roused, their opposition is of a formidable character".

With regard to Mount Meru Hardy says :

"The summit is the abode of Sekra (Çākra), the regent or chief of the dewaloka called Tawutisa (Trāyastrimçat) ; and around it are four mansions, 5,000 yōjanas in size, inhabited by nāgas, garuḍas, khumbaudas, and yakas".

In describing the dewa-lokas he says :

"The palace of Virūpāksha is on the west. His p.003 attendants are the Nāgas, a kela-laksha in number, who have red garments, hold a sword and shield of coral, and are mounted on red horses 1.

Grünwedel 2 states that the attributes of this Virūpāksha, one of the four lokapālas or Guardians of the World, also called the "Four Great Kings" (Caturmahārājas), are a caitya (a sanctuary) or a jewel in the form of a caitya in the right, and a serpent in the left hand.

Before Gautama's attainment of Buddhahood a Nāga king, Kāla by name, became aware of the approaching event by the sound the Bodhisattva's golden vessel produced when striking against the vessels of the three last Buddhas in Kāla's abode. For they all had, like Siddhārtha, flung their golden bowls into the river 3.

As we shall see below, the Nāga king Mucilinda, who lived in the lake of this name, by his coils and hoods sheltered the Lord from wind and rain for seven days. The Indian artists often represented the Buddha sitting under Mucilinda's extended hoods.

Not always, however, were the Nāga kings so full of reverence towards the Buddha ; but in the end, of course, even the most obstinate one was converted. Nandopananda, e. g., tried to prevent the Lord's return from the Tushita heaven to the earth, but was conquered by Maudgalyāyana in the shape of a Garuḍa, and was then instructed by the Buddha himself 4. When the Master had delivered a sūtra in one of the heavenly paradises, the Devas and Nāgas came forward and said : "We will henceforth protect correct doctrine" 1. After Buddha's death the Nāga kings struggled with the kings of the Devas and eight kings of India to obtain a share in Buddha's relics 2, and got one third, and Ashōka gave Nanda a hair of Buddha's moustaches, while he threatened to destroy his kingdom if he refused. Nanda erected a pagoda of rock crystal for it on Mount Sumeru 3.

According to Northern Buddhism Nāgārjuna (± 150 A.D.), the founder of the Mahāyāna doctrine, was instructed by Nāgas in the sea, who showed him unknown books and gave him his most important work, the Prajñā pāramitā, with which he returned p.004 to India. For this reason his name, originally Arjuna, was changed into Nāgārjuna 4, and he is represented in art with seven Nāgas over his head 5.

The Mahāyāna school knows a long list of Nāga kings, among whom the eight so-called "Great Nāga kings" are the following : Nanda (called Nāgarāja, the "King of the Nāgas"), Upananda, Sāgara, Vāsuki, Takshaka, Balavān, Anavatapta and Utpala 6. These eight are often mentioned in Chinese and Japanese legends as "the eight Dragon-kings", and were said have been among Buddha's audience with their retinues, while he delivered the instructions contained in the "Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law" (Saddharma Pundarīka sūtra, Hokkekyō 7).

The Nāgas are divided into four castes, just like men, and form whole states.

"They are, says Grünwedel 1, the Lords of the Earth more than any one else, and send, when having been insulted, drought, bad crops, diseases and pestilence among mankind.

With regard to the Nāgas in Indian art we have an excellent guide in Grünwedel's Buddhistische Kunst in Indien. After having stated that the Vedas not yet mention them 2, but that they belong to the Indian popular belief, extended afterwards by the official brahmanic religion, he further remarks that they often penetrated in human shape into the Master's neighbourhood and even tried to be taken up among his followers, as we see on a relief of Gandhāra (p. 102, Fig. 47 ; the Nāga's true shape was detected in his sleep). For this reason one of the questions put, even to-day, to those who wish to be taken up into the Order is : "Are you perhaps a Nāga ?" There are three ways in which the Indian Buddhist art has represented the Nāgas. First : fully human, on the head an Uraeus-like snake, coming out of the p.005 neck and often provided with several heads. This form has been taken up in Tibet, China and Japan 3. Secondly : common serpents, and thirdly : a combination of both, i. e. snakes of which the upper part of the body looks human, snake's heads appearing above their human heads ; the lower part of the body entirely snake-like 4. The first mentioned shape is to be seen in Fig. 5 (p. 29), a relief representing Nāgas worshipping a small stūpa on a throne, and in Fig. 108 (p. 103), where a Garuḍa in the shape of an enormous eagle is flying upwards with a Nāgī (Nāga woman) in his claws, and biting the long snake which comes out of the woman's neck. A pillar figure of the stūpa of Bharhut represents Cakravāka, the Nāga king, standing on a rock in the water, with five snake's heads in his neck, while snakes are visible in holes of the rock 5. Once, when Nāgas appeared before Buddha in order to listen to his words, he ordered Vajrapāṇi to protect them against the attacks of their enemies, the Garuḍas. An Indian relief shows us these Nāgas, the Nāga king Elāpatra and his consort, standing in the water, with snakes upon their heads, and worshipping Buddha, while in the background Vajrapāṇi is brandishing his sceptre against the expected Garuḍas. This Vajrapāṇi's main function is, according to Grünwedel, to give rain, and as a raingod he is the protector of the rain giving snake-gods, the Nāgas 1.

Foucher's very interesting paper on the Great Miracle of the Buddha at Çrāvasti 2 repeately mentions the Nāga kings Nanda and Upananda, represented at the base of the Buddha's lotus seat. At the request of King Prasenajit the Buddha wrought two miracles : walking through the air in different attitudes he alternately emitted flames and waves from the upper or lower part of his body, and, secondly, he preached the Law after having multiplied himself innumerable times, up to the sky and in all directions. According to the Divyāvadāna the Buddha, after having completed the first miracle, conceived a wordly idea, which was immediately executed by the gods. Brahma and Çakra placed themselves at the Buddha's right and left side, and the Nāga p.006 kings Nanda and Upananda (who were said so have bathed the new-born Buddha and to have played a part in many episodes of his life) created an enormous, magnificent lotus upon which the Master sat down. Then the Buddha by means of his magic power created a great number of Buddhas, seated on lotuses or standing, walking, lying, over his head, up to the highest heavens, and on all sides. This scene is recognized by Foucher on several Indian monuments. Often the two Nāga kings are seen under or on both sides of the lotus created by themselves. They are represented supporting the lotus in a kneeling attitude, entirely human but with five serpents over their heads 3, or with human upper bodies and scaly serpent tails 4.

In the Jātakas the Nāgas are always described as enormous serpents ; sometimes, however, they appear in later Indian (i. e. Graeco-Buddhist) art as real dragons, although with the upper part of the body human. So we see them on a relief from Gandhāra 1, worshipping Buddha's almsbowl, in the shape of big water-dragons, scaled and winged, with two horse-legs, the upper part of the body human. Most remarkable is a picture 2 which represents Garuḍas fighting with Nāgas before the preaching saint Subhūti. The Nāgas are depicted there in all their three forms : common snakes, guarding jewels ; human beings with four snakes in their necks ; and winged sea-dragons, the upper part of the body human, but with a horned, ox-like, head, the lower part of the body that of a coiling dragon. Here we find a link between the snake of ancient India and the four-legged Chinese dragon.

§ 2. The Nāga according to some translated Buddhist texts

After having referred to European scholars with respect to the Nāga in Buddhism, we may compare their results with some translated Indian texts. Being not acquainted with the Sanscrit language, we thankfully make use of these translations in order to illustrate the Buddhist dragon tales of China and Japan ; for, as I stated already in the Preface, this is the only aim of this Introduction.

Professor Cowell's translation of the Jātaka, the canonical p.007 Pāli text, made up of those marvellous stories of the Buddha's former births, told by himself, contains seven tales which are vivid pictures of the great magic power of the Nāgas, especially of their kings, of the splendour of their palaces, and, on the other hand, of their helplessness against their deadly enemies, the Garuḍas. The Nāgas are semi-divine serpents which very often assume human shapes and whose kings live with their retinues in the utmost luxury in their magnificent abodes at the bottom of the sea or in rivers or lakes. When leaving the Nāga world they are in constant danger of being grasped and killed by the gigantic semi-divine birds, the Garuḍas, which also change themselves into men 3. Buddhism has, in its usual way, declared both Nāgas and Garuḍas, mighty figures of the Hindu world of gods and demons, to be the obedient servants of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and saints, and to have an open ear for their teachings 1. In the same way Northern Buddhism adopted the gods of the countries where it introduced itself and made them protectors of its doctrine instead of its antagonists.

Sometimes we read that the Buddha, in a previous existence, succeeded in reconciling even such bitter enemies as a Nāga and a Garuḍa king. He himself was sometimes born as a mighty Nāga king. Thus he reigned as King Campeyya in his "jewelled pavillion" in the river Campā, as King Samkhapāla in the lake of this name, and as King Bhūridatta in the sacred river Yamunā. In all these three cases he desired to be reborn in the world of men, and in order to attain this aim left his palace on fastdays and lay down on the top of an ant heap, observing the fast and offering his magnificent snake body to the passers-by.

p.008 Patiently he underwent the most terrible tortures, without using his enormous power against the puny rogues who caused him so much pain. As Samkhapāla he was freed by a passing merchant, whom he thereupon treated as a guest in his palace for a whole year, and who afterwards became an ascetic. In the two other cases, however, he fell into the hands of a snake-charmer, who by means of magical herbs, which he spit upon him, and by virtue of the "charm which commands all things of sense", as well as by squeezing and crushing, weakened the royal snake, and putting him in his basket carried him off to villages and towns, where he made him dance before the public. In both legends the Bodhisattva is just performing before the King of Benares, when he is released on account of the appearance of another Nāga, Sumanā, his queen, or Sudassana, his brother 2.

In the shape of a Garuḍa-king we find the Bodhisattva in another tale, where he finds out the secret way by which the Nāgas often succeed in conquering and killing the Garuḍas, namely by swallowing big stones and thus making themselves so heavy that their assailants, striving to lift them up, drop down dead in the midst of the stream of water, flowing out of the Nāga's widely opened mouths. Paṇḍara, a Nāga king, was foolish enough to trust an ascetic, whom both he and the Garuḍa used to visit and honour, and told him at his repeated request the valuable secret of the Nāga tribe. The treacherous ascetic revealed it at once to the Bodhisattva, who now succeeded in capturing Paṇḍara himself by seizing him by the tail and holding him upside down, so that he disgorged the stones he had swallowed and was an easy prey. Moved by Paṇḍara's lamentations, however, he released him and they became friends, whereupon they went together to the perfidious ascetic. The Nāga king caused this fellow's head to split into seven pieces and the man himself to be swallowed by the earth and to be reborn in the Avīci hell.

In the Kharaputta-jātaka we read about a Nāga king who was nearly killed by boys, when seeking food on earth, but was saved out of their hands by Senaka, king of Benares. We do not read what made the mighty Nāga so powerless against those children ; for there was apparently no question of fasting as in p.009 the above mentioned legends of the Bodhisattva. He went back to the Nāga world and from there brought many jewels as a present to the King, at the same time appointing one of his numberless Nāga girls to be near the King and to protect him. He gave him also a charm by means of which he would always be able to find the girl, if he did not see her, and afterwards presented him with another charm, giving knowledge of all sounds, so that he understood the voices even of ants 1. So we find the Nāga king not only in the possession of numberless jewels and beautiful girls, but also of mighty charms, bestowing supernatural vision and hearing. The palaces of the Nāga kings are always described as extremely splendid, abounding with gold and silver and precious stones, and the Nāga women, when appearing in human shape, were beautiful beyond description. But the whole race was terribly quick-tempered, which made them, considering their deadly poison and their great magic power, very dangerous creatures. Even the breath of their nostrils was sufficient to kill a man, as we read in the above mentioned Kharaputta-jātaka, where the Nāga king, angry because the girl whom he had appointed to protect King Senaka, came back to the Nāga world, falsely complaining that the King had struck her because she did not do his bidding, at once sent four Nāga youths to destroy Senaka in his bedroom by the breath of their nostrils.

Often we find stories of men staying as guests in some Nāga king's palace and enjoying all its luxury, sometimes for seven days, sometimes even for a whole year 1. The most interesting of all the Nāga tales is the Bhuridatta-jātaka. We read there about "the Nāga world beneath the ocean", and about the Nāga palace "beneath the Yamuna's sacred stream", but at the same time the Nāga maidens, frightened by the Ālambāyana spell, a serpent spell obtained from a Garuḍa-king, "sank into the earth", and the "jewel of luck", which "grants all desires", when falling on the ground "went through it and was lost in p.010 the Nāga world" 2. So we see that whatever belongs to that world can disappear into the earth and needs not enter the water, because both are the Nāgas' domain 3. The "jewel which grants all desires", which was guarded by the Nāga maidens but forgotten in their terror for the Garuḍa spell, is nothing but the "Nyo-i hōju", mentioned in the Chinese and Japanese legends. The same story teaches us that children of men and Nāgī (Nāga women) are "of a watery nature", and cannot stand sunshine or wind, but are happiest when playing in the water 4.

So far the Jātakas of Cowell's edition. It is a strange fact that in all these tales no mention is made of the Nāga's nature of god of clouds and rain, although this is the main reason why the Chinese identified him with their dragon. In the legends, translated from the Chinese Tripiṭaka by Chavannes 1, however, so much stress is laid on the rain giving capacity of the Nāga, that we need not doubt as to its predominance in Northern Buddhism.

From the Lalita vistara 2 we learn that in the fifth week after reaching perfect Enlightenment the Buddha went to lake Mucilinda, and the Nāga king of the same name, who resided there, came out of the water and with his coils and hoods shielded the Lord from the rain for seven days, whereafter he assumed the shape of a youth and worshipped the Great Being. In the Mahāvagga 3 the name of the lake and the Nāga king is Muchalinda, and

"in order to protect the Lord against the cold and the humidity, he seven times surrounded him with his coils and extended his hood over him".

According to Hardy

"in the sixth week, he went to the lake Muchalinda, where he remained at p.011 the foot of a midella tree. At that time rain began to fall, which continued for seven days, without intermission, in all the four continents. The nāga Muchalinda having ascended to the surface of the lake, saw the darkness produced by the storm ; and in order to shelter Buddha from the rain and wind, and protect him from flies, mosquitoes, and other insects, he spread over him his extended hood, which served the purpose of a canopy".

It is highly interesting to compare with these passages the version of the same legend, found in the Chinese Tripiṭaka 1. There he is said to have gone to Mucilinda's river (not lake) immediately after having reached Enlightenment. While he was sitting under a tree, his brilliant light penetrated into the Nāga's palace, just as in former times his three predecessors of this kalpa had spread their light, sitting on the same spot. The Nāga, delighted to see the new Buddha's light, arose from the water, and, surrounding the Lord with seven coils, covered him with his seven heads (not hoods). "The Nāga, delighted, caused wind and rain for seven days and nights2. All that time the Lord sat motionless, protected by the royal snake, the first of all animals to be converted. This legend is to be found in the Luh-tu tsih king 3, nr 143 of Nanjō's Catalogue, translated by Seng-hwui, who died A. D. 280 4.

The same work contains many jātakas, in which the Nāgas are frequently mentioned, sometimes in company with Çakra, Brahma, the four devarājas and the gods of the earth 5. One day, when the Bodhisattva and Ānanda were Nāgas in order to complete p.012 the expiation of their former evil deeds, "expanding their majestic spirit, they made heaven and earth shake ; they raised the clouds and caused the rain to fall6. And when Devadatta was a terrible Nāga, "he expanded all his force ; lightning and thunder flashed and rattled7.

The Kiu tsah p'i-yü king, "Old (version of the) Samyuktāvadāna sūtra" (miscellaneous metaphors), translated in the third century A. D. by the same Seng-hwui (Nanjō's Catalogue, nr. 1359) in some of its apologues mentions the Nāgas as bringers of rain. Such a being by its rain made the dike, along which a çrāmaṇera carried his master's rice, so slippery that the man repeatedly tumbled down and dropped the rice into the mud. His master summoned the Nāga, who in the shape of an old man prostrated himself before the Arhat and invited him to dine in his palace all the days of his life. The Arhat accepted this offer and daily flew with his bed to the Nāga's palace, after having entered abstract contemplation. But his pupil, anxious to know from where his master had got the splendid rice grains which he discovered in his almsbowl, hid himself under the bed and clinging to one of its feet arrived with the Arhat at the Nāga's abode. The latter, his wife and the whole crowd of beautiful women respectfully saluted the çramaṇa and the çramaṇera, but the latter was warned by his master not to forget, that he, the çramaṇera himself, was a must higher being than the Nāga, notwithstanding all the latter's treasures and beautiful women.

"The Nāga, said he, has to endure three kinds of sufferings : his delicious food turns into toads as soon as he takes it into his mouth ; his beautiful women, as well as he himself, change into serpents when he tries to embrace them ; on his back he has scales lying in a reverse direction, and when sand and pebbles enter between them, he suffers pains which pierce his heart. Therefore do not envy him.

The pupil, however, did not answer ; day and night he thought of the Nāga and forgot to eat. He fell ill, died and was reborn as the Nāga's son, still more terrible than his father, but after death became a man again 1.

p.013 Another time the Buddha's disciples are compared to a great Nāga who liked to give rain to the earth, but, fearing that the latter might not be able to bear the weight of the water, decided to make the rain fall into the sea 1.

In the Tsah p'i-yü king 2, a work from the Korean Tripiṭaka, not to be found in Nanjō's Catalogue (for nr 1368, which bears the same title, is a different work) we find the following Nāga tales. A Nāga ascended to the sky and caused abundant rains to fall : for the devas they brought the seven precious things, for mankind fertilizing water, and for the hungry demons a great fire which burned the whole of their bodies 3.

Another Nāga who by means of a single drop of water could give rain to one or two or three kingdoms, nay to the whole Jambudvīpa, placed it in the great sea that it might not dry up 4.

An exorcist of Nāgas went with his pitcher full of water to the pond of such a being and by his magic formulae surrounded the Nāga with fire. As the water of the pitcher was the only refuge the serpent could find, it changed into a very small animal and entered the pitcher 5.

Here we see the Nāgas not only as rain gods, but also as beings wholly dependent on the presence of water and much afraid of fire, just like the dragons in many Chinese and Japanese legends.

With regard to the precious pearls in the possession of the Nāgas as gods of the waters, we may mention a tale to be found in the Mo ho seng chi lüh 6 or "Discipline of the Mahāsāṃghikas" (Nanjō, nr 1119), translated in 416 by Buddhabhadra and Fah-hien 7. There we read about a Nāga who wore a necklace of pearls, which he liked so much that he preferred it to his friendship towards a hermit. The latter, daily tortured by the Nāga's coils, wound around his body, succeeded in getting rid p.014 of him only by asking him for the precious necklace 1. Also the Chinese dragons were said to have pearls at their throats.

The Avadāna-çataka, a hundred legends translated from the Sanskrit by Léon Feer 2 contain a few passages concerning the Nāgas. The most important one is the 91th legend 3, where Suparṇi, the king of birds, is said to have seized from the ocean a little Nāga, which after having been devoured was reborn as Subhūti and by following the Buddha's teachings reached Arhatship. He remembered to have had five hundred rebirths among the Nāgas on account of a long row of wicked thoughts in previous existences. Now he used his supernatural power to convert both Nāgas and Garuḍas by protecting the former against five hundred Garuḍas and the latter against a gigantic Nāga, which he caused to appear. In this way the law of love was taught them, and they followed his teachings.

In another legend 4 a Brahman is said to have been reborn as a Nāga because he had broken his fast ; seven times a day a rain of burning sand came down upon him till he succeeded in keeping a special fast. Then, after having died with abstinence of food, he was reborn in the Trāyastriṃçat heaven.

In a third passage 5 Virūpāksha, one of the four guardians of the world, who reigns on the West side of Mount Meru, is said to be surrounded by Nāgas (his subjects, who live in the West).

Finally, the Nāgas are mentioned among the divine beings who came to worship the Buddha : Çakra, the king of the gods, Viçvakarma and the four great kings surrounded by Devas, Nāgas, Yakshas, Gandharvas and Kumbhāṇḍas 6 ; another time they are enumerated as follows : Devas, Nāgas, Yakshas, Asuras, Garuḍas, Kinnaras and Mahoragas 7.

In Açvaghoṣa's Sūtrālaṃkāra 1, translated into French from Kumārajīva's Chinese version by Edouard Huber, the Nāgas are often mentioned.

"When the great Nāga causes the rain to fall, the ocean alone can receive the latter ; in the same way the p.015 Saṃgha (alone) can receive the great rain of the Law 2.

When a merchant, Kotīkarṇa by name, visited a town of pretas, these hungry demons uttered a long complaint, which contains the following verse :

"When on the mountains and valleys the Heavenly Dragons (the Nāgas) cause the sweet dew to descend, this changes into bubbling fire and spouts upon our bodies" 3.

"Elāpatra the Nāgarāja, having violated the commandments by maltreating the leaves of a tree, after death fell among the Nāgas, and none of the Buddhas has predicted the time when he shall be able to leave them" 4.

"The tears (of those who, on hearing the Law of the twelve Nidānas, are moved by pity and weep with compassion) can entirely destroy the Nāga Vāsuki who exhales a violent poison" 5.

"The Rākṣasas and the Piçācas, the evil Nāgas and even the robbers dare not oppose the words of the Buddha" 6.

An evil Nāga guarded a big tree which stood in a large pond, and killed all those who took a branch or a leaf from it. When the bhiksus came to hew down the tree in order to build a stūpa, the people and a brahman warned them not to do so on account of the danger, but the bhiksus answered :

— With regard to the poisonous Nāga, you, brahman, glorify yourself. But we rely upon the Nāga of men (the Buddha), and, placing our trust in Him, glorify ourselves... Among all the poisonous Nāgas, for this Nāga king you show yourself full of respectful thoughts. The Buddha is sweet and calm, He is the King of all beings, it is Him whom we revere, the Perfect one, the Bhagavat. Who would be able to subdue the poisonous Nāga, if not the Buddha's disciples ?"

Then they cut down the tree, and, to the astonishment of the brahman, no clouds, no thunder, no miraculous signs bore witness to the Nāga's wrath, as had formerly been the case even when one leaf of his tree was taken by a human hand 1. The brahman, after having uttered his amazement and anger, p.016 because he thought that they had used magic incantations, fell asleep, and in a dream was addressed as follows by the Nāga :

— Be not angry ; what they did was done to show me their veneration. They have neither despised nor wounded me, for my body supports the stūpa ; moreover, the tree has become a beam of the stūpa, and I can protect it ; the stūpa of the Daçabala, of the Exalted one, should I ever have been able to protect it (if not in this way) ?... There was still another reason, why I had not sufficient power (to resist the Buddha). I am going to tell you this reason, listen attentively : Takṣaka, the Nāga king, came here in person and took possession of this tree ; could I protect it ? Elāpatra, the Nāga king, himself came to this spot with Vaiçramaṇa : was my power sufficient to resist those Devas and Nāgas, full of majesty ?

When the Brahman awoke, he became a monk.

This remarkable story shows us the Nāga as an inhabitant of a pond, but at the same time as a tree demon, in which function we often found the serpent in Chinese and Japanese tales, but never in Indian Nāga legends. As a rain and thunder god he is said to produce clouds and thunder when he is angry. Takṣaka and Elāpatra are mentioned here as the mightiest of the Nāga kings, and Vaiçramaṇa, the guardian of the North, king of the Yakshas, is probably confounded with Virūpāksha, the guardian of the West, king of the Nāgas. The whole legend is a typical specimen of the way in which Buddhism subdued the other cults.

After having learned the Nāga's nature from these Buddhist writings which made him known in China and Japan, we may venture one step into another direction, in turning to the Kathāsaritsāgara or "Ocean of the streams of story". This "largest and most interesting collection" of tales was composed by the Kashmirian court poet Somadeva, "one of the most illustrious Indian poets" 1, in the eleventh century of our era, but the original collection, its source, entitled the Bṛhatkathā, is must older, and, according to Prof. Speyer,

"must have been arranged in that period of Indian history, when Buddhism exercised its sway over the Hindoo mind side by side with Çaivism and so many other manifold varieties of sectarian and local creeds, rites and theosophies.

"The main story and a large number of the episodes are p.017 Çaiva tales, as was to be expected from the supposed first narrator being no other than the Supreme God Çiva himself 2.

Next to legends of the Buddhists even mythological narrations from the Vedic age are to be found in this work, smaller collections being incorporated into it 3. Among the great number of interesting legends, contained in the Kathāsaritsāgara, translated by Tawney (1880-1884), there are several in which the Nāgas play a more or less important part.

The first thing which strikes us is the total absence of passages devoted to their capacity of giving rain. Combining this with the same observation made above with regard to the jātakas of Cowell's edition, we feel inclined to believe that this part of the Nāgas' nature has been particularly developed by the Northern Buddhists. The original conceptions regarding these semidivine serpents, living in the water or under the earth, seem to have attributed to them the power of raising clouds and thunder, and of appearing as clouds themselves, but not as rain giving beings. It is, of course, a very obvious conclusion that cloud gods produce rain, but it seems that this idea, which made them the benefactors of mankind, first rose in the minds of the adherents of the Mahāyāna school. According to the original ideas, on the contrary, they seem to have only given vent to their anger in terrifying mankind by means of dense clouds, thunder and earthquakes. Highly interesting in this respect is the following story, to be found in the Kathāsaritsāgara 1.

In the Vindhya forest in the northern quarter there was a solitary açoka tree, and under it, in a lake, stood the great palace of a mighty Nāga king, Pārāvatāksha by name, who obtained a matchless sword from the war of the gods and the Asuras. In order to get this sword an ascetic, assisted by a prince and his followers, threw enchanted mustard-seed upon the water, thus clearing it from the dust which concealed it, and began to offer an oblation with snake-subduing spells.

"And he conquered by the power of his spells the impediments, such as earthquakes, clouds, and so on. Then there came out from that açoka tree a heavenly nymph, as it were, murmuring spells with the tinkling of her jewelled ornaments, and approaching the ascetic she pierced his soul with a sidelong glance of love. And then the ascetic lost his self-command and forgot his spells ; and the shapely fair one, embracing him, flung from his hand the vessel of oblation. p.018 And then the snake Pārāvatāksha had gained his opportunity, and he came out from that palace like the dense cloud of the day of doom. Then the heavenly nymph vanished, and the ascetic beholding the snake terrible with flaming eyes, roaring horribly 1, died of a broken heart. When he was destroyed, the snake lay aside his awful form, and cursed Mṛigānkadatta (the prince) and his followers, for helping the ascetic, in the following words :

— Since you did what was quite unnecessary after all coming here with this man, you shall for a certain time be separated from one another.

Then the snake disappeared, and all of them at the same time had their eyes dimmed with darkness, and were deprived of the power of hearing sounds. And they immediately went in different directions, separated from one another by the power of the curse, though they kept looking for one another and calling to one another.

Nāgas injuring the crops are mentioned in another passage, where Svayamprabhā, queen of the Asuras residing in Pātāla land,

"makes herself surety (to king Merudhvaja) that the Nāgas shall not injure the crops" 2.

The seven Pātālas are the netherworld 3, the "home of the serpent race below the earth" 4, but also the Asuras, "who escaped from the slaughter in the great fight long ago between the gods and asuras", had fled to Pātāla and lived there. As to the Nāgas having their abode in Pātāla land, we may refer to the following passages of the Kathāsaritsāgara.

"On the extreme shore he set up a pillar of victory, looking like the king of the serpents emerging from the world below to crave immunity for Pātāla".

"Do you not remember how he went to Pātāla and there married the daughter of a Nāga, whose name was Surūpā ?

When Kadrū and Vinatā, two wives of Kaçyapa, had a dispute as to the colour of the Sun's horses, they made an agreement that the one that was wrong should become a slave to the other. Kadrū, the mother of the snakes, induced her sons to defile the horses of the Sun by spitting venom over them ; thus they looked black instead of white, and Vinatā, the mother of Garuḍa, king of birds, was conquered by this trick and made Kadrū's slave. When Garuḍa came to release her, the snakes asked the nectar from the sea of milk, which the gods had begun to churn, as a substitute, p.019 and Garuḍa went to the sea of milk and displayed his great power in order to obtain the nectar.

"Then the god Vishnu, pleased with his might, deigned to say to him :

— I am pleased with you, choose a boon.

Then Garuḍa, angry because his mother was made a slave, asked a boon from Vishnu :

— May the snakes become my food".

Vishnu consented, and Garuḍa, after having obtained the nectar, promised Indra to enable him to take it away before the snakes should have consumed it. He put the nectar on a bed of Kuça grass and invited the snakes to take it there after having released his mother. They did so, and Garuḍa departed with Vinata, but when the snakes were about to take the nectar, Indra swooped down and carried off the vessel.

"Then the snakes in despair licked that bed of Darbha grass, thinking that there might be a drop of spilt nectar on it, but the effect was that their tongues were split, and they became double-tongued for nothing. What but ridicule can ever be the portion of the over-greedy ? Then the snakes did not obtain the nectar of immortality, and their enemy Garuḍa, on the strength of Vishnu's boon, began to swoop down and devour them. And this he did again and again. And while he was thus attacking them, the snakes in Pātāla were dead with fear, the females miscarried, and the whole serpent race was well-nigh destroyed. And Vāsuki the king of the snakes, seeing him there every day, considered that the serpent world was ruined at one blow : then, after reflecting, he preferred a petition to that Garuḍa of irresistible might, and made this agreement with him :

— I will send you every day one snake to eat, O king of birds, on the hill that rises out of the sand of the sea. But you must not act so foolishly as to enter Pātāla, for by the destruction of the serpent world your own object will be baffled.

When Vāsuki said this to him, Garuḍa consented, and began to eat every day in this place one snake sent by him : and in this way innumerable serpents have met their death here".

Thus spoke a snake, whose turn it was to be devoured by Garuḍa, to Jīmūtavāhana, "the compassionate incarnation of a Bodhisattva" 1, son of Jīmūtaketu, the king of the Vidyādharas on Mount Himavat. And Jīmūtavāhana,

"that treasure-house of compassion, considered that he had gained an opportunity of offering himself up to save the snake's life. He ascended the stone of execution and was carried off by Garuḍa who began to devour him on the peak of the mountain.

At that moment a rain of flowers fell from Heaven, p.020 and Garuḍa stopped eating, but was requested by Jīmūtavāhana himself to go on. Then the snake on whose behalf he sacrificed his life, arrived and cried from far :

— Stop, stop, Garuḍa, he is not a snake, I am the snake meant for you.

Garuḍa was much grieved and was about to enter the fire to purify himself from guilt, but following Jīmūtavāhana's advice determined never again to eat snakes, and to make revive those which he had killed. The goddess Gaurī by raining nectar on Jīmūtavāhana made him safe and sound, and Garuḍa brought the nectar of immortality from heaven and sprinkled it along the whole shore of the sea.

"That made all the snakes there (whose bones were lying there) rise up alive, and then that forest, crowded with the numerous tribe of snakes, appeared like Pātāla come to behold Jīmūtavāhana, having lost its previous dread of Garuḍa".

Pātāla-land, the seven under-worlds, one of which was called Rasātala (sometimes equivalent to Pātāla), was inhabited by Nāgas, Asuras, Daityas and Dānavas (two classes of demons opposed to the gods and identified with the Asuras). There were temples of the gods (Çiva 1, Durgā, the Fire-god), worshipped by the demons. As to its entrances, these are described as mountain caverns 2 or "openings in the water" ; or wonderful flagstaffs rising out of the sea with banners on them showed the way thither. Sometimes human kings were allowed to visit this Fairy land. Chandraprabha e.g., after having offered to Çiva and Rudra, with his queen and his ministers, with Siddhārta at their head, entered an opening in the water pointed out by Maya, and after travelling a long distance, arrived there. And king Chaṇḍasinha with Sattvaçīla plunged into the sea and following the sinking flagstaff reached a splendid city. Also king Yaçaḥketu, after diving into the sea, suddenly beheld a magnificent city, with palaces of precious stones and gardens and tanks and wishing-trees that granted every desire, and beautiful maidens. This agrees with the description of the Nāga palaces which we found in the Jātakas.

A temple of Vāsuki, the king of the snakes, is mentioned in the p.021 same work 3. There was a festive procession in his honour, and great crowds worshipped him. His idol stood in the shrine, which was full of long wreaths of flowers like serpents, "and which therefore resembled the abyss of Pātāla". To the South of the temple there was a large lake sacred to Vāsuki,

"studded with red lotusses, resembling the concentrated gleams of the brilliance of the jewels on snakes' crests ; and encircled with blue lotusses, which seemed like clouds of smoke from the fire of snake poison ; overhung with trees, that seemed to be worshipping with their flowers blown down by the wind.

Other passages relate about Nāgas assuming human shapes 1, either to escape Garuḍa (who in this work is always mentioned as one being), or to embrace a Nāgi. In the former case Garuḍa himself persecuted the Nāga in human form, in the latter the snake-god, discovering that he was deceived by his wife during his sleep, "discharged fire from his mouth, and reduced them both (her lover and herself) to ashes".

§ 3. The Nāga as a giver of rain

We have seen above that the Nāga's capacity of raising clouds and thunder when his anger was aroused was cleverly converted by the Mahāyāna school into the highly beneficient power of giving rain to the thirsty earth. In this way these fearful serpents by the influence of Buddha's Law had become blessers of mankind. It is clear that in this garb they were readily identified with the Chinese dragons, which were also blessing, rain giving gods of the water.

The four classes into which the Mahayanists divided the Nāgas were :

1. Heavenly Nāgas (), who guard the Heavenly Palace and carry it so that it does not fall.

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