Naga

Half-human serpent, Dragon, or any serpentine being of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist myth. However, it is also said to be a giant SNAKE of Southeast Asia.

Etymology: Sanskrit (Indo-Aryan), "serpent." The term was also used for followers of serpent cults in India, particularly the pre-Hindu Nagas, who spoke a Sino-Tibetan language that is still found in Nagaland, Manipur, and eastern Assam States in India.

Variant names: Lu (Sino-Tibetan), Nagini (for the female), Nat (in Myanmar), Naya.

Physical description: Length, up to 59 feet. Black. Carries a jewel in its head.

Habitat: Caves, under the sea, or in an underground kingdom called Naga-loka or Patala-loka.

Distribution: Thailand; India.

Significant sighting: The abbot of a monastery near Phon Phisai, Thailand, is said to have seen a large, black, scaly snake with an erectile crest on its head.

Present status: As symbols of fertility, images of Nagas adorn houses, shrines, and temples in India.

Possible explanation: A mystical, semidivine being based on the King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), which can grow to 18 feet long, weigh up to 20 pounds, and is so venomous that it can kill an elephant. It can rear up to one-third of its total body length.

Sources: Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1969), pp. 165-166; Nagas, 2001, http:// www.khandro.net/mysterious_naga.htm; Karl Shuker, "All Lit Up in Thailand," Fortean Times, no. 144 (April 2001): 23.

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