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The Nagavanshi dynasty (Sanskrit:नाग वंशी) is one of the Kshatriya dynasties of India. It includes a number of Jat clans, but is dominant in Kerala. The group of people developed their Vansha according to their system of worship. The worshippers of Nāga were known as Nāgā or Nāgil. The descendants of Nāgas were called Nagavanshi. Some Jat and Nair clans claim to be of Naga origin.

The animal Totemism among aboriginal tribes

In the form of languages the remains of aboriginal tribes and castes are still in each and every corner of India. The Munda languages in North East are spoken till to-day their main mark of identification was the tradition of totemism : on the other hand there was tradition of Gotras in Aryan tribes and castes.

Totem can be defined as follows: if some casters or tribes or a group of families living together accept animal or a plant as their totem, it is called the totem of that caste or tribe viz Monkey, bear, fish, serpent, dear, eagle, tortoise, pea-cock, duck and many plants etc.

Acharya Chhitiji Mohan Sen has defined the totem tradition: “From the most ancient time, in different countries, nations or tribes, a particular mark or insignia (animal, bird or plant) known as totem was in practice: that insignia was a subject of great respect and full faith for each and every member of the tribe or Nation.

According to Majumdar the killing of certain animals or eating them is tabooed in some clans. Some tribes bear sign thereof. The totem animal, when it dies is ceremonially mourned and buried as a member of the clan concerned. The assumptions, with regard to totemism, are that totem organization is universal. J.F. Maclenon was the first to understand the significance of totemism as a primitive social institution.

According to Majumdar , as per ethnographic Survey of India, the Santhals have more than 100 totemistic clans. Hos have more than 50, Mundas 64 and Bhils 24, many castes in Orissa, the Kurmi, the Kumhar, the Bhumia, who have advanced in culture in recent years are named after the serpent, pumpkin, jackal and other totems. The Katkaris of Bombay, the Gond tribes of M.P. and of Rajasthan also have clan names after the fauna and flora of their habitat. It is clear that all these castes and tribes were sometimes, organized into totem system. But now owing to spreading of education and civilization, above system has also lost its grounds.

Serpent Totem and Naga race

It is crystal clear from the above description, that Nagas were also tribes which, had serpent as their totem. They worshipped serpents and consider them to be their protector deities. They also used to wear artificial hoods of cobra on their heads.

They were in origin indigenous Kshatriyas. They ruled all over India during history and pre-historic time. Some of the Naga Kings and families can be enumerated as under: Ahivritra, Ashwasena, Takshaka, Gonanda, Lohara, Karkota of North; Brahamadutta of Kashi, Sishunaga and Nanda of Magadha, of North east; Nagas of Padmavati (Bharsiva), Vidisa, Eran, Mathura, Ahichchhattra, Kausambi, Malava, Chakrakot, Bhogwati, in Central India; Andhra or Satvahanas (235 BC -225 AD) Chuttus, Chalukya, Pallava, Kadamba, Chhindaka, Chera, Chola of South India etc. Most of the above Naga families ruled between 500 BC and 500 AD and some of them onward up to the Mughal period.

The Harappan Civilization and cult of Naga Worship

The Indus Valley Civilization which is the most ancient civilization of India, was spread up in North-West: Harappa, Mohenjodaro , Chanhudaro and Lothal were its most important towns. The founders of Indus valley civilization were Mediterraneans or Dravidians and Australoids, where as, round headed Alpines, appeared, in mature age of this culture. In excavation of these towns, in addition to Burnished Red ware, a very high number of seals and seal impressions have also been found out. Among the seals so found out on one seal, there is a figure of chief deity with buffalo head, on its both sides, are two other man deities and behind each of them is a serpent in standing posture. On another seal, there is a serpent, in standing posture, behind the bull, which is fighting with a mighty man. On another third seal, there is a serpent resting his head on a Wooden bench or seat, which is protecting a tree deity.

The presence of serpents on all the above three seals, establishes that the serpent was their (Harappans) protector deity and symbol of authority of rule. We can draw the following conclusion from the above detail:

  1. The tradition of serpent worship or totemisim was prevalent in Indus Valley Civilization
  2. The scene depicted on the seal no.-2, shows its relation with the myths of Bobylonia, which proves origin of this tradition on Western Asia.

This fact finding is further corroborated by seal, No.4 This figure is incised on a cylinder seal recovered form Babylonia (Lajards culte de Mithra). This proves the origin of tradition of tree and serpent worship in Babylonia, from where later on it was transferred to Indus Valley.

Description of Nagas or Serpents in Vedas

The Rigveda

In Rigvedic account there is mention of Naga (Serpent ) race, Naga kings and Naga warriors.

There is description of serpent deity “Ahivritra” in the verses of this sacred book “Ahi” is synonym of serpent . The word “ Ahi Budhna (the serpent of base of a mountain ) has come twelve times in the Rigveda.

According to Oldenberg water is a form of serpent and according to Macdonell [Keith A.B. “The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and Upnishadas, p.193], they (Serpents) are the forms of Ahivritra, who is thought to be heavenly, it is conclusive that ahi-Budhna who is thought to be heavenly it is conclusive that Ahi Budhna of Rigveda was a serpent deity who was worshipped.

The Description of Vritra also has come repeatedly in Ragveda. He was deadly enemy of Indra, and he ultimately was killed by the later, he also has been called by the names like Dasyu, Dasa, Asura and Ahi in Rigveda, the word “Ahi” had also come for serpent. It means Ahi was a serpent. The greatest Ahi of Vedic poet was Vritra sarpa (Vritra serpent) which could block waters (Rivers) [Keith A.B. “The Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and Upnishadas, p.193] In Atharva-ved and later Brahmanical literature there is also mention of “ Ahi” Along with Vritra. Ahi is a title of Naga Kings and as well as serpent. In support of this view there are enormous evidence in Sanskrit scripture such as in Amarkosha (First kanda) in the list of serpents there is mention of “Ahi” . In Hindi dictionary of Nalanda the meaning of “Ahi” is serpent and Vritrasur. In the Sanskrit Hindi dictionary of Apte, the meaning of “Ahi” is serpent “ boa.” In Rigveda (VII-50-1 to 3) “Ahi” has been stated to be a dangerous serpent . In Uttar Pradesh the cultural center of mediaeval period was Ahichchhattra (centre of Naga rule) which was situated in the district of Barrielly. This was the capital of ancient Naga kings.

This is quite clear that “Ahi” as described in Rigveda, was a serpent or Naga race, whose king was Vritra or Ahivritra.

The Atharva-Veda

Dr Bhagwatsharan Upadhyay, the famous scholar of ancient history and culture, has noted [Bharatiya Samaj Ka Etihasik Vishleshan, p.44] some hymns of Atharva-Veda (V-13-6 to 10), which have reference of Assyrian Naga kings Aligi and Viligi. This proves that Naga worship and totemism tradition came to India from Assyria.

History of Nagavansh

Lal Pradaman Singh has written the history of Nagavansh. He writes that Nāgas were originated from Kashyapa. The Nāgvanshis acquired the status of Devas due to their excellent qualities, behavior and actions. Purānas mention Nāgas along with devas. Purānas mention of many Nāga Kingdoms. In ancient times Nāgas were the rulers of entire India. During their peak period of rule they had sent armies to other countries also conquered them. In many places Indian Nāgas have been mentioned as ruling dynasties such as Tāk, Taxak, Tānak, Tushta etc. Apart from these there were many branches of Nāgas such as Karkotaka Vanshi, Shesha Vanshi, Vāsuki Vanshi, Ahi Vanshi, Manibhadra Vanshi etc. These branches further developed as sub branches such as Sind Vansh, Kushan Vansh, Vaish Vansh and Saindhav Vansh etc.

The group of people developed their Vansha according to their system of worship of Devas and Nāgas. In Devas the worshippers of Indra were known as Aindra, worshippers of Varun as Vārun, worshippers of Mitra as Maitreya or Mitrā, worshippers of Shiva as Shivi or Shaivya, worshippers of Marut as Mārut, worshippers of Gandharva as Gāndharva, worshippers of Shesha as Sheshma, worshippers of Karka as Karkotaka, worshippers of Nāga as Nāgā or Nāgil.

Nagavanshis in Kerala

The Nagavanshi dynasty also includes the warrior Sections of the Nair caste who are also of Naga origin. The Nagavanshi are the known as the serpent dynasty.

Serpent worship

The serpent worhship is one of the main religious practices in coastal Karnataka and Kerala, along with goddess (Bhagavathi, Korati, Kali, Bhadrakali) worhship and spirit worship where the declared lower castes and tribes took part in the past. In fact, you could find priests who could be some kind of Shamans from these communities for these worships. This could be contrasted with other Hindu Siva, Vishnu worships where the priests are exclusively Brahmins and in fact, many of these castes were barred from being part of it.

The Pullavar community was responsible for the ritualistic dance known as Sarpam Tullal during this worship. The similar dance known as Nagamandala was performed by a community called Baidya which was part of Billavas in coastal Karnataka.

Naga dynasties of Jats

According to Jat historian Ram Swarup Joon, Nāgas had a number of ruling dynasties such as Takshak Nag, Bachak Nag, Kilkil Nag, Karkotaka, Kaliramna etc all of which are Jat gotras. Mathura, Padmavati and Kantipur were capitals of Naga dynasty. Nagas of Padmavati were called Taank, which is also a Jat gotra, and are found in 24 villages near Sonipat.

In chapter 29 of "India of the Dark Ages" the ancestor of Tanks is mentioned as Raja Gajvkatra. In chapter 42 of the same book it is mentioned that Malla Jat Republic extended from Eastern Punjab to the Ganga and Yodhya republic extended into Rajasthan. Nagpur belonged to the Nagas. Nagar Brahmins also originated from there.

The Pauranic prejudice in the story is understandable. The Jats who followed Buddhism were considered renegades and those who adopted Vaishnavism became staunch Hindus.

Naga gotra (clan) of Jats are found in Nagaur and Sikar districts of Rajasthan and Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. The villages inhabited by Naga Jats in Sikar district are - Dujod, Kanwarpura, Rampura, Sikar. In Madhya Pradesh Naga Jats are found in Badwah and Khargone.

List of Nagavanshi Jat clans

Some of the nagavanshi Jat clans are Ābūdā, Āchashw, Ahi, Air, Airāwat, Āligī, Aparājit, Āpt, Ārtimān, Āryak, Asit, Aulak, Avalak, Avyay,, Bāmal, Bānā, Barojwār,, Baulyā, Beniwāl, Bhakar, Bhākhar, ,, Bhārshiv,, Bhinchar, Bīhal, Bīlwān, Birālā, Dahiya, Dhaka, Dhaulyā, Deū, Devatra, Gorā, Imeguh, Kājal, Kālā, Kalash, Kāle Rāwat, Kālī, , Kālī Ramatā, Kālī Rāwate, Kālī Rāye, , Kālīshak, Kālīy, Kalmāsh, Kalwaria, Kalwāriyā, Kalyā, Kalya, , Kamal, Kanwal, Kariyā, Karkar, , Karvīr, Kharwal, Khokhar,,, Kothār, Kulak, Kulakiyā, Kulār, Kullar,,,, Kunjar,,, Legā, Lochag, Matwā, Mātwe, , Mundel, Nāg, Nāgā, Nāgar, Nāgauriyā, Nīl, Odasī, Olā,,, Pāhal, Pāl,,,, Pandul, Panjā, Pānn, Parsāne,,,,, Podān, Pūchale, Punia, Rāhal, Roj, Roja , Rotra, Sagsail, Saharan, Sāmotā, Samrā, Sāngū, Sawaū, Sewdā, Sheshāno, Sheshmā, Shwitra, Shyaukand, Sihāg, Siraswār, Sitarwār, Siwāyach, Sumrā, Sūtalā, Takhar, Takshak, , Tankor, Tetarwl, Tītarwāl, Tokas, Toran, Udwal, Ugrak, Vaharwāl, Vais, Varik,, Vasath, , Vāvan, Vīhan, Vodiyā, Yolyā,

Genealogy of Nāga kshatriyas

The list of rulers in the genealogy of Nāga kshatriyas, as provided by Kishori Lal Faujdar, is as under:

Shesha, Vāsuki, Arāwati, Taxak,Tonk, Karkotak, Dhananjay, Kāliya, Manināth, Āyūraṇa (Pauniya), Pinjarak, Alāwat, Vāman, Nīl, Anīl, Kalmāsha, Shabal, Āryak, Ugrak Kalash, Pok, Sumand, Dīghamukh, Nimal Pindak, Shankh, Bāl Shiv, Vishtāvak, Imeguh, Nahusha, Pingala, Bahya Varṇa, Hastipad, Mundar, Pindak, Karal, Ashwatar, Kālīshak, Pahal, Tūn Danvartak, Shankhamukh, Kushmāndak, semak, Chindārak, Karvīr, Pushpadand, Vilvak, Pāndhūr, Mūshakād, Shankhasirā, Pūrṇāmadra, Haridrak, Aparājit, Jotik, Pannag, Srāvah, Kauravya, Dhritarashtra, Shankhapind, Virjā, Suvahu, Shālipind, Haritpind, Pithrak, Sumukh, Koṇaya Dashan, Kuthar, Kunjar, Prabhākar, Kusad, Halak, Kumudāksha, Tittar, Mahāsarp, Kadanm, Bahumūlak, Karkar, Kundaudar, Mahodara, Nambiar.

Nagavanshi kings in Mahabharata

Mahabharata counts following more Naga clans – Ahi, Shivatra, (Khet) Ashit, Serbhak, Sevridha, Astin, Kantat, Spaj, Anat, Kulik, Shankhapāl, Darvī, Achāswa, Ajgar, Āligī, Vilagī, Orīvisha, Karikrat, Kasṇīnla, Tirashcha Raji, Naimarat, Prīdākū, Prīdāmī, Rajju, Lohitāhī, Ratharvī, Vāhas, Serbhā.

The Nagavanshi kings had a symbol of Naga or serpent on their coins and flags. The coins of Nagavanshi rulers are still found at village Āhār in Bulandshar district in Uttar Pradesh. These coins depict symbols of Nagas on them. There is mention of Nagas in Mahabharata in a story in which Duryodan poisoned Bhima to kill and threw into Ganga River. When he was foating inriver he reached village Āhār where the Nagavanshi rulers took him out from Ganga River and gave treatment to cure. After treatment he was sent to Hastinapur.

Arjuna, the son of Pandu, was married to Nagavanshi princess Ulupi. This finds mention in Mahabharata. See also


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