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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Nagas, Plesiosaurs and Rainbow Serpents

Nagas are the South Asian (Indian and Indonesian) equivalents of Dragons, and the name "Naga" simply means "Snake", In Indonesia the Nagas tend to be a very peculiar sort of snake with a distinct neck; shoulders with forefins, wings or legs; a short thick torso tapering down into what looks like a distinct tail also. In more elaborate depictions they are shown with several loops in the water following the head and neck in typical "Sea-Serpent" style. The range of size in depicted Nagas is very great, from less than human size (three feet?) to a very great size, perhaps over fifty feet long.


 I had seen a similar pattern to this Suma Islands textile [below] before from the Phillipines before but I did not have a photo for it. It occurred to me that the creature on the other textile had a body plan like a Plesiosaur. One of the styles of depiction on the other cloth had an enlarged "Snake Head" and this one has "Devil Heads" instead. at any rate, the heads are mostly symbolic, the important thing is that the depictions are not showing ordinary crocodiles but something different.

(The lizards shown in the center are possibly very large and unclassified monitor lizards)
Cast of a Plesiosaur fossil, to show the similar body plan.
The two Batak carved wooden panels below show something like the local version of the Tao-tieh (Taotie) Chinese dragon head and once again it seems that the spiral design behind the eyes represents the Euryapsid skull openings that Plesiosaurs have (but that snakes do not have) The pineal 'eye' may also be intended by thesmall diamond shape above the eyes but situated medially: the boxed-off area in front of the eyes may indicate the area where the nostrils are located.

It turns out that in Northern Australia the Rainbow Snake (also known in Southern India) is a local variation on the Naga design. I am borrowing the logo of the Aboriginal Northern Land Council (This is not meant in any way to be disrespectful, I just needed to illustrate the design). Compare to the body plan of the first Indonesian Naga at the top of this article. An earlier blog noted the comparison of the Rainbow Serpent's teeth to PLesiosaur teeth: I did not make the comparison myself but it is also a good argument.
And finally it seems that the Nagas of Indonesia carry over intio New Guinea and Melanesia, where some of the native names sound as if they are variations of "Naga" and "Naga Raja" (King-of-Serpents) in the sield below, the Naga is shown in an ambiguous way, either as the top half done X-ray style with the throat indicated from the mouth down and then a schematic herart (The curlicues at the ends of the jaws is a design also known from Indonesia) and then as the top half, showing the twi foreflippers in the same manner as the Rotomahana sighting off New Zealand in the 1800s: and it is also a stlyised profile with both head and tail ends up, and indicating both fore and rear flippers.
 The catline face at the top of the shield is also interesting and I wonder if there are local reports of "Phantom panthers" to go along with the catfaced design?

Here is a comparison of a Plesiosaur reconstruction by National Geographic
to compare to the "Winged Foreflippers" top-part sighting design.
 Such sightings are infrequent but have been recorded in the Baltic sea, in the North
Atlantic, near New Zealand, off the US East Coast, off the US West Coast and near Japan.

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