On the roads, Tamil Nadu country side: Coiled serpents on a stelae, sounds like something out of a fantasy in the middle ages. Well, not exactly, because its something you would invariably pass without taking notice of, every time you went to work.
If you looked closer, you would notice various version of coiled serpent stelae, but one of the most prominent is that of two serpents in two and half coils facing each other, housing a shiva linga in between. Maybe they are some naga cult icons under a tree, smeared with vermillion and turmeric.
Why is there so much of importance given to these icons, what do they signify and why are they all over the place? Well, someone had pointed out to me earlier that faith cannot be compared with language since its not logical. There is nothing more logical than the school of thought the surrounds these naga cult icons. Its all about energy... of course you need to believe in it.
Its a school of thought, that the energy of Shiva stays dormant as the potential energy while the mother godess represents the active kinetic energy that flows through the passages along the spinal chord. These are typically called the Nadis, you might have heard this before... but i will keep this one short. It is believed that when the female energy, also called the kundalini energy, is awakened in the aspirant, it sits up like a two and a half coiled serpent ready to rise up the nadis, crossing each chakra or energy center along the way till it finally meets the male potential energy and unites with it. This has been represented as the soma skanda panel depicting the union of shiva and parvati resulting in the birth of soma skanda.
Soma skanda is a debatable person. He could be karthikeya or a concept without a form. The idea behind soma skanda is to depict the union of the male and female energy which results in the flow of self generated amrita or soma which sustains the aspirant, hence forth eliminating his dependency on the external world around him. This subtle concept is depicted as a family panel for the understanding of the masses.
Now coming back to the cult icons, its interesting to see that this school of thought is plastered all over the place, and we simply dont seem to take notice of it. We do have the naga cults, but they were subordinate to the cult of Shiva and had a lot to do with him. The shore temple at Mahabalipuram clearly depicts cult icons of Nagas on the outer walls, resonably eroded, but clear enough to indicate the practices during the Pallava ages. This practise definitely has not died since, its very much alive getting a fresh coat of vermillion every morning, apart from flowers from passerbys who dont even knwo what its meant to depict.
Bottom line, our culture is all around us, its under the trees, in the temples, potent schools of thought scattered all around reminding us of what our forefathers have figured out well before the white man even started to think!
All we need to do is just open our eyes!