Sheshnaag ( Part 2 )

Karishma Mishra
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Form

Vishnu resting on Ananta-Shesha, with his consort Lakshmi massaging his feet
Vishnu reclining on Shesha,as Brahma is born on a lotus from his navel (palace of Bir Singh Dev, Orchha, early 17th c.)

Shesha is generally depicted with a massive form that floats coiled in space, or on the ocean of bliss, to form the bed on which Vishnu lies. Sometimes he is shown as five-headed or seven-headed, but more commonly as a many thousand-headed serpent, sometimes with each head wearing an ornate crown.

His name means "that which remains", from the Sanskrit root śiṣ, because when the world is destroyed at the end of the kalpa, Shesha remains as he is.

In the Bhagavadgita of Chapter 10, verse 29, Shri Krishna while describing 75 of his common manifestations, declares, "anantaś ca asmi nāgānāṁ": Of the nagas, I am Ananta.

As per the Mahabharata, Shesha was born to sage Kashyap and his wife Kadru. Kadru gave birth to a thousand snakes, of which Shesha was the eldest. After Shesha, VasukiAiravata and Takshaka were born, in order. A lot of Shesha's brothers were cruel and were bent upon inflicting harm on others. They were even unkind to Garuda, who was Kashyapa's son through Vinatha, sister of Kadru. (Kadru and Vinatha were daughters of Daksha).

Shesha, disgusted by the cruel acts of his brothers, left his mother and kin, and took to austere penances. He lived on air and meditated in places including Gandhamadhana, Badrikashrama, Gokarna, Pushkara and Himalayas. His penances were so severe that his flesh, skin and muscles dried up and merged with his frame. Brahma, convinced of his Shesha's will, asked Shesha to request a boon. Shesha asked that he be able to keep his mind under control so that he could continue to perform ascetic penances. Brahma gladly accepted the request. Brahma then asked a favour of Shesha: to go beneath the unstable earth and stabilize it. Shesha agreed and went to the netherworld and stabilized her with his hood. He is known to support her even today, thus making Patala his perennial residence.

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Maha Vishnu and Sankarshana

Shesha is also depicted as floating in the ocean of the changing world, forming the bed of Maha Vishnu. Since he is known as Adishesha (the foremost of snakes) and because he is Anantashesha or simply Ananta (endless, as He is known to remain in existence even after the end of the Kalpa, when the whole universe is destroyed).

In the Bhagavata Purana Shesha is named Sankarshana, the tamasic energy of Lord Narayana himself, and is said to live deep within the inner layers of patala, where there are many serpents with gems on their heads and where Sankarshana is the ruler. He is said to live since before the creation of the universe. When the universe is towards its end, he creates 11 Rudras from Them to destroy the universe for a new one to be created.

Sankarshana is also one of the four vyuha forms of Vishnu or Krishna, the other three being VāsudevaPradyumna and Aniruddha.

Sankarshana expands himself as Garbhodakshayi-Vishnu in the beginning of the universe to create Brahma. In other words, Lord Sankarshana is Lord Narayana himself.

In previous chapters of the Purana it is also said that Lord Sankarshana spoke the Bhagavata to the Four Kumaras, who in their turn passed this message of the Bhagavata. At some point the message was passed to sage Maitreya who in his turn spoke it to Vidura.

 

Other details

Sheshanarayana by Raja Ravi Varma.

Lakshmana and Balarama are considered avatara of Sheshanaga (or vice versa).

It is considered in Vaishnavism, that Lord Balarama is the first manifestation from Lord Krishna, and that Lord Balarama then incarnates into Sesha to serve Krishna as Vishnu.

In a story from the Puranas, Shesha's younger brother Vasuki loosens Mount Mandara, to enable it to be used in the churning of the ocean by the devas and asuras.

According to the Mahabharata (Adi Parva), his father was Kashyapa and his mother Kadru.

The city of Thiruvananthapuram is named after him as the "City of Lord Anantapadmanabha."

Karishma Mishra
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