Many great serpents (Nagas) are mentioned in Vedic culture, but a few snakes occupy a special position. The serpent Vasuki is one of the greatest whose fate is connected with the great Shiva, who is the “God of the Gods” or “Mahadeva” (Great God).
The serpent king or the king of Nagas Vasuki adorns the neck of Lord Shiva. According to Puranas, the king of the snakes became the bowstring, with Lord Shiva’s help destroying three cities (Tripuradahana).
The devas and asuras use Vasuki Naag as a rope to pull the mountain Mandarachal to both sides when whisking the ocean of milk to obtain the potion Amrita (Nectar of Immortality). The three rounds of the coiled serpent represented the past, present, and future (cycle of life). Vasuki is widely worshiped during Nag Panchami (the ritual worship ceremony of the giant serpent).
Description of Vasuki
Vasuki is depicted as having many heads. He is defined as the thousand-headed king of snakes with an ample body. He has many forms: in one of his forms, he lives in Patala Loka, deep underground, and reigns over all the snakes of the underworld.
In another form, Vasuki lives in the palace of the water god Varuna; in the third form, he lives, entwined around the neck of Mahadev as a five-headed snake, on Mount Kailash. Vasuki wears Nagamani on his head, a magical gem that serves as a universal panacea.
Vasuki: Birth and Family
The serpent Vasuki is the eldest son of the sage Kashyapa and Kadru and the great-grandson of Brahma, the creator of our universe. Kadru and her sister Vinata asked their husband, the sage Kashyapa, for sons: Kadru asked for a thousand great sons, and Vinata asked for two, but greater than a thousand sons of Kadru.
The future serpent king Vasuki was born among the thousand sons of Kadru, the second after the serpent Shesha Naag. From Vinata were born Garuda, who became the mount of Vishnu, and Aruna, who became the charioteer of Surya the Sun.
Vasuki’s elder brother, the serpent Shesha, almost immediately left to perform ascetic feats, not wanting to connect with his ignorant brothers. At the same time, Vasuki always cared for his snake family’s common good and stayed with them, although he was also honest and strove for spiritual development.
The sister of the king of serpents is Manasa Devi, regarded as the “serpent goddess.” She can cure snake bites and any disease.
Vasuki’s Role in Samudra Manthan
The Samudra Manthan, or Churning of the ocean, is an important episode of legendary antiquity described in the Hindu Puranas. The serpent Vasuki played an essential role in this episode. Devas (gods) and asuras (demons), at the request of Sri Hari Vishnu, began churning the cosmic ocean to obtain Amrita.
Mount Mandarachal was chosen as the whorl, but finding a rope large enough to wrap around a huge mountain was impossible. Then the devas and asuras turned to Vasuki for help. Vasuki agreed to act as a churning rope. Asuras grabbed Vasuki by the head, and the devas grabbed the tail, and so, with the help of Vasuki and Mandarachal, they managed to plow the ocean and get the elixir of immortality.
In connection with the history of the churning of Ocean (Samudra Manthana), it is said that Garuda was sent to invite Vasuki to take part in the action. Garuda (King of birds) has always been an enemy to snake species but still agreed to invite Vasuki. However, Garuda failed to treat Vasuki with due respect and, instead of asking for a favor, demanded his help.
Despite Garuda’s disrespect, Vasuki agreed to help and requested that he be carried to the scene as quickly as possible. Garuda grabbed Vasuki by the middle of the body and flew, but the tail and head of the serpent dragged along the ground. Then Garuda folded him in half and soared into the sky, but the result was the same. Garuda could not carry Vasuki. Finally, Shiva extended his hand into the sea, Vasuki took the form of a bracelet, and Lord Shiva carried it to the churning place.
Vasuki and Lord Shiva
Vasuki was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He used to worship Lord Shiva along with his family in Underworld (Patal Lok). During the ocean churning, Vasuki was used as rope, and he was severely injured. Lord Shiva was very pleased with his incomparable cooperation and dedication in the work of churning the ocean for the welfare of the world and gave him a boon to beautify his neck. Since then, Nagaraj Vasuki has been adorning Lord Shiva’s neck.
Vasuki: Saviour of Nagas Heritage
When Vasuki knew that the serpent dynasty (Nagvansh) would be destroyed shortly, he married his sister to Jaratkaru. Because he knew only their son could save the serpent dynasty. Jaratkaru’s son Aastik had protected the snakes during the serpent yajna (Naagyagya) of Janamejaya.
Vasuki and Mahabharata
The Mahabharata mentions an episode in which Bhima, the son of Pandu, met Vasuki and his subjects in the underwater kingdom. Then Vasuki helped him and gave him nectar to drink, which made Bhima even stronger.
According to the story, Duryodhana poisoned young Bhima, tied him up with bushes, and threw him into the water. The unfeeling son of Pandu sank to the bottom, reaching the realm of the Nagas. The nagas, equipped with poison fangs, bit him by the thousands.
The poison mixed with the blood of the son of the Wind God was neutralized by the snake venom. The snakes bit him all over his body, except for his chest.
Awakening, Bhima started killing the serpents; seeing this and realizing Bhima was the son of Kunti, he blesses Bhima with ten thousand elephants’ power. Thus, the king of snakes, Vasuki, played a vital role in the Mahabharata, making Bhima an invincible warrior and allowing the Pandavas to win the war.
Chanting the Vasuki mantra 108 times can take away black magic and curses. The mantra of protection is chanted as,
Om Sarparaajaya Vidmahe
Padma Hastaaya Dhimahi
Tanno Vasuki Prachodayath