Nāgas are considered nature spirits and the protectors of springs, wells and rivers. They bring rain, and thus fertility, but are also thought to bring disasters such as floods and drought. According to traditions nāgas are only malevolent to humans when they have been mistreated.
They are objects of great reverence in some parts of southern India where it is believed that they bring fertility and prosperity to their venerators. Expensive and grand rituals like Nagamandala are conducted in their honor (see Nagaradhane).
The nāgas also carry the elixir of life and immortality. Garuda once brought it to them and put a cup with elixir on the ground but it was taken away by Indra. However, few drops remained on the grass. The nāgas licked up the drops, but in doing so, cut their tongues on the grass, and since then their tongues have been forked.
Here is a map of the area:
Close up map of Naga Cave. The tank is clearly visible in this map, to the right of the Naga Cave trail.
We have walked past this spot more than 100 times and never found it. Recently I notices a speck of color through the trees. In the photo below, which is blown up about 2X, in the back left you can barely make out a rounded gray rock with a speck of red in front. That speck of color seemed worth investigating, since it is not a natural color here.
Now it was time to go explore and see what was actually there. I had seen a path to the right, just before we get to a water catchment basin with dirt walls. Time to go up this path.
For a while we could see nothing of interest. As we got closer, we could see the rock more clearly ahead.
We see a dark place in the rocks, perhaps another cave?
Getting closer we can see a bit of the shrine, with a row of idols dressed with colorful dhotis.
To the left of the row of idols is the Nāga.
The Nāga, up close. Two snakes are coiled together, almost like the Greek caduceus used as the western symbol of the medical profession. (Did you know that Greek medicine took greatly from Ayurvedic medicine? I believe that Alexander the Great, impressed with Indian medicine, sent a prominent Indian Ayurvedic healer to Greece to teach Ayurvedic medicine to the Greeks, and it became a basis for Greek medicine.)
Behind the shrine is a (seemingly now unoccupied) termite mound. These are revered by the local people and treated with reverence as a natural temple.
To the right of the idols, there is an oil lamp sitting sheltered in a set of rocks.
Behind the shrine is a pile of clay lamps. Perhaps sometimes there are many lamps on this shrine?
Here is a close up of one of the idols, nicely dressed and then decorated with red kumkum and yellow turmeric. .
Across from these idols are two more small idols, decorated with kumkum and turmeric but not dressed. The pieces of fabric at the top and right of the photo below are more dhotis strung on a rope behind these two idols.
We also explored the small cave.
Just space for one person, and not really a good sleeping area.
The cave has a nice view out into the surrounding area.
Exiting the cave, you can see the back of the idols and how the dhotis were tied onto them.
Though this cave is not big, it still seems like a cave. I will count it among the caves of Arunachala. This is cave number 19 for us.
This Nāga shine is easy to get to, once you know where it is. This is a very easy side trip to take when walking the Inner Path. It is near the end of the Inner Path, in the Trees section.