Serpent lore

Serpent on staircase
Nage at the Golden Stupa, Vientiane, Laos

When I went to Laos and Thailand I didn’t see many animals at all except domestic livestock, insects, whatever showed up on restaurant tables (which did include insects, but that’s another story) and the inhabitants of a zoo and a bear sanctuary. However, I have some mythical monsters to share with you.

Temples are decorated with sculpted, painted or stencilled guardians which typically protect the most vulnerable points of a building, the entrances, windows and roofs. The most common is the serpent – naga – an inhabitant of waters and the underworld, which often appears on balustrades of staircases.

multiple naga
Naga, Luang Prabang, Laos

Sometimes it will have a single body and multiple heads, sometimes multiple bodies. It is usually as long as the staircase so the pair below, guarding a hilltop temple, are a good 50 metres long. And we reckon a 5m python is big!

Serpents on brick staircase
Nagas on staircase, Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The mom is a heavily built aquatic reptile which also guards staircases. I don’t know what it’s earthly antecedents are but I don’t think I would like to encounter one in the wild.

plump golden crocodilian monster
Staircase mom at a small Chiang Mai temple

The makara is another crocodilian creature. It usually appears with a naga emerging from its open jaws, although the example I came across in a small local temple in Chiang Mai shows two makara and a creature with a horse-like head.

crocodilian monsters
Makara at the same temple as the mom above

Insect photos and some landscapes from my recent Laos trip are already on Green Path and my Flickr photostream. The easiest way to find them is to type ‘Laos’ in the search box at upper right.

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