According to Hindu and Buddhist mythology, nagas are ancient serpent deities that can take human or semi-human form, and in Buddhist mythology a naga (or nagini if female) can have several heads. Sometimes they are depicted with human heads, but more often they are represented in their ophidian form merely as huge single- or multi-headed cobras with expanded hood(s).
Ornate gilded statue of a naga at the Wat Phra Kaew in the Royal Palaces at Bangkok, Thailand (Dr Karl Shuker)
One famous legend tells of how the Lord Buddha was shaded from the searing rays of the sun while asleep by the hoods of the multi-headed naga king Muchilinda – in another version of this story, Muchilinda protects him in this same manner from a severe rainstorm while he is meditating under the Bodhi tree.
Figurine of the Lord Buddha meditating in the lotus position upon the coils of the naga king Muchilinda, whose hooded heads are shading and guarding him (Dr Karl Shuker)
Needless to say, however, no such thing as a multi-headed cobra exists in the realm of zoology. True, there are many fully-confirmed cases of two-headed snakes (click here to view a previous ShukerNature post of mine surveying a wide selection of examples), but nothing more dramatic.
Spectacular snake-woman artwork by world-famous fantasy illustrator Rodney Matthews, probably inspired by naga traditions in the Far East (Rodney Matthews)
Consequently, when several different people forwarded me the photo opening this ShukerNature post a few days ago I was intrigued – but only for a moment.
Closer observation made it readily apparent to me that this three-headed cobra owed its additional heads not to the fickle fortune of teratology but rather to the magical manipulation of Photoshop. For whereas a bona fide three-headed snake (assuming that such an entity could ever survive to adulthood anyway) would hold its heads at differing angles and heights, the "three little maids in a row" orientation of this photographed specimen clearly exposed its Photoshopped origin, in which the head of a normal cobra had simply been triplicated and the overlapping edges deftly blended to yield this eyecatching if wholly fake naga lookalike.
But don't take my word for it. Click here for a selection of other three-headed and also some five-headed Photoshopped cobras.
And if five heads aren't enough, here's an impressive nine-headed specimen, created by febing123
And here's an even more impressive twelve-headed specimen!
Finally, if you want a modern-day naga of your own, this is how to obtain one – just click here to view a YouTube video showing precisely how to create a five-headed cobra with Photoshop.
And then people wonder why I don't have much faith any more in photographic evidence alone when attempting to determine the validity of a cryptozoological case!
Figurine of a female naga or nagini (Dr Karl Shuker)