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 ((c) Dr Karl Shuker)
Needless to say, however, no such thing as a multi-headed cobra (i.e. a cobra with more than two heads) 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 and explaining the biological reason for their occurrence), including at least one such cobra, but nothing more dramatic.
Spectacular snake-woman artwork by world-famous fantasy illustrator Rodney Matthews, probably inspired by naga traditions in the Far East ((c) 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.
And sure enough, a Google image search soon uncovered for me the original photograph of a normal single-headed king cobra Ophiophagus hannah in India that had been photoshopped by person(s) unknown to yield the three-headed variant. Here is that original photograph (though I have yet to trace its ownership):
Moreover, further online perusal subsequently revealed to me that this same original photograph had also been utilised as the basis for several even more dramatic photo-manipulations. Here, for instance, is a five-headed variant:
Here is a seven-headed variant:
And an eight-headed variant:
Here is a truly incredible 18-headed variant, a veritable cobra Catherine Wheel!
Here is a very novel 14-headed variant, with the heads arranged in three separate tiers:
And here is the most imaginative variant of all, with the heads arranged in a spiral!
The last two variants are featured in a YouTube video currently online (click here to access it) that rightly denounces the multi-headed variants as hoaxes.
Nor is this the only cobra photograph to have been photo-manipulated to yield multi-headed naga images. Here's an impressive nine-headed specimen created by febing123, derived from a different original cobra photo:
An even more impressive twelve-headed specimen derived from a third cobra photo:
And here is a video presenting a wide selection of photo-manipulated multi-headed snakes, plus a few photos of some genuine two-headed (dicephalic) snakes at the end of the video.
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 ((c) Dr Karl Shuker)