Nagas, Naginis and Mermaids: celebration of the exotic or an iconographic appropriation
(Faculty of Humanities, University of Coimbra)
Paper short abstract:
The existence nagas - Hindu and Buddhist aquatic deities - inside the catholic churches of Goa is commonly understood as an appropriation of the indigenous mythology created by Jesuits, in order to convert. Nonetheless, these entities attributes and ornaments suggest an additional interpretation.
Paper long abstract:
Nagas (masculine) and naginis (feminine) are hybrid figures - half human, half cobra -, genius and royals of the underwater world, who are present in both Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. In Goa, namely in Tiswadi, they became popular along the 17th and 18th centuries. Inflamed by the baroque aesthetics, with voluptuous lines and covered by gold these figures were positioned under the pulpits - as part of the narrative scene carved in these structures. Deeply symbolic, their existence has been questioned along the times and the interpretation that sees it as partly naga, partly mermaid, - once in most of the cases the tail end as a flipper - due to the influence of Portuguese seamen. A closer regard into these figures offers different hypothesis and perspectives. Some of them are related to the modification of the appearance: tails that show profound scars, which suggest that, for some reason, they have been intervened and probably modified; or an unnatural aspect of their upper body that make they look like male entities with female faces. Others are related to their attributes and ornaments, videlicet the wide range of fruits, leafage, pearls and shells that either fell from their mouths or cover their bodies. This apotheosis of a luxuriant nature - marine and earthly - will find parallels in other exquisite pieces which, though apparently detached from those, share the same symbolic meaning.
Old Goa: the city/port as a place of encounter and cross-cultural exchanges, shaping identities, urban spaces and built-up heritage