V. Sandhiyalakshmi

In an unpublished gold coin of Huviska (140 CE), son of Kanishka the Kushana king, there is a goat-faced deity (plate 1), facing forward, with a halo behind his head. He holds a standard surmounted by a rooster and fillet in his right hand, the left resting on the hilt of a sword tied to his waist- girdle.  He is clad in a long-flowing dhoti and boots, a combination of the Indian and foreign or Kushana warrior. He wears a turban or top knot with fillets or side locks flowing out from the sides. The turban or top knot is often used in Kushana art to indicate an Indian noble. He is adorned with bracelets on his wrists and biceps, and his cloak is held by a large double clasp on his chest. This is Naigameya, a little-known form of Skanda or Karttikeya. The depiction is identical to a Mahasena coin of Huvishka, with the same legend, but with the difference of the ram’s head.

plate 1

 Sometimes he is a demon with the head of a goat, also called Naigamesha. The etymology of the word is uncertain, but Monier Williams, in his Sanskrit-English Dictionary, says that it consisted   of two elements: neja from the root nij to wash and mesa, a ram. In fact, the word denoted a ram on which the child was seated and bathed, thus purified of the evil eye of the graha (planet).

The name Nejamesa occurs in one of the khilas of the Rig Veda, and has been conceived as a son-granting deity: “O Nejamesa, fly away and fly hither again bringing a beautiful son; to my wife, who is longing for a son, grant thou an embryo, and that a male one.” In the Atharva Veda, he is supposed to seize or injure children. This Nejamesa is none other than the god Naigameya. Naigameya, who is ram-faced and holds a child, is a friend of the god Guha.  In the Asvalayana Grihya Sutra (1.12), he is addressed by persons desirous of sons. Nejamesa is addressed in the sutras as a son-granting god. Thus, in the later Vedic period, Nejamesa was the principal son-granting god and was, therefore, immensely popular.

But in the Paraskara Grihya Sutra (1.8.2), Naigameya appears as a demon harassing infants.

In early Jaina works like the Neminatha Carita (7th Canto) and the Kalpa Sutra, the god Naigamela or Harinagamesi appears both as a son-granting and an embroyo-transferring deity. According to the Neminatha Carita, Krishna once invoked the god Naigamesa to obtain a child equal to Pradyumna for his consort Satyabhama, and Krishna’s prayer was granted. In the Sushruta Samhita (a work probably of the 1st century CE), Naigamesa, Nejamesa, Jaina Naigamesa or Haririagamesi and Naigameya of the great epic and the puranas is invoked as a protector of children.

In Jaina religious art he is depicted as a figure either with the head of a ram. The sculpture depicting Naigamesha with female figures and a small child refers to the legend of the exchange of the embryo of Devananda and Trishala. According to the Kalpa Sutra, Mahavira took the form of an embryo in Brahmani Devananda’s body. Thinking that an arhat ought not to be born in a Brahmanical family, Indra directed Harinegameshi, the divine commander, to transfer Mahavira from the body of Devananda to Trishala, a Kshatriya woman who was also with  child. Harinegameshi successfully carried out Indra’s order. In Jaina mythology Naigameshin is regarded also as a deity of procreation.  The ancient Jainas represented Naigameshin in both male and female forms, presiding over child birth.

Like the Jaina god Harinagamesi who has the power to transform himself, in the Mahabharata, Agni transforms himself into the goat-faced Naigamesa who is followed by children and begins to gratify him with toys (III.215.23). He is associated with the nyagrodha or banyan tree and the sixth day of the fortnight (shashthi) is his auspicious tithi. This goat-faced, son-protecting god (balam palayita devo) is the same as chagavaktro bahuprajah or Naigameya of the Mahabharata (III.225.28), who, says the epic, is but another aspect of Skanda-Karttikeya, and is described as his prishthaja (brother). The Mahabharata (III.230.15) further advises mothers who desire children to worship Skanda in the form of Naigemeya. It is only in the Mahabharata that Naigamesha is definitely identified with Skanda-Karttikeya, although the name appears in the Rig and Atharva Vedas.

Thus, from a fairly early period the god Nejamesa or Naigamesha or Naigameya was universally regarded not only as a son-granting deity but also as a guardian-protector of children. Even today, in many parts of India, Karttikeya is worshipped by barren women.

He was a very popular deity in the Kushana period. A large number of stone and terracotta sculptures that have been found. Several notable sculptures of the goat faced deity are found in the early Kushana art of Mathura. The most remarkable is the inscribed torana relief found at the Jaina Kankali Tila mound. The goat-faced Naigamesha is seated on a pedestal with his face turned to the right, as if addressing another person, whose image has been lost. To his left there are three standing female figures and a nude male child close to his knee (pl. 2).

plate 2

The inscription describes the deity as ‘Bhagavat Nemeso’, (the worshipful Nemeso). The present inscription is a variant of the name of the deity Harinegamesi in the Kalpa Sutra, a goat-headed god with his horns and ears falling on the nape and shoulders. He has a pointed mouth with prominent eyes.

Naigamesha is a form of Karttikeya, the son of Agni, who is depicted with the head of a goat, or riding a goat or a chariot pulled by goats. The association of the ram’s head with Naigamesha is derived from from his association with Agni.


Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.