The Buddha protected by a Naga serpent is a statue commonly seen at Sakon Nakhon temples. However, simply because the theme is common doesn’t mean that the statues are identical. In fact, I don’t think we have ever seen an identical Buddha statue with Naga protector at any of the more than 100 Sakon Nakhon that we’ve visited. Like most temple statues in Sakon Nakhon, there are always differences, some big and some small.
One difference that you’ll see is the amount of heads on the Naga serpents. Sometimes the Naga has one head and takes the form of a Cobra. Other times, the Naga has five, seven, or nine heads, and can look more like a serpent or more like a dragon, depending on the statue.
The most common number of Naga heads above the Buddha is seven, as seen in the famous statue at Wat Tham Pha Daen. This number is based on the story where a huge 7-headed Naga serpent protected the Buddha from a storm (for 7 days and nights) while he was meditating under the Bodhi tree, enabling him to achieve enlightenment. This Naga also controls the 7 seas and is named Muchlentak.
The 5 headed Naga that is sometimes seen protecting Lord Buddha represents the 4 directions of the Earth, plus the middle, and is named Anontak or Sesak; while the 9 headed Naga is named Vasukak, representing the 9 eternal powers of the universe: lighting and thunder, fire, rain, wind, wealth and beauty, destruction, law and order, spirit creatures, and creativity and preservation as symbolized by Brahma.
You will also see Naga serpents guarding the entrances to Sakon Nakhon temple grounds and sacred buildings such as Ubosots (Ordination Halls). However, these Nagas usually have only 1 head and are represented most often as a fierce dragon. Occasionally though you will see a 3-headed Naga in this guardian post, the three heads representing Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma.
Below is our growing photo gallery of Buddha with Naga statues found at Sakon Nakhon temples. Please come back again to see more images. Also don’t forget to check out our photo gallery of Fat Buddha statues in Sakon Nakhon.