You are here

Snakes and the Rain: Nāga Imagery, Water Management, and Buddhist Rainmaking Rituals in Early South Asia

When considering the water-related challenges that confronted the monks and architects involved with rock-cut monasteries, it becomes apparent that the veneration of nāgas complimented methods of hydraulic engineering designed to regulate the flow of water at the sites. The highly visible nature of this arrangement helps to explain the emergence of ritual texts, primarily dating to after the fourth century CE, in which Buddhist ritualists adopt the role of rainmakers. The ritualists invariably invoke a special relationship with the nāgas whom they enjoin to rectify the undesirable conditions. This connection between image and text reveals a centuries-long process by which the monastic community developed an association with weather regulation that was contingent on a cultivated and highly public relationship with Buddhist-friendly nāgas.

Robert DeCaroli is professor of art history at George Mason University. He received his PhD in the art history of South and Southeast Asia from UCLA, and has specialized in the art of early Buddhism. His first book, Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism was published by Oxford University Press (2004), and his second book, Image Problems: The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia, was published by the University of Washington (2015). Research on this second book was supported by a Getty Research Institute fellowship and a Millard Meiss publication grant. He has worked extensively with the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, most recently as the co-curator of the “Encountering the Buddha” exhibition. He is also the author of numerous articles and book chapters.

More Information




Thursday, May 31, 2018. 05:30PM


Levinthal Hall


Stanford Humanities Center, Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford




Free and open to the public.