The Fiji Times

Degei and Kaliya


- ■ Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at Fiji National University. The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer. For comments or suggestion­s, email. dr.sakulkundr­

THE article by John Kamea about Savusavu’s growing snake stone (ST January 12, p14-15) may have compared the means of Christian and Hindu devotional protocols when he stated “I immediatel­y sensed the stark difference between their (Hindu) simple visit and the hassle of having to dress in certain way and take many things with us to church”. Every religion has its own customs of worship so one needs to respect them.

The Fiji Times has published series of articles to highlight these many sites in Fiji such as Naag Babat Kuti — Mystery, miracles and Healing (March 5, 2013); Abode of the Hindu Saints (March 12, 2013); The healing powers of Naag Baba Kunti (March 19, 2013) The tombs of the Guru and his saints (March 26, 2013).

The historicit­y of many such beliefs are yet to be explored as some believe the mythologic­al connection­s of Degei (native Fijians) and Kaliya naag (Hindu scripture figure).

Enriched Fijian heritage has establishe­d similariti­es in legends and myths with Indian context that need to be explored as many are unacquaint­ed with these associatio­ns and interpreta­tions.

This article explores all these historical sources in order to explore the truth behind these beliefs.

The connection

Padmini Gaunder’s enlighteni­ng article (2009) Degei or Kaliya — A Closer Look at one of Fiji’s Enduring Myths highlighte­d Fijians believe there is a big snake, Degei, living up in a cave in the Nakavadra mountain range, in the north-west of the big island, Viti Levu.

Degei is believed to be the ancestral god who brought the Fijians to Fiji leading them through the ocean and landing in Vuda near Lautoka. Viseisei Village in Vuda is believed to be their first settlement.

From Vuda, Degei travelled north reaching the Nakauvadra mountain range and decided to make it his permanent home. Kaplan (1995) stated “Degei, the kalouvu or Fijian creator, lived in a cavern at Na kauvadra. He was a gigantic serpent, but at such times as he willed assumed the human form”.

In this context the book by Aubrey Parke (edited by Matthew Spriggs and Deryck Scarr) - Degei’s Descendant­s: Spirits, Place and People in Pre-Cession Fiji (2014) - highlighte­d the myth on this theme.

He highlights the myth stating the “sites in Vuda of the mythical first landing and the first settlement­s of the original ancestors who are said to have come by vessel from the west. A site overlookin­g Rakiraki is that of the mythical centre for a number of those who came on from Vuda and settled on the mountain range of Nakauvadra to the south of Rakiraki”.

Thus varied oral historical sources have a different version of the same theme. Fijian

creation myth believes the creator of Fiji “was a serpent god Ndengei”.

He was the head god of all the original Fijian gods, the ones who were in Fiji before the Polynesian­s and Europeans-Christians-brought their gods.

The people say that when ‘Ndengei’ sleeps, it is night; when he rolls over, there is an earthquake; and when he wakes up it is day” (Leeming, 2010).

Contrary, as per Indian popular beliefs, Gaunder (2009) added a similar story of Indian as per Hindu mythology, “Kaliya, a poisonous snake lived in the river in Vrindavan where Sri Krishnan spent his childhood among the cowherds.

The water of the river became poisoned, and when the cattle drank it, they died. People lived in fear of Kaliya.

So Sri Krishna solved the problem (Krishna punished Kaliya and later pardoned him on) with the condition that Kaliya should leave the river at once and go to a beautiful island (as a symbol of defeat) in the middle of the ocean called Ramanaka Dweep (dweep means island). When Indians first came to Fiji, they believed that was the Ramanaka Dweep (Fiji Islands) where Sri Krishnan had sent Kaliya.

In commemorat­ion of this belief the Internatio­nal Society for Krishna Consciousn­ess

(ISKCON) better known as the Hare Krishna Movement, when they built their first temple in Fiji, they made it the Krishna Kaliya Temple in Lautoka where the deity is Sri Krishnan dancing on Kaliya.

Hindus believe that the snake that the Fijians call Degei is actually Kaliya”(Ibid). Similar connection­s between Fijian and Indian mythology are made by scholars interpreta­tion of the writings of the early missionari­es, from the journals of Thomas Jagger and Thomas Williams.

There has been remarkable syncretism done where Kaliya is collapsed with Degei, the precolonia­l indigenous Fijian snake deity, that gave Fiji a place in a corpus of Hindu mythology through an adaptation of local sacred histories (Miller, PhD thesis, 2008).

The Shri Sanatan Dharm Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji presents this myth-history in Bhagwad scriptures where Fiji Islands is referred [(to) as “Ramnik Dweep” where Lord Vishnu’s eagle Garur had brought Kaliya Naag from the Holy River of Jamuna in India and dropped the five-headed snake in Fiji.

In ancient Fijian history, the same snake is called Degei and used to be worshipped as a god before Fijians converted to Christiani­ty” (cited by Miller, 2008).

There is a Kalia naag temple in Labasa and ISKCON temple in Lautoka named Krishan-kalia temple. Unlike all other ISKCON temples in the world, the central temple has the Vighra (idol) of Krishana dancing on the hood of Kalia Naag. Devotees believe that Kalia naag still lives in Rakirak and it comes out occasional­ly and is claimed to be seen by some (Gupta, FT).

Fijian myths are interestin­g as they are a few that represent the serpent god as a good god and not evil.

The legends believe the serpent god Degei still lives in the Nakavadra mountain range in Viti Levu (Black, 2013).

The fascinatin­g historical connection­s are made between the Fijian and Indian serpent gods and create immense curiosity among all towards these mythologic­al interpreta­tions.

 ?? Picture: ?? Fijian mythology serpent God Degei.
Picture: Fijian mythology serpent God Degei.
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