Nagas are mythical serpent beings that originated in Hinduism. In Buddhism, they often are protectors of the Buddha and of the dharma. However, they also are worldly and temperamental creatures that spread disease and misfortune when angered. The word naga means "cobra" in Sanskrit.
Nagas are thought to dwell in any body of water, from an ocean to a mountain spring, although sometimes they are earth spirits.
In early Hindu art, Nagas have human upper torsos but are snakes from the waist down. In Buddhist iconography, nagas sometimes are giant cobras, often with multiple heads. They are also portrayed as more like a dragon but without legs. In some parts of Asia, nagas are thought to be a sub-species of dragons.
In many myths and legends, nagas are able to change themselves into an entirely human appearance.