Basic Information

Type/Species: Naga
Origin: Buddhist Mythology, Indian Mythology

About Apalala

Apalala was a Naga that lived during the time of the Buddha, [3] who lived in the source of the Swat River, [1] or the River Suvastu, [3] in the highlands of Peshawar, now Pakistan. [1]

Originally, Apalala was a man named Gangi. He used subtle charms to restrain the power of the wicked dragons in the region so that they could not afflict the crops with violent storms. [3] His work enabled the people to produce abundance, and in return, each family paid him a tribute. However, after many years passed, many forgot or refused to pay the tribute, and Gangi became wrathful. He prayed that he might transform into a dragon to afflict them with storms and destroy their crops himself. [3]

At the end of his life, Gangi was reborn [3] as a terrifying water serpent or dragon [1] of that country. [3] In his new incarnation as Apalala, he raised hailstorms and floods so that he could feast upon the crops of the fields. [2] The flowing source of the river emitted a white stream that devastated all the products of the earth. [3]

The Buddha, moved with pity for the plight of the people, descended supernaturally that he might convert the violent dragon Apalala [3] and tame him. [1] Vajrapani, Buddha's companion, took up a thunderbolt, and [3] smote the mountainside where Apalala lived. [4]

The dragon-king Apalala came forth, terrified, and paid reverence to the Buddha. He listened as the Buddha preached the law, and his heart became pure as his faith awakened. [4] After his conversion, [1] the Buddha forbade him to ravage the crops. Apalala thanked him for the sacred instruction, but he feared for his own survival. [4] He said, "All my sustenance comes from the fields of men." [2] Without his storms and floods, he would starve. Thus, he asked the Buddha to allow him a single gathering every twelve years. Out of compassion, the Buddha permitted this. That is why, once every twelve years, calamity results from the overflow of the White River. [4]

The legend this fearsome monster being tamed is often portrayed in regional Buddhist art, [1] and previously, pilgrims preserved and spread the myth of Apalala. [5]

Physical Description

Apalala was reborn as a Naga, which can take the form of a man but usually has the lower body of a serpent and the upper body of a human.

Quick Facts

  • Apalala was once a man named Gangi. [3]
  • In wrath, Gangi prayed that he might be transformed into a dragon to devastate the land that had forgotten his good work. [3]
  • When he died, Gangi was reborn as Apalala of the Swat River, or the White River. [3]
  • The Buddha converted and so tamed Apalala. [1]
  • Apalala had the power to start hailstorms and flood the river. [2]


  1. Rose 22
  2. Vogal 94
  3. Vogal 121
  4. Vogal 122
  5. Vogal 247

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.