What’s unique about this rural temple, Nagatheertham (located on outskirts of Madurai, in Nagamalai area), is that it has water flowing down from the top of a rocky hill range (Nagamalai), 24×7 throughout the year, even during the driest of summers. The spout is the size of a water hose and comes out with a pretty good force. The water is refreshingly cool, clear, and drinkable (after all it’s fresh ground-water — directly from the source, deep underground under the hill), especially against the generally hot climate.
It’s a simple temple, consisting of just the silai (சிலை, murthi/idol) of the God built around the natural water spout, with water appearing to come from below the feet of the silai. Unfortunately the photo of the main silai with the water spout didn’t come out well. There are a few other silai’s like the above siva-lingam. It is also known as the sarpa-silai (serpant silai) – in that it has two snakes on the side, forming a heart-shaped hood over the lingam. The two snakes represent the kundalani currents, ida and pingala, around the spinal column, with the center (the siva-lingam itself) representing the central kundalini current, the sushumna. The aim of the yogi is to harness the two energy currents and channel it through the center, such that it travels up the spinal column, till it reaches its full potential of Enlightenment when it reaches the sahasrara chakra on top of the head. This symbolism is found in the tens of thousands throughout in India.
Next to the temple, is a huge snake pit, that gets covered with thousands of eggs by those propitiating the nagas, during powarnami (full-moon days). Just wish that one day people will have enough sense to realize they’d probably get more good karma by donating a thousand eggs to feed the hungry, like in orphanages or homeless shelters (or at least donate it to the temple, and have the temple give it to the needy). For that matter the tons of milk, ghee, buttermilk that is expended in archana’s every year in temples. Criticism aside, the unwavering faith people have has to be appreciated. Even a poor family sometimes forfeits what would be a meal for them, to propitiate God. Perhaps this unwavering sacrifice does indeed have an overall cathartic effect in the drawing in benevolent energy, provided you’re motives are genuine enough to receive it.
Nagas are considered to be a race of beings that preceded humankind, and still exist, but are now in a different realm. Snakes (sarpa in Sanskrit; from which comes the word serpent) are often associated with Nagas. Nagas are “serpent beings”. Note that “serpent” reflects more of their protective supernatural powers than their physical form (physical form always takes a back-seat in Hindu faiths, allowing for the multiplicity of expression).
I believe they also represent sages who did not attain their goal (of union with the Source/God), because of still having faint traces of human vices (like anger, envy, spite, jealousy) left in their system. In the new realm, they expend out these vices by being benevolent to those who propitiate them by offering protection. Nagas are protectors of rivers, trees, forests, and sacred grounds. They are malevolent to those doing harm to these. They in their own desire to seek God, help beings who propitiate them.
One can also consider it to be worship of an aspect of God (and a part of the whole is the whole). Another such example: from the worship of the ganas (the spirits/attendants of Shiva; in Tamil Saiva traditions known as siva-ganarghal, சிவகணர்கள்), in particular the leader of the ganas, Ganapathy, arose the cult of gana or Ganapathy worshippers, which is now a deity that is part of most popular Hindu faiths.
They are also associated with fertility. Nagas in particular are known to help people who have difficulty bearing children (also known as naga-dosham). To what extent this is true, I really don’t know. What matters is that in the end, all these currents keep us from straying too far from being in touch with the deeper Reality that underlies the fabric of the universe and life itself.