or the festival of snakes, is celebrated on the fifth day of the
moonlit-fortnight in the month of Shravan - July /August
Courtesy : WHO/P. Virot
time immemorial, snakes have held a special place in our culture. It
is believed that worshipping snakes helps gain knowledge, wealth and
fame, and they are revered as symbols of the yogic power of Lord
Shiva. But today, these animals have become victims of our idolization
and are being exploited – the reverence has now transformed into
Snake charmers throng the streets of India with cobras and other
snakes ensconced in cane baskets, asking for money. Devotees offer
milk to the snakes and gather around to see the snake dance – a
ritual in which snakes spread their hoods and sway to the tune of a pungi,
a wind instrument.
It is believed that feeding milk to the snakes brings good fortune to
the devotee, but these snakes suffer terribly and usually meet with an
Hindu women take an early bath wear their "nav-vari" - nine
yards-sarees, put on ornaments and get ready for the "puja" of
Nag-Devata. Snake charmers are seen sitting by the roadsides or moving
about from one place to another with their baskets that hold dangerous
snakes that are their pets. While playing the lingering melodious notes
on their flutes, they beckon devotees with their calls -"Nagoba-la
dudh de Mayi" (give milk to the Cobra Oh Mother!) On hearing that
call, women come out of their houses and then the snake-charmers take
out of the snakes from their baskets. Women sprinkle haldi-kumkum and
flowers on the heads of the snakes and offer sweetened milk to the
snakes and pray. Cash and old clothes are also given to the
snake-charmers. Bowls of milk are also placed at the places which are
likely haunts of the snakes.
Panchami is celebrated throughout India; however, more festivities are
seen in the south than in the north.
village of Baltis
which is situated approximately 400 kilometers (approximately 250
miles) from Mumbai, conducts the most outstanding of all the
the largest collection of snakes in the world can be found in Baltis
Shirale. Visitors from all over the world gather in the village to
worship live snakes. Interestingly, despite no venom being removed
from the snakes, no one has ever been bitten.
pray to live cobras that they catch on the eve of this pre-harvest
festival. About a week before this festival, dig out live snakes from
holes and keep them in covered earthen pots and these snakes are fed
with rats and milk. Their poison-containing fangs are not removed
because the people of this village believe that to hurt the snakes is
sacrilegious. Yet it is amazing that these venomous cobras do not bite
instead protect their prospective worshipers.
On the day of
the actual festival the people accompanied by youngsters, dancing to
the tune of musical band carry the pots on their heads in a long
procession to the sacred-temple of goddess Amba and after the ritual
worship the snakes are taken out from the pots and set free in the
temple courtyard. Then every cobra is made to raise its head by
swinging a white-painted bowl, filled with pebbles in front. The
Pandit sprinkles haldi-kumkum and flowers on their raised heads. After
the puja they are offered plenty of milk and honey.
After all the
obeisance is rendered to the goddess and the ritual puja is over, the
snakes are put back in the pots and carried in bullock-carts in
procession through the 32 hamlets of Shirala village where women
eagerly await outside their houses for "darshan" of the
sacred cobras. One or two cobras are let loose in front of each house
where men and women offer prayers, sprinkle puffed rice, flowers and
coins over them, burn camphor and agarbattis and perform "aarti"
. Girls of marriageable age regard the cobras as blessings of good
luck in marriage. Some courageous girls even put their faces near the
cobra's dangerous fangs. Behold the wonder the cobras do not bite
popular areas of worship during the Nag Panchami include:
Temple in Andhra Pradesh
Temple in Kerala
Temple in Chennai
Temple in Jaipur.
In Bengal and
parts of Assam and Orissa the blessings of Mansa, the queen of
serpents are sought by offering her all the religious adoration.
Protection from the harmful influence of snakes is sought through the
worship of Mansa who rules supreme over the entire clan of serpents.
On this occasion snake-charmers are also requisitioned to invoke the
Snake Queen by playing lilting and melodious tunes on their flutes.
In Punjab Nag-Panchami
is known by the name of "Guga-Navami". A huge snake is
shaped from dough, which is kneaded from the contribution of flour and
butter from every household. The dough-snake is then placed on a
winnowing basket and taken round the village in a colourful procession
in which women and children sing and dance and onlookers shower
flowers. When the procession reaches the main square of the village
all the religious rites are performed to invoke the blessings of the
snake god and then the dough snake is ceremoniously buried.
Aspects of Nag Panchami
so called "snake day" has several important components. In
addition to offerings made to the snakes throughout the country during
worship and celebration, men and women celebrate the day in these
- Cobras are
bathed in milk and offered rice as this is thought to offer
immunity from their bites.
often partake in early baths of milk and wear colorful saris.
- Pots of
milk and flowers are placed next to holes that are believed to
contain snakes as an offering of devotion. If a snake actually
drinks the milk it is thought to be the ultimate sign of good
- Mansa, the
Queen of Snakes, is worshiped in most parts of Bengal during Nag
- In the
Punjabi region, a large dough snake is created and then paraded
around the village. The parade is colorful with plenty of
singing and dancing; at the end of the parade the snake is
buried. Nag Panchami is referred to as "Guga-Navami"
charmers sit alongside the roads of Maharashtra and encourage
women to offer milk, flowers and haldi-kumkum (a powdered
offering of tumeric and vermillion) to the dangerous snakes the
snake charmers carry.
- In many
villages, snake charmers carry pots containing cobras to a
central temple where they are released and then worshiped with
offerings of milk and rice.
- Mainly in
the south of India, people worship figures of snakes made of
clay or sandalwood as alternatives to the real-life versions.
- No Hindu
home may fry anything on the day of Nag Panchami.
- Girls who
are hoping to marry believe that the cobra offers good luck in
their quest for eternal happiness.