Nag Panchami is the traditional Hindu festival of snakes celebrated within the months of July or August, whichever the fifth day of the bright fortnight in the month of Shravan falls. Hindu mythologies are filled with stories and fables about snakes, and there are no shortage of legends revolving the origin of this celebration.
Celebrated during the rainy season of summer, Nag Panchami occurs as rain from the annual monsoon floods the holes in which various snakes of India inhabit. Naturally they come out in search of dry ground be it gardens or inside homes. The belief is that this festival will counter the increased possibility of a snake bite during this time. Snakes are collected in earthen pots and brought to various temples across the country where to be worshiped. Temples devoted to Lord Shiva, an admirer of snakes, are particularly favored during Nag Panchami.
Indians at home observe Nag Panchami in different ways. A day long fast occurs in some areas of India while in other areas it is customary for wives and new brides to visit their premarital homes. Women rise early to bathe afterward dressing in fine saris. Other gestures include the offering of milk and silver jewelry to images of snakes or clay figures which are sold in neighborhood markets. Milk and flowers are even left as a sign of devotion near snake holes. Good fortune is said to come from any snake which drinks the milk. And yet in other areas, cow dung is used to create images of snakes at the entrance to homes to welcome the snake god.
Temple rituals include snakes (collected in pots) fed milk and rice before being set free.
What Isn’t Discussed
While it is true that monsoon conditions flood the homes of snakes who rarely bite humans unprovoked, thousands of snakes are collected for Nag Panchami. Folklore says no humans are bitten by the snakes during worship. To ensure this, snakes are starved, kept in tiny boxes or bags without ventilation for days, their teeth are pulled out and finally their mouths are sewn shut. Hot needles are used to pierce the venom duct of snakes which cause the animals glands to rupture. Adding a final insult to the worshiped Nag Panchami idol, the eyes of some snakes are impaired when the tikka applied during puja trickles down from their hoods.
Because the snakes are starved of water they drink the milk offered to them. Milk is not a part of their natural diet. Most die as a result of dehydration, allergic reactions and other painful causes. It is estimated that up to 2000 snakes die in Mumbai alone during Nag Panchami.
It is a crime for snake charmers to catch and exploit snakes for business purposes or even own them according to the Wildlife Act and Prevention of Cruelty Act-1972. That doesn’t stop scores of people from continuing the cruel practices mentioned above. Little repercussions come from those caught.
Where To See
Baltis Shirale village: Reportedly the largest collection of snakes in the world. Celebrations attract visitors from all over the world. And organizers claim no-one has ever been bitten.
Temples in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are also well known for their Nag Panchami festivities. Travel in these or other areas where festivities are active will be delayed. Plan accordingly.
Naga Panchami Calendar
2011: August 4
2012: July 24
2013: August 11
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