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Naga Panchami

Jul 27, 2015, 11:31 AM
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Naga Panchami
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Over a vast space of time, deified serpents have haunted the Indian mind. An oblation of rice and milk, the subdued burning of camphor and incense sticks, the flickering wicks soaked in the shimmering brass lamps and the strewn flower petals - all invoke an abiding faith and awe in the inscrutable powers of the Snake God.Snake worship is common throughout India, both of the sculptured form and of the living being. The sculpture is invariably in the form of the naga or the cobra.The living snake is worshipped almost in every part of the country, especially on occasion of festivals like Naga Panchami.

The festival of Naga Panchami is a living tradition of the snake cult, observed across India and Nepal on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Shravana during the monsoon season. It is believed that the festival celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the mythical Kaliya, a monstrous black cobra that was killed by Krishna. Krishna not only made the waters of the river safe for people by ousting the Kaliya Naga but released the serpent from the curse that made him take the form of Kaliya.

Another legend states that once a snake was trampled upon by a woman during night. The snake followed her with the intention of biting her. There it saw that the same woman was giving milk to the offspring of a snake. The snake changed its mind and went off. It was the day of Naga Panchami.

The rites and rituals to be observed on this festive day are laid down in the Sanskrit work called ‘Vrataraja’. According to this text, “The poisonous one must be drawn with cow dung on both sides of the door.” Elaborate rituals in the form of ‘puja’ are held in temples and temporary altars in the honour of snake gods. In many parts of Eastern India, the festival is dedicated to the worship of the snake goddess Manasa. In Maharashtra and the entire south India, the festivities are most prominent. On the festive day women take a holy bath in the morning and worship the cobras by offering milk and honey. The adobe of a cobra – usually an ant hill - is decorated with turmeric and kumkum and milk is poured into it. The snake charmers go about with trained cobras and collect money. Milk is offered to the Nagas because they are considered to be a form of death and the milk consumed by snakes and the Nagas soothes their anguish. It is believed that the reward of this worship is freedom from snake bites in the family.

Battis Shirala, a small town in Maharashtra, is famous for its annual Naga Panchami festival, which is attended by thousands of people. Tourists from all over the world gather at this place to witness the unique festivities. Two weeks before the festival, villagers go snake-hunting, after getting ‘kaul’ (permission) from the village goddess Ambabai by placing a flower on her head. If the flower falls voluntarily on the left side then that family is not allowed to catch snakes that year. It is believed that only the natives of Shirala are allowed to catch the snakes. Snakes (including the venomous Indian King Cobra) are tracked by their body marks in the soil. The ground is dug up carefully and the snakes are captured.

On the day of the festival, the snakes are displayed in a huge procession. The procession begins with the blessings of Ambabai and 70 to 80 groups of snake-catchers and the villagers take part in this procession. Before this procession, in the morning, village women worship these snakes. After the festival the snakes are released exactly where they were caught.

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