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Naag Panchami

Nagaraja Namasthesthu
Haraharayitha Dehine
Hara Me Sakalan Rogan
Dada Me Sath Prajam Drisam

Salutations to Sri Nagaraja,
who adorns Sri Siva's Body,
please destroy all illness in me and bless me with good progeny.

 

Naag Panchami or festival of snakes is a unique festival dedicated to honour the Serpent God or Naag Devta. Falling on the fifth day of Shravan in July/August, reverence for the cobra (snakes) are paid.
 

From 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 cruelty where snake charmers go around with Naag snakes enclosed in small baskets.

 

 

Naag Panchami in Hindu Mythology


Fairly widespread before the Aryan invasion, worshipping of snakes or Naag was later incorporated into Hinduism by the Aryan themselves. Hindu Mythological books are famously filled with stories, fables and pictures of snakes. 

Lord Vishnu's couch is the green, thousand-headed snake (Ananta or Sesha) who could hold up the earth. Lord Shiva wears a snake for ornamental purpose.

 

As per Hindu mythology, Naag Panchami is also connected with the following legend of Lord Krishna. Young Krishna was playing with the other cowboys, when suddenly the ball got entangled in the high branch of a tree. Krishna volunteered to climb the tree and fetch the ball. But below the tree there was a deep part of the river Yamuna, in which the terrible snake Kaliya was living. Everybody was afraid of that part of the river.

Suddenly 
Krishna fell from the tree into the water. Then that terrible snake came up. But Krishna was ready and jumping on the snake’s head he caught it by the neck. Kaliya understood that Krishna was not an ordinary boy, and that it would not be easy to overcome him. So Kaliya pleaded with Krishna: “Please, do not kill me.” Krishna full of compassion asked the snake to promise that henceforth he would not harass anybody. Then he let the snake go free into the river again.On Naag Panchami day the victory of Krishnaover the giant snake Kaliya is commemorated. For this reason Krishna is known as “Kaliya Mardan”.

 



Another storey is that of a farmer, while tilling his land incidentally killed some young serpents. The serpent took revenge by biting all members of the farmer's family except his daughter, who worshipped snakes. This devotional act of the girl resulted in revival of her family. So on the day of Naag Panchami, tilling of land is forbidden. Snake worship is however believed to have originated due to man's natural fear of reptiles.

 

Observing Naag Panchmi

 

One of the oldest and auspicious festivals, women fast on this day. On this day people visit temples specially dedicated to snakes and worship them. Shiva temples are also favoured places for veneration as snakes are considered dear to him. Also, women draw pictures and images of snakes on walls of their houses with a mixture of cowdung, milk and black powder. Offerings of milk, ghee, sweets, water and rice are also made at the sites of snake holes. Devotees consider themselves lucky if snakes drink offered milks. Naag panchami is observed and celebrated in different ways in various parts of India.

 

Celebration of the festival in different parts of India

 

Nag Panchami is celebrated throughout India; however, more festivities are seen in the south than in the north. Naag panchami is mainly observed in Southern IndiaMaharashtra, Rajasthan and Eastern Indiastates of AssamBengal and Orissa.

 

In South India, people sculpt images of snakes using cow dung, which are then placed on either side of the entrance to the house. This is done to welcome the snake god.

In some other parts of southern India, figures of snakes are drawn with red sandalwood paste on wooden boards, or clay images of snakes coloured yellow or black are purchased. These are then worshipped and offered milk since snakes are believed to like milk. In Tamil Nadu and Karnataka they draw snake kolams (rangoli) at the entrance of the house to evoke the spiraling of life forces and the aspiration for an evolution in consciousness. Today they are often used to protect the house from thieves, evil spirits or unwanted visitors, as is the spiral in the Sumerian and Egyptian cultures. These kolams are a kind of curse catcher, or emotions screen to keep the household pure and serene.

 


In Maharashtra, Hindu women take an early bath wear their "nav-vari" - nine yards-sarees, put on ornaments and get ready for the "puja" of Naag-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 snakecharmers. Bowls of milk are also placed at the places which are likely haunts of the snakes.

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The village of Baltis Shirale, which is situated approximately 400 kilometers (approximately 250 miles) from Mumbai, conducts the most outstanding of all the celebrations. Reportedly, 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. There people pray to live cobras that they catch on the eve of this pre-harvest festival. About a week before this festival, they 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 them!

 

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 Naag-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.

 

Naag Panchami is one of the most auspicious Fairs and Festivals of Rajasthan and is celebrated in the months of July-August that takes place during the time of Bhadtapada Budi Panchami which is according to the Hindu calendar.

 

The sanctified serpent 'Ananta' or the 'Sesh Naag' is depicted as the royal throne for Lord Vishnu and is the most holy of all the snakes that is worshipped. To pay reverence to these holy creatures there is a traditional festival that is celebrated in Jodhpur on this day of Naag Panchami.

 

A lot of worshippers from different parts of Rajasthan turn up to pay offerings on this holy occasion. This festival is celebrated with a lot of passion and zeal by the people. During the Naag Panchami Festival in Jodhpur there is a fine ambiance and an aura of excitement all over Jodhpur. The streets are adorned with lights and a lot of folk performances take place in the open. Naag Panchami features a lot of people flocking in Jodhpur to celebrate and be a part of this festival. The most striking feature of this festival is the Kalbeliya dancers who dance to the tunes of the rhythm and hence enthrall the guests present at the festival to witness the fun. Naag Panchami Festival in Jodhpur is celebrated with much enthusiasm and interestingly enough the snake charmers are said to fast in this particular day.

 

The worshippers visit the temples of Lord Shiva with the lightings and also festoon them with flowers and many such beautiful things. This festival also features a lot of effigies of king Cobra and the mystical snake Ananta or Sesh Naag. During Naag Panchami, the worshippers offer a lot of offerings that include banana, ghee, milk and rice. The people are of the view that if the snake drinks the milk which is offered to them it would be considered as an auspicious sign.

 

Naag panchami is observed and celebrated in Nepal also. During the festival, Nepalese traditionally post pictures of Naagas above the doors of their homes to ward off evil spirits, offer prayers to Naagas, and place food items such as milk and honey in their fields for Naagas. A few men wearing demon masks dance in the streets as a part of a ritual. Hindus in Nepal have their own myths and legends surrounding Naagas, which lead them to celebrate Naag Panchamī on a large scale.

 

Other popular areas of worship during the Nag Panchami include:

  • Adiesha Temple in Andhra Pradesh
  • Nagaraja Temple in Kerala
  • Nagathamman Temple in Chennai
  • Hardevja Temple in Jaipur.

Important aspects of Naag Panchami

 

This 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 ways:

  • Cobras are bathed in milk and offered rice as this is thought to offer immunity from their bites.
  • Women 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 luck.
  • Mansa, the Queen of Snakes, is worshiped in most parts of Bengal during Naag Panchami.
  • In the Punjab region Naag Panchami is referred to as “Guga Navami”, 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.
  • Snake 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 Naag Panchami.
  • Girls who are hoping to marry believe that the cobra offers good luck in their quest for eternal happiness.