India - Nag Panchami Festival

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Nag Panchami Festival

Indian festivals can be specific to a region, or the same festival can be celebrated in different places in a slightly different form. In fact, every community has its own special emphasis and unique form of expression in the celebration of a festival. Right from the time when mankind started acquiring some sort of culture, Sun and Snake have been invoked with prayers and ritual worship in India.

Nag-Panchami is an important all-India festival and is celebrated on the fifth day of the moonlit-fortnight in the month of Shravan (July /August). This is the time when serpents habitually come out of their holes that get flooded with rainwater to seek shelter.

Fascinating, frightening, sleek and virtually death-less, the cobra snake has always held a peculiar charm of its own since the time when man and snake confronted each other. As the cobra unfolded its qualities, extra-ordinary legends grew around it enveloping it in the jumble of divinity.

On Nag-Panchami, live cobras or their pictures are revered and religious rituals are performed to seek their good will. To seek immunity from snakebites, they are bathed with milk, haldi-kumkum is sprinkled on their heads and milk and rice are offered.

In Bengal and parts of Assam and Orissa the blessings of Mansa, the queen of serpents is sought. On this occasion snake charmers are invited to invoke the Snake Queen by playing lilting and melodious tunes on their flutes, much to the amusement of onlookers.

In Maharashtra, Hindu women take an early bath and wear their special "nav-vari" - nine yards-saris, put on ornaments and get ready for the puja of Nag-Devata. On this day all over India snake charmers can be seen with their baskets which hold dangerous snakes that are their pets. While playing the lingering melodious notes on their flutes, they beckon devotees with their calls. Women sprinkle haldi-kumkum (turmeric and vermillion), and flowers on the heads of the snakes and offer sweetened milk to the snakes and pray.

Tribals in the interior parts of Maharashtra perform acrobatics and magic shows on the streets. This provides ample amusement and crowds collect around them to see and touch the snakes, which the tribals bring in their baskets to show them off.


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