Nag Panchami

Snakes are the fascinating animals that have acquired a place in mythology from the time immemorial. They are sleek, frightening as well as charming. The very sight of them is enough to freeze anyone. However, besides the threat they pose to peoples' lives, they are still considered worthy of offering prayers. Their pictures indeed have appeared in many photographs with the gods. Such is the love of snakes that Lord Shiva is never seen without a snake around his neck. Even the creator, Lord Vishnu, has seen resting on a thousand-headed snake.

Nag Panchami Festival

Snakes were initially worshipped by the Nagas community who were believed to be the first inhabitants of the earth. These ethnicity group was in existence in India much before the Aryans. They used to worship snakes as their gods. As the human civilization spread, the Aryans started incorporating some of the traditions of the Nagas. It is from them that the Indi-Aryans learned about the festival called Nag Panchami.

Today, Nag Panchami is celebrated by Hindus in India and Nepal in the lunar month of Shravan dedicated to the goddess of the serpent, Manasa. It appears in July or August in monsoon. An assumption behind celebrating it is that since rain water fills the ant holes that is used by serpents as their abode, they come out and try to seek shelter under trees, in gardens and even houses. As there are possibilities about stepping on them negligently once they are on a plain surface, it causes life threat to people. To avoid facing their wrath or being bitten accidentally, people worship them on this day to seek forgiveness in case of any negligence.

Significance of Nag Panchami

The Nagas tribe treats serpents as their God. The unique ability or quality of shedding away their skin makes snakes immortal as they get new skin whenever they discard the old one.

Not only in Hinduism, they are also regarded divine in Buddhism and Jainism as well. According to the Buddhist scriptures, once when Lord Buddha was meditating near a lake near Bodh Gaya, the entire region received incessant and heavy rainfall thereby causing a flood-like situation. As there was no place of shelter and no solution for the heavy rain, a large cobra came out of the lake and save Buddha. If you visit the place where Buddha received his enlightenment, you will see a Cobra statue installed at the side of the lake. The Jainism also believes that the large serpent protected Muni Parshwanath. Hence, most of the statues of Muni Parshwanath include a huge serpent. Even the ancient caves in India are seen with pictures and images of snakes carved on rock or on the wall. There are many temples in India totally dedicated to the goddess of serpents. If one has to get rid of Kaal Sarpa Dosha, he or she has to appease the lord of snake by performing pooja and rituals.

Nag Panchami Celebration

Snakes are figures of reverence and fear in India. In order to stay out of incidences that could provoke them to bite, people celebrate this festival and seek the blessing of the snake gods. It is celebrated in various forms in India and Nepal. However, the common thing that is witnessed and followed as a custom on this day is the serving of milk with honey to the snakes.

This day is also auspicious for girls who have attend the age of marriage as there is a belief that if they worship the snake god on this day, they will get married to a husband of their wish. In villages, one can see groups of girls and married women tying swings to a tree with ropes and enjoying themselves with swinging. Women dress up in traditional attire and head towards the snake temple or Lord Shiva's temple with necessary items for pooja and aarti. As snakes are mostly found in ant holes, devotees gather in group around it and offer milk and honey in a bowl. They also do the prayer and burn incense sticks and apply sindhur or vermilion to the structure.

The idols of Lord Shiva in temples are given a holy bath. Milk and honey are also offered with prayers and reciting of mantras. The priest also blows the conch shell which produces a divine sound that resonates in the temple and makes the atmosphere full with devotion.

In southern India, to invoke the snake god, people draw images of snakes with red sandalwood paste on wooden boards. Some even purchase images of snakes made of brass or clay from the market. Then, abhisheka is performed on these images to sanctify it. After that, rituals are performed by offering milk and honey to the idols.

Though Nag Panchami has some mythological connection, it is also celebrated to create awareness among people about the importance of survival of snakes for the sake of the environment. On this day, street shows are organized by snake lovers and free book about this charming animal is distributed for knowledge purpose.