FACTS & FIGURES
Time of the year - July/August
Places to Visit - All over India, especially Maharashtra
Duration - One day
India has a strange association with snakes. While certain regions of the country consider the reptile an ominous sign, others worship the cobra as a deity. The festival celebrated in honor of the Serpent God or Naag Devta is called Naag Panchami. Live cobras or their images are worshipped on this day.
Snake worship basically owes its origin to man's natural fear of the reptile. Hindu books are filled with stories and fables about snakes, and pictures and images of them can be seen at every turn. Worshippers search for holes where snakes are likely to be found, then they make periodic visits to these holes, placing near them milk, bananas, and other food that snakes might fancy.
The Naga culture was fairly widespread in India before the Aryan invasion, and continues to be an important sect in certain areas. After coming to India, the Indo-Aryans incorporated the worship of snakes into Hinduism. This is evident from the fact that the thousand-headed Anant is Vishnu's couch and also holds up the earth, while snakes play an ornamental role in the case of Lord Shiva.
Not every Hindu celebrates this festival, though this is one of the important festivals of the Hindu religion. The festival is especially dedicated to the Anant Naag or the Shesh Naag, who comforts the protector of the entire existence, Lord Vishnu. It is on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Shraavan that Naag Panchami, the festival of snakes, is celebrated.
In the rural areas, the setting sun is a witness to processions of gaily-decorated bullock carts, trundling to nearby Shiva temples. Once there, excitement and merrymaking take over, lasting well into the night. The men also set free the snakes they had captured the week before.
The Hindus believe that the cyclical molting makes snakes immortal, and eternity is thus represented in the form of a serpent eating its tail.
The ritual of not tilling the land on Naag Panchami has its roots in the legend that, on this day, while tilling his land, a farmer accidentally killed some young serpents. The mother of these serpents took revenge by biting and killing the farmer and his family, except one daughter, who worshipped snakes. This act of devotion resulted in the revival of the farmer and the rest of his family.
Another legend speaks of Kaliya, the snake that inhabited the waters of the River Yamuna, whose venom was so vile that it poisoned the river and killed the crops and animals in the region. Krishna, one of Vishnu's avatars, killed Kaliya and liberated the people. Naag Panchami has been celebrated ever since in the region.
PLACES TO VISIT
The places to visit in order to witness this festival are the states of Maharasthra, Rajasthan, Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa. The celebrations and festivities differ in every place, as do the rituals and related customs. However, one can definitely have a good idea of the importance the Hindus give to their festivals whether it is related to people, animals, or God.