People celebrate the fifth day of full moon in Shravana month as ‘Nagara Panchami’, a day dedicated for the worship of serpents. According to Tuluva calculations, Nagara Panchami comes at the end of ‘Aati’ (Ashadha) and in the beginning of Sona (Shravana) month. It is one of the key festivals of Dravidian culture.
The Greeshma Ruthu is summer in South India, which is the hottest season of the year. People also face severe water crisis in most of the areas. Temperature will go up to 38-40 degree Celsius. So, it is a stressful time and not recommended for any functions.
Earlier, the coastal districts were covered by thick forests and naturally this area had rich bird and wildlife sanctuary. Reptiles were found in plenty. But due to industrialisation, population explosion and deforestation and by killing a number of animals for various reasons, the numerous species of snakes, animals and birds are gradually vanishing.
Notwithstanding the heat atmosphere during summer, snakes hide themselves inside holes or anthills. Usually, reptiles prefer cold atmosphere. Knowing this fact, people established Nagabana (Nagarakatte) under big trees and amidst thick greenery and a formidable water resource nearly. The heat will get intensified when first come out of their hideouts and appear in public.
Snake-worship, which is a common form of idolatry among almost every heathen nation, no doubt owes its origin to man’s natural fear of these reptiles. They try to propitiate the poisonous species with offerings and sacrifices and they treat those, which do not possess deadly fangs with the same amount of respect, because of their ignorance they attribute to a benevolent instinct what is really only due to want of power.
As if the actual presence of these dangerous reptiles were not sufficient to terrify the native mind, Hindu books are filled with stories and fables about them and pictures or images of them meet you at every turn.
Snake-worshippers search for the holes, little mounds raised by white ants or Nagabanas, where serpents tend to inhibit. Devotees visit these places very often and place before it milk, banana and other food items, which, the snake is likely to fancy. Many Hindus have been known to keep deadly snakes for years in their houses, feeding and petting them. Temples have also been erected in their special honour such as Kudupu and Subrahmanya.
People rarely worship a living cobra. They worship serpent in the form of a deity. Hindus have a belief that the earth is placed on the head of Adishesha or Vasuki, Vishnu, the God of Vaishnavas, has made Naga as his bed and thus Vishnu is ‘Nagashayana’. While Shiva, the lord of Shaivas, is ‘Nagabharana’, having used serpent as ornaments. Ganapathi also tied his belly with a reptile to symbolise the importance of control on senses.
The idea behind establishing the deity of Naga under Ashwatha Vruksha (peepul tree) is also scientific. Peepul tree produces high amount of oxygen during dawn. People who come to offer pooja for ‘Naga’ and take a round the peepul tree, will get high amount of oxygen inhaled and thereby helps in general improvement of health. It also increases the chances of fertility among females. Worshipping a serpent amidst a bunch of huge trees was aimed at protecting environment via preserving forests.
It has been a tradition that married ladies coming to their parent home before Nagara Panchami and spending a couple of weeks with their family during Shravana month. People also play Jokali (swing) during the festival.
Snakes, though some of them are poisonous, are not harmful. The attack on human beings or other animals is aimed at self-protection and reptiles do it only when they sense a danger and get frightened. Snakes also help farmers to great extent by killing rats and other small animals destroying crops. Hindu’s won’t kill reptiles though the skin and poison of snakes have great demand in market as they worship cobra as God. But they do kill poisonous and deadly snakes other than cobra. Unfortunately, some people kill cobra for ‘Nagamani’, believed to be existed in its head.
You might have seen a cobra spreading its hood and exhibiting the ‘V’ symbol at his throat. It is a beautiful scene. Serpent is fair in colour and is very beautiful among reptiles. Some cobras (such as King Cobra) grow up to 20 feet in length. Though snakes do not have sense organs to listen to sound, cobra could be tamed from the melodious sound of Pungi (a blowing instrument). So, a cobra is called as ‘Bhogi’. People believe that Naga is a protector of ‘Nidhi’ (hidden wealth). It is also worshipped for want of children.
During Naga Mandala or Dhakke Bali and Ashlesha Bali, people draw Rangoli using different colours (mostly yellow and turmeric) to depict the pictures of Naga. Naga Mandala is a popular traditional folk dance of Coastal Karnataka.
The thing or animal, which help human beings in some or the other way, is being worshipped by Hindus. Hindus worship pig (in the form of Panjurli Bhootha) and tiger (Pili Chamundi Bhootha) in coastal areas. They adore bullock, which help them in drawing loaded carts and in cultivation and cow (as it yields milk). People offer pooja for the earth (Bhoomi Pooja), sea (Samudra Pooja), banian tree (Vatasavithri Vratha), basil (Tulasi Pooja), peepul tree, sun, moon, fire and others. Worshipping animals is also common in other countries. For example, horse was being worshipped in Tibet, crocodile (Cambodia), Sun (Athens and Egypt) etc.
Sarpa Pooja exists in Kerala and Maharashtra as well. In Greek culture, cobra was the symbol of bravery. Latin Americans were offering pooja for living cobras. Chinese considered that Naga was the dynasty of their trait. Some tribal groups in America also worship serpent. In literature, cobra is projected as a symbol of sex and revenge. Many people have an idea that a serpent can be controlled when Garuda Rekhe (eagle line) exists in one’s palm. People do not dig the earth on Nagara Panchami.
In Hindu culture, Naga has an equal position that of a Brahmachari. Hindus perform the last rites (Anthya Samskara) when they witness a dead serpent as they do it in case of human beings. For some people living cobras are a source of income. Some are expert in elevating cobras, which accidentally made their way into houses. Beggars play Naga with the help of a ‘Pungi’ and get money as reward from viewers. Some adventurers dare to live with poisonous snakes.
People worship serpent in the form of a deity on Nagara Panchami. Turmeric powder, milk, tender coconut, Pingara (flowers of arecanut), Kedige (fragrant screw pine), coconut, flowers, honey, ghee, sugar and other items in pooja, as they are believed to be dearest to serpent. People, who offer these things for Naga in front of his deity, believe that their offerings will reach Maha Shesha, who has been lying as the bed of Lord Vishnu in the sea of milk.