Today is the festival of Naga Panchami, also known as Nag Panchami and more popularly as Nagula Panchami in Telangana. It is an important Hindu festival celebrated in most parts of India and Nepal. The festival falls on the auspicious day of Shravana Shukla Panchami that is the fifth day of the first half, Moonlit fortnight of Shravana Masam (means the month of Shravana). Naga means Cobra and the festival is called as Naga Panchami as this festival is all about worship of Snakes on the fifth day of Shravana Masam.
Snake worship is in practice in India since ancient times. There are inumerable legends explaining the significance of worshipping Cobra Snakes. There are several Cobras mentioned in Hindu scriptures which play an important role. Adi Shesha or Ananta Shesha is the most important among them as it serves as a resting place of Lord Vishnu. Its coils serve as a couch and its multi-headed swinging hood serves as a shelter. On this festival day of Nagula Panchami, people especially women and girls go to Temples having idols or figurines of Snakes or to Snake pits and worship them. Their prayers seek happiness, health and prosperity and safety from poisonous Snakes. They offer milk, paramaannam (a sweet made out of rice, milk and jaggery), popped jowar and Snake shaped rice flour-jaggery rolls and jaggery-sesame rolls at these places of worship and to the Cobras which the Snake charmers bring to the houses. The Snake charmers move from house to house with the Cobras in baskets to enable worship and then in return collect money and old clothes for their service.
Several organizations like PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are trying their best to educate people that the Snake charmers who pick up Snakes on the occasion of Nagula Panchami torture them by extracting the venom by cruel methods, stitching their mouths, drugging them, not feeding them and keeping them trapped in tiny baskets. And that the process of worship by offering milk actually chokes the Snake and that the Kumkuma (Vermilion) and Turmeric powder sprinkled on its hood would blind it. Despite such appeals to prevent cruelty, a majority of the population go by the traditions set by their parents and ancestors. As for me, the above photographs of my family tell a lot, so I do not wish to say anything further.