Celebrations of Nag Panchami

Nag Panchami is one of the biggest festivals and most sacred occassions for the Hindu community in India and elsewhere. Know how the festival is celebrated in different parts of India. If you like this article on Nag Panchami celebrations and want to share it with your friends and dear ones, just click here. Have a Nag Panchami grand celebration.
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Nag-Panchami, the festival of snakes, is an important all-India festival and is celebrated on the fifth day of the moonlit fortnight in the month of Shravan (July /August). On the auspicious occasion of Nagpanchami all across India, people celebrate the day of the snake in their very own way. Though the festival is celebrated throughout India, it is observed more in the southern regions than in the north, and even more in the rural areas.

The fact that it is celebrated more in the rural areas underlines the dread of snakes of the simple village folk who saw in the worship of the snake-god a way to propitiate the supernatural forces, that seem to control every aspect of human life including life and death, and thus keep death from the deadly and poisonous snakes at bay.

The grandest Nag Panchami celebrations can be beheld in Baltis Shirale, a village situated approximately 400 kilometers from Mumbai. About a week prior to the festival, the people of this village dig out live snakes from holes and keep those in covered earthen pots. The snakes are fed with rats and milk. The villagers do not remove the venomous fangs of their captives as they believe that it is unholy to hurt the snakes. It is surprising however, that the poisonous snakes never bite their captors. On the day of Nag Panchami, all the people of the village, young and old, dance to the tune of musical bands. Each of them carrying a snake-pot on his head, they walk in a long procession to the sacred-temple of goddess Amba where they offer a worship service to the deity. When the performance of all rituals are complete, the snakes are taken out from the pots and the temple priest sprinkles haldi-kumkum and flowers on their raised heads. The snakes are offered plenty of milk and honey and set free in the temple courtyard. During Nag Panchami, people from all over the world flock to Baltis Shirale to worship live snakes. Reportedly, the largest collection of snakes in the world can be found in Baltis Shirale.

In Bengal and parts of Assam and Orissa, Maa Mansa or the queen of serpents is worshipped. It is thought that it is only by appeasing the goddess that one can keep himself away from harmful snakes.

The famous poem "Mansamangal" describes Maa Mansa as the mother goddess who rules supreme over the entire clan of serpents. Snake-charmers rule the roost during the occassion as hundreds of them are hired to invoke the Snake Queen by playing melodious tunes on their flutes.

In Punjab Nag-Panchami is popularly known as "Guga-Navami". The occassion is observed by devout Punjabi women. In every village in Punjab, a huge snake is shaped from dough, which is kneaded from the contribution of flour and butter from every household. Thereupon, the dough-snake is placed on a sifting basket and carried round the village in a colourful procession. Everyone joins in the celebrations. The women and children sing and dance while onlookers shower flowers on the dough-deity. When the procession reaches the main square of the village, all the religious rites are performed to invoke the blessings of the snake god. The celebrations end with the ceremonious burial of the dough snake.

In Maharashtra, Hindu women take a bath early in the morning and dress up beautifully in "nav-vari" - nine yards-sarees and gold ornaments. Thereupon, they get ready for the "puja" of Nag-Devata. Here, unlike in the eastern states of Bengal and Assam, the ruler of the snakes is worshipped as a male deity instead of a female one. During Nag-Panchami, snake-charmers can be seen every now and then with their baskets filled with dangerous snakes that they keep as their pets. They are are seen sitting by the roadsides or moving about from place to place playing melodious notes on their flutes, and calling "Nagoba-la dudh de Mayi" (give milk to the Cobra Oh Mother!). This is meant for the women of the houses who come out on hearing the cry and sprinkle haldi-kumkum ( turmeric – vermilion) and flowers on the heads of the snakes. Then they offer sweetened milk and pray to the snakes. The snake-charmers are also rewarded for their services with money and old clothes - the amount of which varies according to the status of the devotee. Another popular custom is to place bowls of milk at the places where snakes either live or haunt every now and then. Images of five-headed cobras are drawn on wooden planks by many elderly women who also recite mantras(sacred verses) and pray before these. During the occassion, many Maharashtrian daughters wash the eyes of their fathers with rose flowers dipped in milk. They are rewarded with nice gifts from their fathers.

In Kerala, Nag Panchami is celebrated with great devotion in the many snake temples that exist in the state. On the festive morning, thousands of people throng these temples and worship stone or metal icons of the cosmic serpent AnantaNaga or SheshaNaga. They pray for the prosperity and happiness of the entire family and offer milk and other food items to the deities. The Nagaraja Temple in Kerala is one such place where elaborate worship of the snake-god can be seen complete with the performance of the rituals associated with the occassion.

Other popular areas of worship in South India during the Nag Panchami include the Adiesha Temple in Andhra Pradesh, Nagathamman Temple in Chennai and Hardevja Temple in Jaipur.

In Malabar, the Nagarapanchimi day is observed on the fifth of Sravana when the star Aslesha is in the ascendant. On this day, the Nambutiris worship the snake-god by bathing the god (most likely a stone or metal image of ophidian deity) in milk and paying obeisances to the divine being.

Frying any food item on this day is forbidden by Hindu tradition. Conservative Hindu homes strictly keep any fried food away during Nag Panchami.
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