Snakes are feared by people across the world but in India snakes are given a divine position and are worshipped to seek blessings. The Indian Hindu community celebrates the snake festival which is popularly referred to as Naga Panchami or Nagula Chavithi. This auspicious day falls on the fifth waxing moon of the Hindu calendar month called shravan. This month usually falls during the period of July and August, which is a rainy season, compelling the snakes to come to the surface of the earth. August 19th, 2015 is considered as the Shravana Shukla Panchami and is considered the right time to offer prayers to the Snake God. The nine snake lords invoked during this day are Ananta, Sesha, Shankhapala, Kaliya, Vasuki, Kambala, Takshaka, Padmanabha and Dhruthrashtra.
The first mythological story relates to Lord Krishna and his childhood. It is believed that Krishna was playing with his friends and he ended up climbing a tree just to retrieve the ball that got stuck within the branches. In the process, Krishna tripped and fell accidentally into the abode of Kaliya – the mighty, dangerous snake in the River Yamuna. The snake then attacked the little Krishna but he did not give up fighting against it. He held the snake and started to jump on its multiple heads. The snake realized that Krishna is no ordinary human and begged to let him go. Krishna let it free on a condition that it should not cause harm to anyone from then on.
The second mythological story relates to a simple farmer and his family. It is believed that the farmer accidentally killed the offspring of the snake while ploughing his field. Since this happened in the absence of the mother snake, she ended up searching and finally realized that the farmer had killed her offspring. In order to teach a lesson, the snake bit the farmer, his wife and two sons. The farmer’s daughter lived in a different village with her husband. The snake wanted to kill the daughter too and hence she reached the daughter to bite her as well. But the snake witnessed the daughter of the farmer praying to a clay mould of a snake asking forgiveness and requesting the idol to protect her family from any mistakes committed out of ignorance. The snake was surprised and felt guilty. The daughter received the divine nectar from the snake, sprinkled it on her deceased family members as the snake assured that they would live again. On doing so, the girl won her family back again.
The tradition is observed differently across various places. But most popularly, the females of the family wake up far before sunrise complete all their daily chores and eat food they had prepared the previous night. On sunrise they take bath, sanctify the place of worship and pray to the Naga or the Snake God by offering turmeric powder, vermillion powder, flowers, Durva grass, milk and sweets. A self created mould of snake is placed on both the sides of the place of worship. The divine Naga Mantras are chanted and the temple of Snake God is visited. Kheer, also called as sweet rice porridge is offered in the evening to seek the blessings of the Snake God as well as Lord Shiva.