Many Hindus in India perform the Naga Pooja ritual during the Naga Panchami festival. This is a festival that honors snakes. Most people fear snakes, as many die of snakebites every year. But if Christians believe that snakes are associated with the devil, Hindus tend to associate them with gods. Lord Shiva, for instance, wears a snake as a garland around his neck. Lord Muruga is known to have a snake form. And Lord Vishnu reclines on a snake in the ocean. So it is clear that Hindus regard snakes as divinities rather than evil creatures. Despite this, snakes do get killed in India as they pose a threat to humans.
Naga Panchami is observed on the 5th day after Amavasya or New moon day in the Hindu month of Shravan. There are some legends behind the origin of Naga Panchami. Snake worship probably began with the Naga clan, a very developed tribe of people who lived in ancient India. Snake worship goes back to the Rig Vedic period. A more definite account of this practice is found in the Yajur Veda. Prayers to Sarpas are found in the Samhita of this Veda. The walls of many medieval Indian temples have carved or painted images of snakes. Snake worship rituals are depicted in the Ajanta caves as well. Nagas and Sarpas find mention in the Mahabaratha epic. In the Bhagwad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, the Pandava prince, that Ananta and Vasuki represent him among the Nagas and Sarpas, respectively. A famous episode in the epic is the Janamejaya Sarpa Yaga.
The Bhagavata Purana talks about how Vasuki and eleven other Nagas form the string of the Sun’s chariot and how each month is associated with one serpent. In the Markandeya Purana, the story of the marriage between Madalasa, a very beautiful Naga princess, and King Kulvalasva finds mention. The Panchatantra too offers evidence of snake worship, and as this work was composed between the first and sixth centuries, it is assumed that the practice of snake worship existed before the sixth century AD. Renowned French traveler Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689 AD) witnessed the idol of a snake being worshipped when he came to India in the 17th century. His description suggests that it was as part of the Naga Panchami festival.
Why is Naga Pooja performed?
Naga Pooja is performed to appease the snake gods. The idols of serpents are worshipped with milk, flowers, and lighted diyas to receive their blessings for gaining fame, wealth, and knowledge. It is also done as a remedy for Sarpa Dosha. People who suffer from Sarpa Dosha may face delays in getting married and having progeny. So many young and unmarried girls perform Pooja to the snake gods in temples to get a good husband. Married women, too, worship the snake gods for progeny. Snakes are symbols of fertility. It is believed that people incur Sarpa Dosha or the curse of a snake because they or their ancestors have harmed snakes. In Kerala, where once there used to be sacred groves for snakes called Sarpa kavus, it is said that families who destroyed these groves, which were part of their ancestral homes, or who neglected the upkeep of the groves and failed to worship and make regular offerings to the snakes who lived in them often suffered all kinds of problems. Such families are also advised to perform Naga Pooja to appease the snakes and ask for their forgiveness.
There is another reason for celebrating this festival. It is celebrated during the monsoon season. It is observed that there are more incidents of snakebites and related fatalities during this time. Snakes live in burrows underground, and when the rainwater floods their burrows, they are forced to come out and seek shelter in nearby homes. Sometimes people get bitten by the snakes and die. The snake, too, is often beaten to death in retaliation. In India, people believe that snakes have a good memory, and if someone harms them, they will take revenge. Many Bollywood movies like Naagin were based on this premise. True or not, such beliefs are deeply entrenched in the minds of some Hindus. So they perform Naga Pooja to avoid any problems from snakes they may have harmed in some manner.
There is an ecological reason too for snake worship. Snakes are needed for ecological balance as they prey on mice and rats that destroy agricultural crops. So they perform a valuable service for farmers. Thus, the festival is also a thanksgiving to serpents for protecting the food crops from vermin.
Naga Panchami is also called Naga Chaturthi or Garuda Panchami. Women keep fast on this day and perform Naga Pooja. Dry fruits, milk, etc., are offered to the Naga devatas or snake gods at temples and snake pits. Ashtanag, or the seven-hooded cobra, is worshipped on this day.
On this day, people do not cut vegetables, and they avoid fried foods. They also make different kinds of laddoos and offer them to the snake gods, along with milk.
Naga Panchami Vrat Katha
There are many versions of the Vrat Katha. Once there was a Brahmin who had seven sons who were married. Six of the daughters-in-law had brothers and used to visit during Shravan month. On seeing this, the one who had no brothers would get upset. One day, she worshipped Shesh Nag and confided her sorrow. To surprise her, Shesh Nag came to her house, disguised as a Brahmin man. He told her to see him as her brother and took her to his home in Patal Lok. Later, Shesh Nag showed her his real form and also told the woman to sit on his hood. She was honored to hear this and prayed to him. Some days later, Shesh Nag asked the woman to be careful when walking in the dark as baby snakes could be injured if she stepped on them. But one day, she accidentally hurt a baby snake when she stepped on its tail. Eventually, she returned to her marital home.
The following year, during Shravan, the woman made an idol of Shesh Nag and kept it outside her home and did Pooja. Meanwhile, the baby snake wondered why his tail was cut. The mother replied that his aunt had unknowingly trampled his tail. The baby snake was angry and wanted to take revenge. But, when he saw her worshipping his father, he had a change of heart. He blessed his aunt and told her that those who don't have brothers could worship snakes on Naga Panchami. Also, people who worshipped snakes on this day would not suffer an untimely death, and they could also get rid of Kaal Sarpa Dosha.
Naga Panchami Pooja Vidhi
1) Clean the Pooja room with Gangajal or water.
2) Spread a clean cloth on a Chaupayi.
3) Place the idol or image of the Snake God on it.
4) Place an oil lamp next to the idol, preferably on the right side.
5) Light the lamp.
6) Offer Sankalpa (vow to perform the Pooja with devotion).
7) Sprinkle some water and milk on the idol. Put haldi (turmeric), Chandan (sandal paste), kumkum, Akshat, and flowers.
Naga Panchami 2021/Naga Chaturthi 2021/Garuda Panchami 2021 is on August 13.