Naga Panchami 2022: 9 Most Amazing Snake Temples of IndiaJuly 12, 2022
In the old days, Westerners would scoff that India was a land of snake charmers. In fact, India is also a land of snake worshippers. Many people may find this bizarre as snakes are not very congenial creatures like cats and dogs, and their bites can be fatal. But even in the West, people do keep snakes as pets even if they do not worship them.
Snake worship or ophiolatry has existed in India since ancient times, before the Vedic age. It was later incorporated into the Vedic religion. The Mahabharata epic narrates the origin story of the Nagas or serpent clan born to Sage Kashyapa and his wife, Kadru.
Serpents also have close ties with various Hindu Gods like Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. While Vishnu reclines on the serpent Adi Sesha in the Milky Ocean, Shiva wears a snake around his neck. This association with the divine gives serpents a touch of divinity.
The Snake Gods are called Naga Devtas. The five major Naga Devtas are Vasuki, Astika, Manasa Devi, Sheshnag and Kaaliya. Goddess Manasa Devi is a Snake Goddess.
But people revere snakes for other reasons too. They are symbols of fertility and are believed to bless people with progeny, if pleased. Their ability to shed their old skin and grow a new one is seen as a miracle.
Naga Panchami and Naga Chaturthi are two of the major Indian festivals when people worship snakes. Naga Panchami is on the fifth day of Shravan month (July-August), while Naga Chaturthi is on the previous day.
Hindus frequent the major snake temples in India during these holy occasions. Here are 9 amazing snake temples in India:
1. Bhujang Nag Temple, Gujarat
This majestic temple is in Kutch district, Gujarat. As per legends, the Bhujiya Fort that lies on the outskirts of Bhuj is dedicated to the last Naga clan, Bhujanga. Later, the locals built a temple on the Bhujiya hills to honor them. During Naga Panchami, there is a fair near the Bhujang Naga Temple.
The locals believe that Bhujang Naga came from Than in Kathiawar and freed Kutch from the oppressive rule of the Daityas and Rakshasas.
2. Nagaraja Temple, Tamil Nadu
Sporting many exquisitely carved statues of serpents and deities, this temple is in Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. It has two main deities – Lord Krishna and Nagaraja or Lord Vasuki, the king of serpents. The Nagaraja idol has five heads or hoods. Legend says that a girl once accidentally struck a five-headed serpent when she was cutting grass. The girl told the villagers about the incident, and they built a shrine in that spot.
The temple is 1000-2000 years old. Lord Nagaraja is a swayambhumurthi and is below ground level. He has five heads, and the place where he sits is wet and saffron in color. This is because of the blood that supposedly oozed from the idol’s head. The prasad here is unique. It is “mannu” or sand. Devotees offer milk and turmeric. Brahmmotsavam, Aavani Aashlesha, Krishna Jayanthi, Navratri, and Tirukarthikai are the major festivals in this temple.
3. Kukke Subramanya Temple, Karnataka
At this temple, people worship Lord Subramanya, Lord Vasuki, and Lord Shesha. All around it is the picturesque Kumara Parvatha Peak, and the temple stands on the banks of the Kumaradhara River. The story goes that Lord Vasuki and other snakes sheltered in the caves at Subramanya. Those who have Kala Sarpa Dosha worship at this temple to get rid of it.
The temple is in Dakshina Kannada, a land of serpents, in the village Subramanya. It was built by the Sandur royal family and is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Lord of serpents. It is one of the 7 major pilgrimage centers in the state.
The original inhabitants of this place were the Malekudiya tribe. They rescued some serpents from a fire in Kumaragiri hills and carried them to safety in kukke (baskets). This is how the temple got its name. Vasuki, the king of snakes, and other serpents supposedly sought refuge under Lord Muruga when Garuda threatened them.
Here, Pooja is offered to Muruga, who is merged with Vasuki. It offers relief from all Naga doshas. Devotees come from many places to offer Sarpa Samskara, Nagaprathishta, Ashlesha Bali, and other rituals here.
4. Mannarasala Temple, Kerala
This is one of the largest snake temples in the country. Mannarasala Temple is in Alleppey district, Kerala. Lord Nagaraja, the king of serpents, is the main deity here. One can find around 30,000 stone idols of snakes within the compound that leads to the temple. The temple is 3,000 years old. Newly-wed and childless couples come here seeking progeny blessings and prosperity.
The temple was supposedly created by Lord Parashurama. The deity represents both Anantha/Seshnag and Vasuki. The chief priest is a Namboodiri lady who dedicates her life to the temple. Aayilyam is the major festival here, which falls on Aayilyam star day in the Malayalam month, Thulam (October-November).
5. Naganathaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu
This temple is in the village of Thirunageswaram, Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. It is a famous Shiva temple as well as a Rahu Sthalam. Legend says that the mythological snakes Takshaka, Adishesha, and Karkotaka worshipped Lord Shiva at this temple. This is how Thirunageswaram got its name.
Adisesha, the king of snakes, supposedly did penance here. The place was also called Senbaranya Kshetram as it had a large number of Shenbaga trees. Shiva appeared to him and gave him a boon. Due to this, Shiva has the name of Naganatha.
6. Sheshnag Temple, Jammu & Kashmir
This temple lies on the eastern bank of Mansar lake. As per mythology, Sheshnag created a lake near Pahalgam. The locals believe that Sheshnag still lives here. They also built a temple for him on its banks. Pilgrims going to the Amarnath Cave visit the temple and worship Sheshnag.
The shrine is a large boulder on which some iron chains are seen, which probably represent small serpents. Newlywed couples perform three Parikarmas around the lake to seek the Sheshnag’s blessings.
Sheshnag lake in Anantnag district, Kashmir, is also dedicated to Sheshnag. It was here that Shiva supposedly removed all his snakes en route to Amarnath cave to reveal the secret of his immortality to Goddess Parvati.
7. Agasanahalli Nagappa, Bengaluru
This temple at Devanagere is for Lord Narasimha, who is in the form of Lord Muruga (the Lord of snakes). In the sanctum sanctorum is an ant-hill containing a naturally formed image of Narasimha. People claim to have seen a golden-colored snake near the temple. Devotees visit the temple on no-moon days to worship the Lord. The place gets its name from Sage Agastya, who did meditation here.
8. Nagdwar, Madhya Pradesh
This temple is not very well-known. It is located in the huge caves of Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh and lies in the Satpura tiger reserve zone. It has the protection of the forest department. For the past 100 years, a fair takes place here every year. People can visit this temple for only ten days during Shravan (July-August) month and only on foot. One must trek through dense forests filled with poisonous snakes, rivulets, and dangerous cliffs. Around 5 lakh devotees supposedly visit this shrine.
9. Ghati Subramanya, Karnataka
This 600-year-old temple has Dravidian architecture. It lies 60 km from Bengaluru and is close to the Mallikadurga hills. The main deity is Lord Subramanya. Ghorpade of the Sandar dynasty built the temple. One can find idols of Lord Narasimha and Lord Subramanya in the sanctum. Both idols supposedly emerged from the ground. Subramanya’s idol, in his serpent form, faces the east. Narasimha sits at the back of Subramanya and faces the west. Devotees can glimpse Narasimha’s idol through a strategically placed mirror. This allows them to worship both deities simultaneously. The temple is also a Ketu Sthala.