Nag Panchami is an occasion celebrated for offering worship to the snakes. Nag Panchami is an auspicious day which comes on the fifth lunar day of the Panchami thithi in Shukla Paksha, the waxing phase of the Moon during the Shravan month that corresponds to July–August. Nag Panchami is a very ancient festival that is being observed since the times of the great Vedas.
Our Indian tradition has always regarded snakes as some divinities. While serpents are closely associated with many of the Gods, including the supreme Gods Vishnu and Shiva, they occupy an essential place in the mythologies, legends, and scriptures too.
In olden days, it was common for people to get bitten by poisonous creatures like snakes and many such encounters have also proved to be fatal for the humans involved. Also, the month of Shravan signals the time of monsoon, when the fields and open grounds get flooded with rain waters. It can cause severe disturbances to snakes living in those places and eventually displace them from their place of dwelling. They may then start invading the residential areas, and this may lead to hostilities with human beings.
People must have believed that worshipping the Snake-Gods may please the reptiles and protect them from the harm that may result from snake-bites. It is only this belief which must have developed in due course of time into the festival of Nag Panchami.
Nag Panchami Pooja
On the Nag Panchami day, people get up early in the morning, freshen themselves up and wear traditional clothes. At many places, people prepare idols of snake Gods out of clay and install for worship. Some make such images out of cow dung and keep them at the main entrance of their residences. These idols are also decorated with grass, Vermillion, sandalwood paste, turmeric, and flowers. Sandalwood is used mainly in snake-worships as the reptiles are said to be very fond of the sandal fragrance. Select food items like sesame ladoos, coconut sweets, kheer — the sweet pudding, milk, and cooked rice are made as offerings. The idols are also given the sacred bath with milk, in some houses. Traditional oil lamps are also lighted in front of the deities.
Nag Mantras are then chanted in praise of the snake-gods and flowers, especially the red hibiscus is offered to them. The pooja concludes with a sacred arti. The offerings are then distributed to the family members, relatives, friends and neighbors as Prasad. Manasa Devi, the folk Goddess of serpents is worshipped on occasion in some parts of the country, like north and north-east.
Some people perform rituals and observe austerities during the occasion of Nag Panchami. Many fast from sunrise to sunset. While girls in their marriageable age fast for getting a virtuous and suitable husband, married women visit their parents’ homes on that day. The fasts are broken in the evening after offering kheer to the snake-Gods and consuming it as Prasad. Even otherwise, fried items and salt are strictly avoided on that day. It is also a custom among some people to consume only the food prepared the previous day.
While worships proceed on one side, it is also ensured that no activity that can cause any harm or inconvenience to serpents is undertaken on that day. Farmers usually stay away from their agricultural activities and avoid tasks like digging, cutting and watering the lands, lest they may cause injury or disturbance to the reptiles. Instead, they keep items like flowers and milk near the burrows which they believe are homes to the snakes.