Naga Panchami Festival – A Unique and Significant festival of India

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Nag Panchami is a Hindu holiday where men honor snakes. This year, it falls on August 5. The festival is celebrated on the fifth day after Amavasya or moonlit-fortnight in the holy month of Shraavana across most parts of India. Nag Panchami is a day of serpents (snakes) being given milk and prayers. The serpent god also called Nag Devta is worshipped by women for their brothers by offering it milk. Kerala is one of India’s most holy areas for snakes and residents have a nickname such as Nair. Even the Snake boat race or Vallamkalli is the major festival celebrated in Kerala during these days.

History and Meaning

Many ancient cultures around the world are known to have revered snakes because of the deadly venomous power they possess. This was no different in India. The custom of snake worship in India is extremely old — older than Hinduism as we know it. It was traced to the indigenous Naga tribe, which inhabited the country extensively during the Indus Valley Civilization, as far back as 3000 BCE. The cobra was their tribal totem.

It was initially believed that Aryans migrated to northern India from central Asia sometime around 2,000 BCE, bringing with them the Vedic culture that formed the basis for early Hindu Vedic texts. They were reported to have mingled with the Nagas and to have followed their rituals of snake-worship.

Current archeological research indicates, though, that the people that name themselves Aryans in India were originally an ancient tribal community that lived as far back as 6,500 BCE. It has also been reported that the South Indian Dravidians and other snake-worshiping groups including Kerala’s Nairs are in reality of Naga origin.

When is Nag Panchami for the year 2020

The festival date is calculated according to the lunar Hindu calendar. This comes upon Shukla Paksha Panchami, the fifth day of the moon’s light (waxing) period, in Shravan’s lunar month. It is late in either July or August. Nag Panchami is July 25, 2020. It differs though in certain parts of India.

The festival takes place during the rainy monsoon season, as water pushes snakes out of their holes and into human-inhabited regions, through the risk to get bitten.

How and Where is Nag Panchami Celebrated

While Nag Panchami is commonly celebrated in India, varied cultures and lack of standardized Hindu beliefs mean rituals differ. Most of the celebration takes place in snake houses, where they conduct different ceremonies. However, devotees visit temples dedicated to Lord Shiva as well. This is because of god’s special association with snakes. Lord Shiva drank a snake’s venom to save the earth, and bears a python around his arm, according to Hindu mythology.

For certain cultures living snakes are worshiped as God’s servants, while in other men worship snake gods. Married women commonly fast, dress in new clothes, chant a special mantra, and offer milk to the snakes for the well-being of their families and to provide safety from snake bites. (Never mind that snakes don’t in fact like milk.) It’s also considered taboo to dig the earth on Nag Panchami to avoid disturbing the snakes.

Traditionally, live snakes are captured by snake charmers and displayed for devotees to worship. They’re carried in procession to temples, where they’re venerated and made to drink milk as a sign of good fortune. This practice has become contentious in recent years though, due to concerns about the snakes’ welfare. It was widespread in Maharashtra, particularly in Battis Shirala village, but the Bombay High Court banned it in 2014. Devotees now use snake statues and photos instead. Apart from Battis Shirala village, extensive Nag Panchami celebrations happen in and around Nagpur in Maharashtra, where there are many snakes and snake temples.

When is Nag Panchami Celebrated

Nag Panchami Puja happens every year in the month of July or August. It is celebrated on the fifth day of the lunar month of Shravan in the Hindu calendar. In 2020, Naag Panchami would be celebrated on 25th July in most parts of the country. Since the Nag Panchami festival comes in the rainy season, the water drives the snakes out of their holes, and hence their visibility gets more frequent than other seasons. Nag Panchami is a day of serpents (snakes) being given milk and prayers. The serpent god also called Nag Devta is worshipped by women for their brothers by offering it milk.

Popular locations to observe Nag Panchami include:

Nag Panchami festivities can be majorly seen in the state of Maharashtra. Battis Shirala Village near Mumbai is famous for its Naga Panchami celebrations. Extensive Nag Panchami festivities can also be witnessed in and around the Nagpur district of Maharashtra. In addition to this, the following are the popular places of worship during Nag Panchami:

  • Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, where the festival’s typical risky wrestling matches at different akhadas (training venues) in the town is a highlight. The wrestlers worship snakes for manhood and the akhadas are adorned with snak images. Narasinghgarh akhada has a shrine devoted to the king of snakes, and the snake statue is filled with oil.
  • Nag Vasuki Temple in Allahabad (Prayagraj), Uttar Pradesh, which is dedicated to serpent king Vasuki and mentioned in the Puranas.
  • Manasa Devi temple in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, which is dedicated to the snake goddess Manasa.
  • Nag Devta Temple, an ancient snake temple in Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, which is beautifully decorated on Nag Panchami and has refreshing mountain views.
  • Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, where the festival only opens its Nagchandreshwar shrine once a year for 24 hours. A specific puja (the rite of worship) is done.
  • Bhujang Nag Temple at Fort Bhujia, near Bhuj in the Kutch region of Gujarat, where a colorful procession and fair is conducted.
  • Kerala where worship of the serpent is an important part of the lives of men. Devotees flock to old, secluded Mannarasala Shree Nagaraja Temple, the largest snake temple in the world, in the district of Alleppy. It has thousands of idolized snakes.
  • Mukti Naga Temple, in the suburbs of Bangalore village of Ramohalli, has what is called the world’s biggest monolithic statue of the snake deity. This measures 16 meters in height and weighs 36 tonnes.
  • Kukke Shree Subramanya Temple, in Karnataka’s Subramanya village, where Kartikeya (son of Lord Shiva and Parvati) is worshiped as Subramanya, the lord of all serpents. The temple is located in the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada, and Nag Panchami is celebrated there with an elaborate ritual folk dance known as Naga Mandala.
  • Newly restored Shree Ananthapadmanabha Temple in the village of Kudupu near Mangalore in Karnataka, renowned for snake worship and with more than 300 statues of serpents.

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