People around the world will honor Snake Day August 19, 2015, which is also the 5th of Shravan in India. Nag Panchami, the Snake Day festival springs forth from ancient Hindu traditions to help people both worship the life in the serpent and understand their danger. The Hindu faith teaches respect for all life including snakes.
Snakes deserve our respect and many believe snakes have more power than humans because of their bite and association with the gods: Lord Shiva, the holder of serpent, Vishnu and Subramanya. The Cobra, the hooded snake is admired because of its beauty.
Snakes have also found honor as a creature which is constantly being reborn. Through the shedding of skin and developing fresh scales snakes symbolize renewal to people who seek to honor their species. Because Snakes can find renewal, and also because in antiquity people found hatchling snakes in nests under the earth the snake has become a symbol of fertility.
Snakes play an important part in many myths and symbols of India. Vasuki is the king of the Snakes (Nagas); Manasa is the queen of the snakes. Astika is half Brahmin and half snake. Shesha is one of the first beings created, and afterwards a ruler of creation who holds the world on his head. When he slithers creation moves further, when he coils creation stops. This snake is also called Adishesha or endless shesha. It is said he holds the planets on his hood. Kailya is a poisonous snake who lived in the Yamuna river. The river absorbed the poison and Krishna had to subdue this snake forcing him to leave the river. The god Shiva is often shown wearing a snake around his neck.
The Hindu tell a story about Parikshit, an ancient king House of Pandu who dies from a snake bite. His son Janmejay ascends to the throne and attempts to rid the world of snakes. He captures Takshaka, King of the Naga (or snake people) and condemns him to death along with his people. Astika , a young learned sage intervenes stopping the executions. Janmejay becomes a king of peace teaching his people to live in harmony with the Nagas.
Snakes are seen by many people of the world as symbols of strength and renewal. Early settlers in Mesopotamia believed snakes were immortal because they could shed their skin and regrow fresh scales. They believed in a serpent goddess named Ningishzida, an ancestor of GIlgamesh.
Around the world the snake is honored In Benin, Africa and other areas people worship the Python. Among the Amazulu, Betsileo and Maasai serpents are worshipped as dead relatives. Mami Wata is honored in various parts of Africa as a water spirit who holds a large snake and is a symbol of fertility. The ancient Egyptians honored the cobra, which was linked to the sun god Ra.
In America the Hopi danced with snakes to celebrate the union of Snake Youth (the sky) and Snake Girl (the underworld). THe Mound Builders reverenced idols which looked like snakes in their temple. The rattlesnake was worshipped in the Natchez temple of the sun. The Maya deity Kukulkan and the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl or featured as feathered serpents in the artwork of temples and cities.
One can easily understand the respect of snake power because of their poisonous bite, which causes fear of the snake for many people. In Sanskrit and Pali the word Nag has been assigned to powerful snakes including the hooded King Cobra and the Indian Cobra. The power of these serpents has become so respected in some communities they have adopted the snake as their symbol and called themselves by names such as “Nāgas.”
Snakes are believed to live in the lowest level of the underworld. The Hindu believe there are seven levels (subterranean heavens, also called patal lok) of underworld beneath the surface of the earth, the lowest level is called Nagaloka. On Nag Panchami digging in the earth, laying foundations, or plowing fields is discouraged for it could disturb the abode of snakes which is under the earth.
And while digging for snakes is prohibited, veneration of snakes is an important part of Nag Panchami. People seek to find snakes so they can hold them. According to the ancient Sanskrit text Garuda Purana there is a special blessing for offering prayers to snakes. People give snakes baths in milk and feed them sweet rice pudding. They also place lotus flowers around them and illuminate the places snakes are found. Panchami fairs are held across India and in other places. People will also go to temples dedicated to snakes and snake deities.
After adoration of snakes, adherents to these beliefs prepare a meal for the Brahman, the priestly caste of India because Astika’s father was a Brahman. Through practicing the rituals of this day people protect themselves from snake bites during the coming year.
A story is told that four weeks after Gautama Buddha began his meditation under the Bodhi Tree, a rainstorm descended for seven days. To keep Buddha from becoming distracted, Mucalinda, the King of Serpents, came from beneath the earth, opened his hood and protected the great teacher from the elements so he could meditate. In this one is reminded of other scriptural stories of serpents coming out from under the trees.