Nag Panchami

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Nāga Panchamī
Naag pooja.jpg
A Statue of Naga being worshiped on Nag Panchami
Also called Naaga Pujaa
Observed by Hindus
Type Religious, India and Nepal
Significance [1]
Observances worshipping images or live Cobra.
Date Fifth day (Panchami) of the month of Shravan month of the Lunar calendar
2013 date 11 August
2014 date 1 August

Nag Panchami (Devanagari: नाग पंचमी) is a traditional worship of snakes or serpents observed by Hindus throughout India and also in Nepal.[1][2] The worship is offered on the fifth day of bright half of Lunar month of Shravan (July/August), according to the Hindu calendar. The abode of snakes is believed to be patal lok, (the seven realms of the universe located below the earth and lowest of them is also called Naga-loka, the region of the Nagas, as part of the creation force and their blessings are sought for the welfare of the family.[1][2] Serpent deity made of silver, stone or wood or the painting of snakes on the wall are given a bath with milk and then revered.

According to Hindu puranic literature, Kashyapa, son of Lord Brahma, the creator had four consorts and the third wife was Kadroo who belonged to the Naga race of the Pitru Loka and she gave birth to the Nagas; among the other three, the first wife gave birth to Devas, the second to Garuda and the fourth to Daityas.[3]

In the Mahabharata epic story, Astika, the Brahmin son of Jaratkarus, who stopped the Sarpa Satra of Janamejaya, king of the Kuru empire which lasted for 12 years is well documented. This yagna was performed by Janamejaya to decimate the race of all snakes, to avenge for the death of his father Parikshit due to snake bite of Takshaka, the king of snakes. The day that the yagna (fire sacrifice) was stopped, due to the intervention of the Astika, was on the Shukla Paksha Panchami day in the month of Shravan when Takshaka, the king of snakes and his remaining race at that time were saved from decimation by the Sarpa Satra yagna. Since that day, the festival is observed as Nag Panchami.[4]

Etymology[edit]

The literary meaning of 'Nag Panchami' is “Snake (Cobras) fifth”.[5]

Legends[edit]

There are many legends in Hindu mythology and folklore narrated to the importance of worship of snakes.[1]

Mythology[edit]

Indian mythological scriptures such as Agni Purana, Skanda Purana, Narada Purana and Mahabharata give details of history of snakes extolling worship of snakes.[1]

Sarpa Satra, the snake sacrifice where Astika, young Brahmin stops the yagna.

In the Mahabharata epic, Janamejeya, the son of King Parikshit of Kuru dynasty was performing a snake sacrifice known as Sarpa Satra, to avenge for the death of his father from a snake bite by the snake king called Taksaka. A sacrificial fireplace had been specially erected and the fire sacrifice to kill all snakes in the world was started by a galaxy of learned Brahmin sages. The sacrifice performed in the presence of Janamejaya was so powerful that it was causing all snakes to fall into the Yagna kunda (sacrificial fire pit). When the priests found that only Takshaka who had bitten and killed Parisksihit had escaped to the nether world of Indra seeking his protection, the sages increased the tempo of reciting the mantras (spells) to drag Takshaka and also Indra to the sacrificial fire. Takshaka had coiled himself around Indra’s cot but the force of the sacrificial yagna was so powerful that even Indra along with Takshaka were dragged towards the fire. This scared the gods who then appealed to Manasadevi to intervene and resolve the crisis. She then requested her son Astika to go to the site of the yagna and appeal to Janamejaya to stop the Sarpa Satra yagna. Astika impressed Janamejaya with his knowledge of all the Sastras (scriptures) who granted him to seek a boon. It was then that Astika requested Janamejeya to stop the Sarpa Satra. Since the king was never known to refuse a boon given to a Brahmin, he relented, in spite of protects by the rishis performing the yagna. The yagna was then stopped and thus the life of Indra and Takshaka and his other serpent race were spared. This day, according to the Hindu Calendar, happened to be Nadivardhini Panchami (fifth day of bright fortnight of the lunar month of Shravan during the monsoon season) and since then the day is a festival day of the Nagas as their life was spared on this day. Indra also went to Manasadevi and worshipped her.[4]

According to Garuda Purana offering prayers to snake on this day is auspicious and will usher good tidings in one’s life. This is to be followed by feeding Brahmins.[6]

Worship[edit]

On the Nag Panchami day Nag, cobras, and snakes are worshipped with milk, sweets, flowers, lamps and even sacrifices. Images of Nag deities made of silver, stone, wood, or paintings on the wall are first bathed with water and milk and then worshipped with the reciting of the following mantras.[1]

Devanagari Roman alphabet IPA (Sanskrit) IAST Rough translation

नाग प्रीता भवन्ति शान्तिमाप्नोति बिअ विबोह्
सशन्ति लोक मा साध्य मोदते सस्थित समः

Naga preeta bhavanti shantimapnoti via viboh
Sashanti lok ma sadhya modate shashttih samh

n̪ɑːɡɑː pr̩ːt̪ɑː bʱʋn̪iːt̪ h ɕɑːˈn̪t̪imɑːˈpn̪oːt̪iː ʋijɑː biʋh
s̪ɕɑːˈn̪t̪i l̪oːk mɑː s̪ɑːˈd̪ʱj moːd̪t̪eː s̪ˈs̪t̪ʰt̪iː s̪mh

Nāga prītā bhavanti śāntimāpnoti bia viboh
saśanti loka mā sādhya modate sasthitaḥ samaḥ

Let all be blessed by the snake goddess, let everyone obtain peace
Let all live peacefully without any turbulence.

Fast is observed on this day and Brahmins are fed. The piety observed on this day is considered a sure protection against the fear of snake bite. At many places, real snakes are worshipped and fairs held. On this day digging the earth is taboo as it could kill or harm snakes which reside in the earth.[1]

Nagas in Naga Loka

In some regions of the country milk is offered along with crystallized sugar, rice pudding (kheer in local parlance). A special feature is of offering a lotus flower which is placed in a silver bowl. In front of this bowl, a rangoli (coloured design pattern) of snake is created on the floor with a brush made of wood or clay or silver or gold with sandalwood or turmeric paste as the paint. The design pattern will resemble a five hooded snake. Devotees then offer worship to this image on the floor. In villages, the anthills where the snakes are thought to reside, are searched. Incense is offered to the anthill as prayer along with milk (a myth of folk lore to feed milk to the snakes) to ensnare snakes to come out of the anthill. After this, milk is poured into the hole in the anthill as a libation to the snake god.[6]

On this occasion doorways and walls outside the house are painted with pictures of snakes, auspicious mantras (spells) are also written on them. It is believed that such depictions will ward off poisonous snakes.[6]

Nag Panchami is also the occasion observed as Bhratru Panchami when women with brothers worship snakes and its holes, and offer prayers to propitiate nagas so that their brothers are protected and do not suffer or die due to snake bite.[1]

The Nag Panchami is also celebrated as Vishari Puja or Bishari Puja in some parts of the country and Bisha or Visha means "poison".[7]

Folktales[edit]

Apart from the scriptural mention about snakes and the festival, there are also many folk tales. On such tale is of a farmer living in a village. He had two sons and one of whom killed three snakes during ploughing operations. The mother of the snake took revenge on the same night by biting the farmer, his wife and two children and they all died. Next day the farmer’s only surviving daughter, distraught and grieved by the death of her parents and brothers, pleaded before the mother snake with an offering of a bowl of milk and requested for forgiveness and to restore the life of her parents and brothers. Pleased with this offering the snake pardoned them and restored the farmer and his family to life.[8]

In folklore, snakes also refer to the rainy season - the varsha ritu in Sanskrit. They are also depicted as deities of ponds and rivers and are said to be the embodiment of water as they spring out of their holes, like a spring of water.[9]

Worship in various regions in the country[edit]

As it is believed that snakes have more powers than humans and on account of its association with Shiva, Vishnu and Subramanya, a degree of fear is instilled resulting in deification of the cobra and its worship throughout the country by Hindus.[10]

Snake has connotation with the Moon’s nodes known in Hindu astrology. The head of the snake is represented by Rahu ("Dragon's head") and its tail by Ketu ("Dragon's tail"). If in the zodiacal chart of an individual all the seven major planets are hemmed between Rahu and Ketu in the reverse order (anticlockwise) it is said to denote Kalasarpa dosha (Defect due to black snakes), which forebodes ill luck and hardship in an individual's life and therefore appeased by offering worship to the snakes on the Nag Panchami day.[2]

Central India[edit]

In Central India, in Nagpur, Maharashtra State snakes have special identity. The name of the city is derived from the word Naga which means snake as the place was infested with snakes. Nagoba Temple in Mahal is where worship is offered on Nag Panchami day; the temple was found under the neem tree known as “Nagoba ka vota", under a platform. Another important event held on this occasion is an arduous trekking pilgrimage known as Nagdwar Yatra to Pachmarhi. On this occasion food prepared as offering to the snake god is cooked in a kadai (a girdle).[2]

North and Northwestern India[edit]

Nag Panchami is celebrated all over North India. In Kashmir, from historical times snakes have been worshipped by Hindus, and the places of worship are reported as 700.[11]

In north western India, in cities such as Benares, it is the time when [[Akhara]]s (venues of wrestling practice and competitions) as part of Nag Panchami celebrations are bedecked; on this occasion the ahkaras are cleaned up thoroughly and walls painted with images of snakes, priests preside, and the gurus are honoured along with the sponsors. Its significance is that the wrestlers stand for virility and Naga symbolizes this “scheme of virility”.[5] Akharas are decorated with snake images showing snakes drinking milk.[8]

In Narasinghgarh akhara in Varanasi there is special shrine dedicated to Naga Raja (King of Snakes) where a bowl is suspended above the image of the snake and milk is poured into it so that it trickle over the snake god as a form of an offering.[12]

On this day snake charmers are everywhere in towns and villages displaying snakes in their baskets which will have all types of snakes such as pythons, rat snakes, and cobras mingled together. Some of the snake charmers hang limp snakes around their neck and crowds gather to witness these scenes. The snakes in the basket are also worshipped on the occasion.[13]

However, in Punjab this festival is celebrated in a different month and in a different format, in the month of Bhadra (September–October) and is called Guga Nauvami (ninth day of lunar month during bright half of Moon). On this occasion an image of snake is made with dough and kept in a “winnowing basket” and taken round the village. Villagers offer flour and butter as oblation to the image. At the end of the parade, the snake is formally buried and women worship the snake for nine days and give offering of curds.[10]

Western India[edit]

As in the rest of the country, the Naga Panchmi is celebrated in Western India and is known as the Ketarpal or Kshetrapal, meaning, a protector of his domain.[14]

In this part of the country, snake is named Bhujang, which is also the Sanskrit name for snake, in the Kutch region. The name is attributed to the city of Bhuj which is located below the hill named Bhujiya, after Bhujang, as it was the abode of snakes. On top of this hill there is a fort known as the Bhujang Fort where a temple has been built for the snake god and a second temple is at the foot of the hill known as Nani Devi.[14] Bhujia Fort was the scene of a major battle between Deshalji I, the ruler of Kutch and Sher Buland Khan, Mughal Viceroy of Gujarat who had invaded Kutch. It was the early period of Deshalji's reign. When the army of Kutch was in a state of losing the battle, a group of Naga Bawas opened the gate of Bhujia Fort by a clever ploy of visiting Nag temple for worship and joined the fray against Sher Buland Khan's army. Eventually Deshalji I won the battle. Since that day Naga Bawa and their leader have a pride of place in the procession held on Nag Panchami day.[14] Within the fort, at one corner, there is a small square tower dedicated to Bhujang Nag (snake god), who in folklore is said to have been the brother of Sheshnag. It is said Bhujang Nag came from Than of Kathiawar and freed Kutch from the oppression of demons known as daityas and rakshasas.[14] The Snake Temple was also built at the time of the fortification of the hill during Deshalji I's reign and provided with a chhatri. Every year on Nag Panchami day a fair is held at the temple premises. In the Sindhi community Nag Panchami is celebrated in honour of Gogro.

Eastern and Northeastern India[edit]

In eastern and north eastern states of India such as West Bengal, Orissa and Assam, the goddess is worshipped as Manasa. In Hindu mythology, Manasa is a snake goddess who was also called Jaratkaru and wife of Brahmin sage also named Jaratkaru. On this occasion, a twig of manasa plant (euphorbia lingularum) symbolizing the goddess Manasa is fixed on the ground and worshipped, not only in the month of Shravan, as in the rest of the country, but also in the month Bhadra Masa. Festival is held within the precincts of the house.[10]

South India[edit]

Stone statues of snakes worshipped in South India

In South India, snake is identified with Subramanya (Commander of the celestial army) and also with Shiva and Vishnu.[10]

In Karnataka, the preparation for the festival starts on the New Moon day of Bhima Amavasya, five days prior to the festival day of Panchami. Girls offer prayers to the images made out of white clay painted with white dots. They take a vow by tying a thread dipped in turmeric paste on their right wrist and offer prayers. An image of snake is drawn on the floor in front of the house and milk is offered as oblation. On the night previous to the festival they keep complete fast or take a salt free diet. After the pooja, a food feast is held.[15]

In South India, both sculpted and live snakes are worshipped. Every village has a serpent deity. It is worshipped as a single snake or nine snakes called Nao Nag but the popular form is of two snakes in the form of an “Eaculapian rod”. Every worshipper in South India worships the anthill where the snakes are reported to reside. Women decorate the anthill with turmeric paste and vermillion and sugar mixed with wheat flour. They bedeck it with flowers with the help of threads tied to wooden frames. In Maharashtra, they go round the anthill in a worship mode five times singing songs in praise of snake gods.[11]

Another form of worship practiced by women, who have no children for various reasons, install stone statues of snakes below the peepal tree and offer worship seeking blessings of the snake god for bestowing them with children. This is done as it is believed snakes represent virility and have the gift of inducing fecundity curing barrenness.[10]

In Coorg in Karnataka, an ancestral platform called noka is installed with rough stones which are believed to be the ancestral incarnation in the form of snakes but they are not necessarily worshipped on Nag Panchami day.[10]

In Kerala, a shrine is established for snake god at the southwest corner of the ancestral house.[10]

Observance in Nepal[edit]

The ritual is widely observed in Nepal, particularly for the fight between Garuda and a great serpent.[16] It is also the festival held in honour of the great serpent on the coils of which Lord Vishnu is resting between the Universe.[17]

In the Changu Narayan Temple in Kathmandu, there is statue of Garuda which is said to have been established by Garuda himself and on the Naga Panchami day the image is said to sweat reminiscing his great fight with a giant snake; people collect the sweat and use it for curing leprosy.[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Verma 2000, pp. 37-38.
  2. ^ a b c d "Nag Panchami: A mix of faith and superstition". Times of India. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  3. ^ Surhone, Tennoe & Henssonow 2010, p. snippet.
  4. ^ a b Garg 1992, p. 743.
  5. ^ a b Alter 1992, p. 136.
  6. ^ a b c Alter 1992, pp. 137-138.
  7. ^ Sharma 2008, p. 68.
  8. ^ a b Alter 1992, p. 138.
  9. ^ Alter 1992, p. 143.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Sharma 2008, p. 68-70.
  11. ^ a b Balfour 1885, p. 577.
  12. ^ Alter 1992, pp. 139-140.
  13. ^ Alter 1992, p. 137.
  14. ^ a b c d Dilipsinh 2004, p. 38.
  15. ^ Jagannathan 2005, p. 91.
  16. ^ Claus, Diamond & Mills 2003, p. 689.
  17. ^ a b Brockman 2011, p. 93.
Bibliography

Further reading[edit]

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