Naga Panchami 2023: Monday, 21 August 2023India is a land that is mythical and magical to the Western world – they feel that we are all about snakes and snake charmers, elephants, and yoga; but as Indians, we know that there is a reason behind it all. Yoga has its basis in meditation, a centring of the self and attaining a balance of mind, body, and soul. Elephants are a reminder of Lord Ganesha, who might be seated in your wooden temple for home, and even snakes are revered, because of their connection to Lord Shiva and nature.
Nag Panchami, is a festival that is celebrated all over India and some other neighbouring countries like Nepal in the month of Shravan. As per the Hindu calendar, the day is celebrated each year on the fifth day of Shukla Paksha during the holy month of Shravan. This day is chosen because as per Vedic astrology, Nag Devta is the resident lord of Panchami Tithi or date. The festival is meant to honour both the nag devta as well as Lord Shiva.
Why is Nag Panchami celebrated?The month of Shravan, which is generally the months of July end and August are when the monsoons are at the peak for most parts of India. because of the heavy rains, snake burrows tend to get filled with water, forcing the snakes to come out. In order to save themselves, snakes might turn hostile towards human beings.
The ideology behind celebrating Nag Panchami is that when the snakes come out, humans feed them milk; snakes are said to have very sharp memories and will not harm those who are doing good unto them. It is also believed that snakes will harm those who harm them, and avenge the harm on their families as well! Hence the attempts to appease them.
It is said that celebrating Nag Panchami helps you get rid of your sins and earn you the blessings of Lord Shiva. It is also said that by worshipping Nag Devta on this day, you can gain freedom from all kinds of bad luck, which could have been brought upon by the effects of planets Rahu and Ketu.
What are the legends and stories behind Nag Panchami?In Mahabharata, Janamejaya, who was the son of the Kuru King Parikshita, was performing a yagna known as Sarpa Satra – a snake sacrifice to avenge his father, who had been killed due to a bite from the king of snakes, Takshaka. A slew of brahmins sat around a sacrificial fireplace and lured snakes into the fire. Takshaka, however, escaped to the nether world and the brahmins had to increase the intensity of their incantations. As he was coiled around Lord Indra’s cot, the force of the incantations pulled Indra towards the sacrificial fire too.
Scared, the gods went to Manasadevi for help, who sent her son Astik to the yagna, who in turn impressed Janamejaya with his wisdom and knowledge. As his boon, he requested that the yagna be stopped and the king agreed, sparing the life of Takshaka and Indra. Since this day happened to be the Nadivardhini Panchami, it came to be celebrated as Nag Panchami.
Another story from Hindu mythology related to this day is associated with Lord Krishna – when a young Krishna was playing with his friends near the banks of Yamuna, their ball fell into the water. When Krishna went to retrieve the ball, Kaliya the serpent attacked him. Krishna pulled him by his tail and dragged him to the surface, eventually defeating him. Kaliya realised that this boy was not ordinary and actually a reincarnation of Vishnu. He begged for his forgiveness and promised never to hurt anyone ever again. All this also happened on the Panchami of the Shravan month, leading to a day of religious celebration.
There is also a folk tale related to this day – there was once a farmer who had two sons. One of the sons killed three snakes, while he was ploughing the fields and the mother snake took her revenge by biting the entire family of the farmer. The next day, the only surviving daughter of the family, begged the mother snake for forgiveness and offered her milk. Pleased by the daughter’s genuine sorrow and regret, the mother snake not only forgave the family but also restored the lost lives.
Indian scriptures, starting from the Puranas to the Mahabharata give details about the importance of snakes and why and how they are worshipped. Some of the main snakes that are worshipped during Nag Panchami include Kaliya, Takshaka, Vasuki, Shesha, Ananta, Dhritarashtra, Kambala, Pingala, Ashvatara, and Shankhapala.
How is the festival celebrated?In most parts of the country, women will observe a fast and not eat anything between sunrise and sunset. This is meant to signify discipline and devotion – women will take their pooja thali, decked with flowers, sweets, and a pot of milk. They will either go to a temple or even to snake burrows and complete their prayers. Normally, food with salt or deep fried foods is not cooked on this day, however, sweets are considered a good offering.
In Central India, particularly Maharashtra, this festival is of great significance – Nagpur actually gets its name from snakes. This was the homeland of the Naga people and there are several temples all around dedicated to snakes and Lord Shiva. A sub temple inside Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga temple in Ujjain opens only on the day of Nag Panchami.
In several states of north India, this is a day of festivity – in Varanasi, wrestling pits are decorated, because wrestlers stand for virility, something associated with snakes. A temple in the same city is dedicated to Nag Raja and attracts a lot of crowds on this day. In Punjab, snakes made using dough are kept in a basket and taken around the village.
East and north east India tend to worship Manasadevi more, who according to mythology is the snake goddess. In south India too, this day is celebrated with great fervour – in many Kerala families, particularly with the Nairs, there will be a small temple dedicated to snakes, within the house, and this day is used to do poojas and special ceremonies. In Karnataka, the image of a snake is drawn in front of the house and milk or other milk based sweets are used as offering.
People in the cities might not be able to visit temples or find snake burrows with ease, which is why they will use the god idols and figurines of Lord Shiva that they might have. Most people will clean their pooja ghar properly and then perhaps bathe the Shiva statue or Shivalinga in milk. There are, however, some dos and don’ts that need to be followed:
- You can keep a fast on this day and recite mantras meant for this day.
- Worship serpent gods and offer them milk, sweets, and flowers.
- Do not plough land, because you could harm snakes on the earth.
- Do not cut any trees, because there could be snakes living inside.
- Do not cook in iron vessels.