My Hindi teacher can’t understand why the French like lizards so much but as far as I’m concerned, I can’t understand why the Indians like snakes! Actually, I’m going to tell you a secret: I think Indians have never liked snakes! Snakes are very poisonous and kill between 20,000 and 40,000 people each year in India, according to The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. People got used to worshipping snakes to protect themselves from their terrible fangs! Now, of course, Naga is highly respected and has many temples dedicated to him throughout India and other countries like Cambodia and Thailand.
Today, it is Naga Panchami. Hindus and others celebrate snakes. In Hindu mythology Naga has several heads to be more protective but sometimes, it does not have snake heads; it can have dog heads or human faces… They are supernatural creatures, you see!
Vishnu is often linked to Naga because the serpent is a protector and Vishnu himself is the God of Preservation: that’s why Vishnu is often represented sheltered by Shesha Naga. Lord Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, is often related to Naga too; when he was a baby and had to be taken away from his evil enemy Kamsa, he was carried over the Yamuna River by his father Vasudeva, protected by a Naga. Later, he also defeated terrible Kalya Naag but this story is told by my colleague Françoise on her blog Indomaniaque , so, you can go and read this story here.
As far as I’m concerned, I like the following legend which explains why people worship snakes: It happened a long time ago, when there were no rickshaws, no jeans, no mobile phones, no modern ploughing machines, nothing! A farmer was ploughing his field but he killed young snakes which were hidden in the earth. The mother of these serpents was very upset and she bit the farmer and all his family and everybody died except one of the daughters. The daughter had to pray and pray and pray again until the mummy serpent was satisfied and the family revived.
Today, there are still temples where you can pray and undertake rites to honor snakes. At home, different things can be done to worship the Nagas; you can draw them or stick pictures of them on your door. Unmarried women pray the Nagas to find a good husband. You can also eat food without salt for the whole day, since the snakes are said to have desalinated areas like Kerala to make them habitable and luxurious. One of the most common rites in Maharashtra is to douse a snake with milk. Milk is a symbol of purity and if the snake drinks the milk, it is a lucky sign and its poison will be less dangerous.
Despite all that, I think I finally prefer the rats in Karni Mata Temple!