In Indian mythology, the world is supported on the hood of a giant snake called Shesha. And the myths and legends come to the fore on the day of Naga Panchami, the festival that is dedicated to the Snake God.
Over a vast space of time, serpents have haunted the Indian mind. An oblation of rice and milk, the subdued burning of camphor and incense sticks, the flickering wicks soaked in the shimmering brass lamps and the strewn flower petals - all invoke an abiding faith and awe in the inscrutable powers of the Snake God. Through the corridors of time one hears the echo of chorus songs and dance beats all in praise of the powers that the snakes are believed to possess.
Shiva temple, Nellore, Andhra pradesh
Snake worship is common throughout India, both of the sculptured form and of the living being. The sculpture is invariably in the form of the naga or the cobra. Sometimes there is a single naga, the hood being spread open. Occasionally, there are nine snake figures sculpted together, and the form is known as Nava Naga. The living snake is worshipped almost in every part of the country, especially on occasion of festivals like Naga Panchami.
The festival of Naga Panchami is a living tradition of the snake cult. One of the great festivals in honour of the serpent, it is observed across India and Nepal on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Shravan during the monsoon season. There are many legends associated with this festival, prevalent in different parts of the country. It is believed that the festival celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the mythical Kaliya, a monstrous black cobra that was killed by Krishna. The immortal Kaliyamardana story in the Shrimada Bhagwata describing Krishna’s subduing of the poisonous serpent Kaliya who polluted the river Yamuna and his dance on the hood of the serpent is well-known. Krishna not only made the waters of the river safe for people by ousting the Kaliya Naga but released the serpent from the curse that made him take the form of Kaliya.
On the banks of Kaveri, near Shrirangapattanam, Karnataka
Another legend states that once a snake was trampled upon by a woman during night. The snake followed her, intending to bite her. There it saw the same woman giving milk to the young of a snake. The snake changed its mind and went off. It was the day of Naga Panchami.
Chandralamba temple, Sannatee, Karnataka
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