08 July 2009

Sacred snakes

Above: A stone statue of the snake goddess at the base of a tree in Lalbagh Botanical Gardens

At the local fruit and vegetable market I often see a woman walking around with a small basket in her hands. She once approached me and opened the lid of her basket. There was a snake inside! I don’t know if she was expecting me to give her some money for her snake, but after she saw my look of horror, she quickly realized there was little chance of that. The fruit vendors had a good laugh watching my reaction.

Many animals are worshipped as gods in Hinduism. There’s Ganesh the elephant and Hanuman the monkey. The snake is also worshipped as Nagaraja: the king of snakes. Killing a snake is considered inauspicious and it’s believed that this can bring bad luck which will follow you in all your successive lives.

Above: A shrine to the snake god on a Chennai street.

I sometimes come across small shrines and stone images of snakes, often at the base of a tree. This is considered to be the entry to the underworld and a resting place for snakes, believed to be the guardians of the underworld. Trees and snakes are also symbols of fertility.

Above: A roadside shrine on a Bangalore street I pass often

Many temples in South India have a shrine to the snake goddess Nakamal, the snake virgin. There are also temples dedicated to snake worship. Snakes are offered milk to appease them and to cure infertility. Snakes even have their own festival day, called Nagapanchami.

For more about snake gods and temples, see this link.


roma said...

I actually didnt know about the fertility angle till now. Very interesting information.

Sunil said...

Thank you so much for the article, i have been researching for sarpa dosha the whole day and your article helped me a lot.