According to the Hindu calendar, Naga Panchami falls on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar day in the month of Shravan. Interestingly it is also termed as Garuda Panchami– as Garuda, or the royal eagle, is the natural enemy of the Snakes and serpents. Worshiping Garuda on this day also grants a protective shield against all snake-related malefic conditions. It is celebrated in India and Nepal.
The Hindu dharma respects and idolizes all aspects of nature; it may be the docile cow or the ferocious Snake. The snake or the Nagas have been long feared and respected in Hindu dharma for what they represent. This date dates to the ancient time when the Nagas, a highly developed and advanced clan, resided in India. It is said that the snake-worship amongst the Nagas was extremely popular, and it can be proved according to the evidence derived from the Indus Valley civilization of 3000 B.C.E. After the Naga culture gradually got incorporated into Hindu Dharma, the Indo-Aryans also gradually accepted many of the snake deities as their God.
Importance of Naga
Snake is also given due importance because it is considered the ornament of Lord Shiva around his neck. The celebration of Naga Panchami in the month of Shrawan also explains the deep association of Lord Shiva and the commemoration of the snake as his companion.
In the 8th Ashtaka of the Rig Veda, It is mentioned about Sarpa-Rajni or “the queen of the serpents or the queen of all that moves.” The Yajur-Veda provides a more definite account of serpent worship; the Samhita of this Veda contains prayers to the Sarpas(snakes) who are addressed as denizens of the heavens, the skies, the rays of the sun, the waters, the vegetables, and the like.
In the Brahmanas of the Samhita part of the Yajur-Veda, invocations are addressed to serpents, and sweet sacrifices are offered for their acceptance.
Manu, the ancient law-giver of the Hindus, also mentions the Nagas and the Sarpas (Snakes). Carved or painted figures of snakes can be found on the walls of many Hindu temples that exist from the medieval era. Images of snake worship rituals can also be spotted in the world-famous Ajanta caves.
A detailed description of the cobra snakes can also be discerned in Arthasastra, the classic ancient Hindu political text by the great Hindu philosopher Chanakya.
In the Bhagavata Purana, Vasuki and eleven other Nagas are mentioned as forming the string of the sun god Surya’s chariot, one serpent being held to be sacred to each month. The Markandeya Purana embodies the well-known story of the marriage of Madalasa, a Naga princess, with King Kulvalasva. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that Vasuki and Ananta represent him amongst the Sarpas and the Nagas, respectively.
Significance of Naga Panchami
According to mythology, a deadly snake, Kalia, had invaded and poisoned the Yamuna river and wreaked havoc for the people of Brindavan. Krishna, as a child Avatar of Lord Vishnu, one day on the pretext of a ball falling down in the river, ended up wrestling with Kalia and eventually defeating him and emerged dancing on the head of the ferocious naga. The Snake thus acquired the feet impressions of the Lord.
The story is called the “Kaliya Mardan” It is also believed that seeing the footprints of Lord Krishna– the Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Garuda(the vahana of Vishnu), who is the natural enemy of the serpent, does not harm it. Kalia then took away all the poison from the river, and Lord Krishna, in return, blesses him that on this day of Panchami, whosoever will offer milk and prayers to the snakes, will get expiated of any hardships in times to come.
A popular legend also says that the elder brother of Lord Krishna, Balram was the incarnation of Seshnag on earth.
While according to other stories, Lord Brahma created Sheshnaag (King of snakes) on this day hence the celebration.
According to certain beliefs, ancestors take the form of snakes on this day, due to which it is a widely celebrated festival. Some fast one day before Naga Panchami which is called Naga Chaturthi or Nagul Chavithi
The practical aspect of Naga Panchami
Naga Panchami is observed in the month of Shravana (July/August), the arrival of the rainy season in many parts of South Asia. It is the time when snakes leave their holes in the flooded fields and jungles and enter the habitations of men – thereby throwing them into great alarm. It is during this period that the greatest number of deaths from snakebite occur.
The people of the countryside labor under the impression that the only way of obtaining immunity from a snakebite is by propitiating the snake-goddess Manasa. This fear seems to be one of the reasons to celebrate the Naga deity. Appeasing the snake god provides some psychological relief to the poor rural folk whose main occupation remains agriculture.
A symbol of a bond between brothers and sisters
In South India, this day is celebrated to strengthen the bonds between brother and sister. On this day, as an important ritual, sisters rub milk or ghee on the back, spine, and navel of brothers by sisters.
The folklore mentions a brother-sister duo. The little girl asks her brother to get some Ketaki (screwpine) flowers for Naga Puja. Ketaki is popularly offered to Nagraj the Snake God while performing prayers. Unfortunately, the brother dies due to a snake bite while in search of Ketaki. The sister then prays and performs fast and pleads Nagaraja to take the poison away, and the brother is brought back to life. The sister, therefore, rubs the ointment on her brother’s back to protect them from any hardships in times to come.
The rubbing of the milk also signifies their umbilical connection and strengthens the love between a brother and sister.
The Snakes in Samudra Manthan
Another story says that when Lord Shiva drank the poison that came out of Samudra Manthan, some drops of the poison fell on the ground and were drunk by the snakes, making them deadly and poisonous. Thus, people worship snakes on this day to be spared from the wrath of these poisonous snakes.
The Snake with Lord Shiva
Everyone knows about the snake that adorns the neck of Lord Shiva. It has spiritual significance. The three coils around Shiva is the indication of past, present, and future. The five hooded snake surrounds the Shiva-lingam, which indicates the culmination and protection of the Yin and Yang energies, the materialistic and spiritual combination. (Symbols of Lord Shiva)
Activation of Root Chakra
According to Chakra science, the activation of kundalini or kundalini awakening is symbolized by a coiled serpent rising up from the root chakra, also known as the Muladhara chakra to the higher levels. When the Sadhak evolves spiritually, and as the spiritual energy rises up, it is said that snakes appear in their visions to indicate that they have progressed spiritually.
Kaal Sarp Dosh and Nag Panchami
The horoscopes generally in the grasp of Rahu and Ketu nodes are commonly known as the Kaal Shrap Dosha and have great importance on this day. Rahu is the head of the snake, while Ketu is the tail, and when the planets fall in between them, it is said that all of them are in the grip of the snake. During this time, the snake negates the impacts of other planets as their energies are imprisoned by the head and tail of the snake.
The astrologers say that if one offers a pair of snakes made of silver to Shivalingam, it can help reduce the effect of this dosha. It is said that Shiva is known for taking away poison from life, and doing so would be beneficial.
Anyone suffering from this Dosha does special prayers to Snake God and Shivalingam.
Performing Naga puja
While snakes, in general, are worshiped on this day, twelve snakes, in particular, are prayed to by people who follow the custom and tradition. Ananta, Vasuki, Shesha, Padma, Kambala, Karkotaka, Ashvatara, Dhritarashtra, Shankhapala, Kaliya, Takshaka, and Pingala are the twelve snakes mentioned in the Hindu scriptures.
Popular places where Nag Panchami is celebrated include Adiesha Temple in Andhra Pradesh, Nagaraja Temple in Kerala, Nagathamman Temple in Chennai, and Hardevja Temple in Jaipur.
In Ujjain, in the Mahakaleshwar Mandir, on the third floor resides the Nagchandreshwar Mahadev. On Nag Panchami, the doors to this deity are opened, followed by a huge celebration throughout the city.
In Nagpur, the people from the city undertake Nagdwar Yatra to Pachmarhi, which is considered quite a tough and arduous one.
In some regions of the country, milk is offered along with crystallized sugar, rice pudding (kheer). A special feature is of offering a lotus flower which is placed in a silver bowl. In front of this bowl, a rangoli (colored design pattern) of the 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 Nepal, earthen representations of snakes are made, and prayers are performed on them. Some even offer milk to live snakes to get their blessings. 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.
In Jainism and Buddhism snake is regarded as a sacred creature with divine qualities. Some ancient texts say that a Cobra snake saved the life of Buddha and the Jain Muni Parshwanath.
Benefits of Worshipping the Snakes
It is said that praying the snakes removes fears in life and brings good health, wealth, peace, and prosperity in life. It is an auspicious day to meditate on the Muladhara chakra (first of 7 chakras), and it helps to achieve peace and happiness in life.
Mantra for the Naga Deity
नाग प्रीता भवन्ति शान्तिमाप्नोति बिअ विबोह्
सशन्ति लोक मा साध्य मोदते सस्थित समः||
Let all be blessed by the snake goddess, let everyone obtain peace, Let all live peacefully without any turbulence.
Om Nagkulaya Vidmahe Vishadantaya Dheemahi Tanno Sarpa Prachodayat
– Naga Gayatri Mantra(Last Updated On: August 13, 2021)