Moodubelle, 14 August 2010: Nāga Panchamī is a festival during which Hindu devotees all over India worship either images of or live Nagas (Cobras) on the fifth day (Panchami) of the month of Shravan that falls between August-September. This festival is known as Naga Panchami. It is believed that this is the time when invariably the snakes come out of their holes that get inundated with rain-water to seek shelter in gardens and many times in houses. Hence, these snakes pose a great danger to human beings. May be therefore, to appease the snakes, they have been worshiped on this day. Right from the times when mankind started acquiring some sort of culture, Sun and Snake have been invoked with prayers and ritual worship in most of the countries. In India even before the Vedic times, the tradition of snake-worship was in practice.
In ancient India, there lived a clan by the name of ‘Nagas’ whose culture was highly developed. The Indus Valley civilization of 3000 B.C. gives ample proof of the popularity of snake-worship amongst the Nagas, whose culture was fairly wide-spread in India even before the advent of the Aryans. After the Naga culture got incorporated into Hinduism, the Indo-Aryans themselves accepted many of the snake deities of the Nagas in their pantheon and some of them even enjoyed a pride of place in the Puranic Hinduism. The prominent Cobra snakes mentioned in the Puranas are Anant, Vasuki, Shesh, Padma, Kanwal, Karkotak, Kalia, Aswatar, Takshak, Sankhpal, Dhritarashtra and Pingal. Some historians state that these were not snakes but Naga Kings of various regions with immerse power.
It is an age-old religious belief that serpents are loved and blessed by Lord Shiv. May be therefore, he always wears them as ornamentation around his neck. Most of the festivals that fall in the month of Shravan are celebrated in honour of Lord Shiv, whose blessings are sought by devotees, and along with Lord Shiv, snakes are also worshiped. Particularly on the Naga Panchami day live cobras or their pictures are revered and religious rites are performed to seek their good will. To seek immunity from snake bites, they are bathed with milk, haldi-kumkum is sprinkled on their heads and milk and rice are offered as ‘naivedya’. The Brahmin who is called to do the religious ritual is given ‘dakshina’.
This reporter had an opportunity to visit some of the places of worship of the Naga deities known as ‘banas’ where a number of stone slabs with carved images of the Naga have been arranged in rows. The places this reporter visited include: the one near the Brahmalingeshwara temple in Devaragudde, another close by that belong to the descendants of the Ballal family usually known as the ‘Tirtha Ill’ (Lower House), another near the Umamaheshwari temple, Padubelle and the most popular at Kombadi near Nellikatte.
At all these places devotees have been coming right from early morning bringing their offerings such as rice, milk, coconuts, tender coconuts, bananas, turmeric powder (haldi), flowers, etc. The priests at every place were found arranging the offerings, cutting the tender coconuts and keeping in front of each slab with carved image of the Cobra and pouring the coconut water and milk on these images. Part of the offerings was returned to the devotees as ‘prasad’.
The Kombadi Shri Naga Brahmadi Panchadaivika Moolasthana, Nellikatte in Moodubelle is considered to be one of the largest and oldest of the Naga Moolashtanas. The panchadaivas at this place include Naga, Brahma, Nandikona, Rakteshwari and Kshetrapala. This reporter met the administrators of this famous Nagashtana: S.K. Salian-Honorary President, R.B. Palan-President and Sakendra Suvarna-Treassurer. According to S.K. Salian this place had been the centre of Naga worship for the Salian and Palan clans since around 600 years. Devotees in large numbers had started visiting this place since 8 am and will continue till around 4 pm by which more than 1000 Naga devotees would visit this place and do their offerings.