Nag Panchami is one of the most important Hindu festival held during the holy month of Shravan and is celebrated by millions of Hindus worldwide. Shukla Paksha Panchami during Sawan month is observed as Nag Panchami. Nag Panchami is the holy day to worship snakes or Nag Devta. Serpent God Aadi Sesha is the presiding Deity for Panchami thithi. It is a festival celebrated every year in honour of Snakes. It is considered as highly auspicious and sacred to worship the Serpent God on these days.
It is said to be the day Lord Brahma gave a boon to Serpents that they would get adored by human beings on the Earth. It was on this day of Naga Panchami, King Janamejaya stopped his Sarpa Yaga and a new lease of life was given to the Serpents.
Generally we find people getting scared at the sight of a snake, but in reality serpents have become a part and parcel of our Hindu religion and culture. They have acquired a prominent place in Hindu Puranas. Among the snakes, Cobra is considered as Serpent God (Naga Devata) and Nagaaradhana (Snake worship) is one of the accepted sattsampradaya in Hindu religion since yore. There is a separate world for snakes known as Naga Loka among the nether worlds.
Among the serpent Gods, Anantha (Aadi Sesha) and Vasuki are in the forefront. We find many puranic legends associated with Serpents and their worship. Symbolism of several Deities is associated with Serpents. For example… the seat on which Lord Vishnu rests (Anantha Sayana) in his abode Sri Vaikunta is nothing but Aadi Sesha the serpent God.
Lord Shiva’s neck is adored by a serpent. Lord Ganesha is depicted as wearing Naga Yagnopaveetham. Lord Subramanya is also worshiped in the form of Snake.
We find Lord Venkateshwara at Tirumala wearing Naagabharana on his shoulders. Tirumala the abode of Lord Venkateshwara is also known as Seshachala named after the Serpent God Aadi Sesha. From a distance the seven hills appears in a serpentine form.
During Ksheera Sagara Madhanam, Vasuki the Serpent God was used as a rope for churning the ocean.
Lord Sri Krishna says in Sri Bhagavad Geeta (Chapter # 10 sloka 28 & 29) that He is Anantha among the Naga Sect and Vasuki among the Serpents.
In Tretha Yuga during Sri Rama Avatara, Aadi Sesha took the form of Lakshmana, Lord Sri Rama’s younger brother and in Dwapara Yuga during Sri Krishna Avatara he took the form of Balarama the elder brother of Lord Sri Krishna. Arjuna of Mahabharata fame married a Naga Kanya called Uloochi.
Naga Devata is one of the nine presiding Deities of Yagnopaveetham who is also offered prayer before wearing it.
Prominent Madhva Saints, Sri JayaTheertharu (TeekaRayaru) is considered as the Aavesha of Lord Aadi Sesha.
We find in the life history of Saint Sri Raghavendra Swamy having worshiped Naga Devata by offering daily milk during his 13 years of stay in the house of Sri Appanacharya at Bichhali near Mantralayam. As per legend, in the backyard of Sri Appanacharya’s house there was a snake bill where a king Cobra used to reside in it. Sri Raghavendra Swamy during his stay at Bhikshalaya was regularly offering milk to the serpent (Aadi Sesha) after his daily pooja/rituals and the serpent used come and drink the milk. When Sri Raayaru decided to move to Manchali he had taken a decision to dismantle the snake bill. Accordingly when it was dismantled an idol of snake appeared in its place which is being worshiped currently.
A snake-bill is considered as a temple of Serpent God and in some places snake idols are installed under the shade of Banyan Tree. At some other places we find exclusive temples erected for Naga Devata worship. In some families especially in South India, we find exclusive private temples of Naga Devatha are erected by the family members and they conduct annual festival in its honour.
Naga is also a household name among Hindus and we find people calling their children with the name of Nagadevata. People perform Nagaaradhana and worship Naga Devatha for the welfare and wellbeing of their family and children and for taking forward their family lineage. It is strongly believed and said that for those who are childless, Naga Devatha Pratishta and Nagaaradhana with proper Anusandhana bestows them with progeny.
Although there are several serpent Gods, following twelve are worshipped during Nag Panchami Puja :
On Nag Panchami prayers are offered at Naga temples, sacred places with idols of Nagas and at anthills. Almost all villages in India have a sacred place for snakes with a small grove and numerous idols of the Nagas. Prayers are also offered at the shrines of Shiva. In West Bengal and Orissa, Mansa, the queen of serpents, is worshipped on this day.
In some places, people fast from sunrise to sunset. It is a partial fast and they eat food without salt. Deep-fried things are avoided on the day. Some people only consume food after sunset. In some regions, peoplemake it a point to have an oil bath on the day. Unmarried women believe that praying to the Nagas will help them in getting good husbands.
In rural India and in many houses in towns, two images of snakes are drawn on doors using cow dung or rice or turmeric paste. In some places people draw a five-headed snake. Snake kolams are drawn on this day in South India. This is to welcome the Nag Raja.
In some regions, an idol of five-hooded snake is made using mud, turmeric, sandal and saffron.
Special pujas are performed at the anthill, which is found extensively in rural India. Milk, betel leaf, betel nut, tender coconuts, turmeric powder, puffed paddy, jaggery, flower bunches and tender leaves of palm and areca trees are offered. Maharashtra is famous for Nag Panchami as people here feed snakes with milk. In most places snake charmers arrive with snakes on the day. Certain villages in Maharashtra are known to feed milk to poisonous snake.
Forcibly feeding snakes should not be encouraged. Battis Shirala, in Maharashtra, is notorious for this. Battis Shirala Nag Panchami procession has invited the wrath of general public for the crude handling of snakes.
Famous Naga Kshethras
There are several pilgrim centers considered as Naga Kshethras. Some of the famous and ancient Naga Kshethras associated with puranic legends are:
Sri Kukke Subramanya (South Canara in Karnataka State)
Sri Kshethra Kudupu (near Mangalore)
Ghaati Subramanya (near Doddabalapur in Karnataka)
Thirunageswaram (near Kumbhakonam) & Nagerkoil (in Tamil Nadu)
Manasa Devi temple (in Hardwar in Uttar Pradesh)
Nageshwar Jyothirlinga Kshetra (near Dwaraka)
Apart from the above, there are six Subramanya Kshethras in Tamil Nadu viz. Thiruttani, Palani, Tiruchendur, Tirupparakundram, Swami Malai and Pazamudhircholai which are also worshiped as Naga Kshethras.
People from all walks of life in Hindu religion participate in this festival with full faith and religious fervor. During the festival we find people worshiping Snake God by symbolically drawing the picture of a snake on both sides of the outer wall of their houses. They visit a Snake bill and offer cow milk, and preparations made with Thila Seeds, Jaggery, and Rice as offerings to the Snake God. They also bring Mrittika (sacred mud) from the snake bill and apply the same on their body with a belief that it will help in getting rid of health aberrations.
Those who cannot visit a Snake bill we find them worshiping the snake God at home by performing abhisheka with cow milk to a silver idol of a snake and offer their prayers with Shodasa Upachara Pooja. There is also a custom to observe fast on the day of Naga Chaturthi and break the same on the next day after offering prayers to Naga Devata once again. On the day of Naga Chaturthi/Panchami digging of soil, ploughing of the field and cutting of trees is forbidden.
Time and again through its medium of festivals, Hindu philosophy put across the human race to live in tandem and harmony with the nature and its species. Perhaps this is the message the festival of Naga Panchami conveys.
Ananthananthadevesha Anantha Phaladayaka!
Anantharoopi Viswathman Ananthaaya Namo Namaha!!