Indian Customs: The Cult Of The Snake

Snake worship is an ancient and widespread religious practice in Indian customs. The cobra is associated with the lingam the emblem of lord Siva who is an Indian god.

Snake worshipping is an ancient religious practice in India. On Nagapanchami Day, the day of the serpent festival, people offer eggs and milk to snakes. This festival is celebrated by many Indians. On this day, the people worship snake gods with flowers, milk and eggs in front of their idols in temples.

In Karnataka, villagers even go to worship the termite mounds where cobras are believed to be residing. In Bengal some people wrap snakes around their bodies and march along the seashore. In Bihar people roam about in boats in the rivers and with the image of Behra, a young bride whose piety saved her husband from death by snake bite. In Bihar, the Santhal tribes christen their young girls as "˜Visha kanya' meaning girls with poison. They carry on their necks an ampoule of snake venom and a nail to forstall any attack on her by miscreants. Seals bearing snake symbols can be found in the ancient sites of Harappa and Mohanjodaro. The Jain temples of Rajasthan and Gujarath depict Lord Mahavira performing penance with serpents gliding over his body.

Innumerable shrines containing images of the snake king Vasuki bear eloquent testimony to the influence of serpent on the social and spiritual fabric of India.

In Hindu mythology we come across several episodes centering on snakes. When the ocean of milk was churned for the recovery of ambrosia, snake king Vasuki served as a rope and was tied around Meru mountain. The poison "˜Kalakuta,' which emerged from the ocean, was about to pollute the whole universe. But lord Shiva consumed the poison emitted by the serpent to prevent the destruction of the earth. Due to the strength of poison his throat became dark blue in colour. For this reason Shiva got another name: Neela kandha ( Blue Throat).

Snake worship is widely spread all over the world. The ancient Greeks worshipped the sun and snakes. The kings of ancient Egypt had images of a Cobra and a vulture on their crowns. In Tibet there is a belief that the rivers and lakes are abodes of snake gods and that their king "˜Lu' lives in a crystal palace at the bottom of a lake.

Cobras are poisonous snakes but they will protect harvests from the attack of rats, rodents and by eating


In Shetphal, a village in Sholapur district in Masharashtra, the houses have a resting place for a live cobra in a raft in the ceiling. A copper image of sevenhooded cobra over a Shiva idol also adorns a temple.

In a village called Moribund, nearly twenty kilometers away from Delhi, there are many snake charmers and their families. They have a sort of a snake charming university, and they also have a union called All India Snake Charmers Association.

In Kerala there are many temples exclusively for snakes. The main temples are Pampummaikatu and Mannarsala. On the day of star Ayilliam [Cancer] people usually offer eggs and milk for the snakes for obtaining their blessings. In Pappinissery in Kannur district in Kerala there is a beautiful snake park. One can see different varieties of snakes there.

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