NAGAPANCHAMI – TORTURE, IN THE NAME OF WORSHIP?
The above could just as well mean ‘Torture, in the name of worship!’
Wondering how? Ask snakes!
Or us at the ‘Friends of Snakes’ (FOSS), self-appointed mouth pieces of these fascinating beings.
Snakes have always been very much a part of Indian mythology and worship. Thanks to decades of baseless myths and the consequent fear shrouding these beings, they are subject to much misunderstanding and falsified beliefs.
One such belief is that offerings of milk and eggs to the Spectacled Cobra can redeem worshippers of their sins and bring them immense luck. Another predominantly associated myth (among others) is that these species of the snakes possess Nagamani, or a precious stone which is believed to have many magical properties.
So on the Hindu festival of Nagapanchami, offerings of milk and eggs are made in many households, to anthills in the hopes of appeasing the Nagadevatha and earning his/her blessings, little realizing that these anthills never or very rarely contain snakes in them.
While such practices may induce in the devout a feeling of well-being and contentment, a very extreme case of this is the offering of milk to a live Spectacled Cobra. The most basal logic begging to be realized in such demonstrations is the fact that snakes are reptiles and do not suckle their young ones. So the concept of ingesting milk is just as alien a concept to them, as is eating bricks to us humans.
Alas! All logic and elementary school learnings go for a toss in the name of blind beliefs and common hearsays on Nagapanchami, thereby translating to some ‘quick money’ to swindlers who hood-wink the ignorant masses by resorting to some very inhumane means to achieve their end. Here’s how-
About a month or a fortnight before Nagapanchami, Spectacled Cobras are caught by “Snake Charmers,” their fangs removed by inserting a hot rod and other such means, the bleeding mouths switched, and the writhing animal itself kept captive for several days together under very unhygienic and infectious conditions to go hungry and dehydrated.
On Nagapanchami’s day, these highly emaciated snakes are brought out among the devote masses. The hapless snake by then is so bereft of hydration and sapped of all energy that it is pushed into sipping from the milk being offered by unsuspecting believers, who pay the ‘Snake charmer’ handsomely for his/her services. A very pitiful point to be noted here is the fact that the snake is reduced to such a sorrowfully dehydrated state that it might just about sip any liquid – oil, Cola, and so on.
We beg to bring to your notice that milk is highly proteinaceous and constitutes as ‘whole food’ only for humans and other mammals. As already mentioned, a snake’s system was never programmed to digest or process milk, especially after such long periods of forced abstinence from its natural meal. Add to the fact that in their frenzy of paying obeisance to the gods, believers often adulterate this milk offering with sugar, camphor, vermillion, turmeric, and whatnots.
A snake’s nasal system is many times more sensitive than ours, and these additional ingredients when they enter its respiratory tract cause further inflammation of the already sore sites.
Consequently, the snake suffers tremendously – and not just from one infliction. So much that many of them succumb from the sheer pain and infection that spreads throughout and further from their mouth cavity, rendering them completely incapable of deriving their nutrition directly and miserably weak.
Snakes that die this way are perhaps from the luckier lot, for a more gruesome fate awaits their less luckier counterparts. If you, like us, think the treatment so far is inhumane, then that which might follow is one we bet was orchestrated by the devil himself! For the day come to an end and all their vasool ‘milked,’ these snakes are sold to have their skins ripped off them while they are still alive, to superior the quality of the finished product to illegal leather makers. That, or released back into the wild where it’s only a matter of time before they meet their most tortuous end, from all the puss, infection and complications arising from it.
Here’s where FOSS steps in, to save these hapless beings from having to pay with their lives so a few selfish individuals could make some easy dividends. Apart from actively educating people against such practices through our awareness programs, we work in close collaboration with the Forest department to curb and eradicate such inhumane means of ‘worship.’ On Nagapanchami’s day, FOSS members scout the cities starting from the wee hours in search of ‘Snake charmers’ to seize the emaciated Cobras from them and discourage them from indulging in such means, again.
The seized Cobras are then brought to our facility at Sainikpuri where they are rehabilitated, before being released back into the wild. This treatment takes anywhere from some weeks to several months, depending upon the severity of the case and infection penetration. The first step is to bathe these animals in luke warm water to cleanse them of the vermillion, turmeric, and other irritants that they are smeared with and remove their stitches with the aid of surgical means. The infectious cavities are cleaned and treated with betadine and other ointments as deemed fit. The snakes are then weighed to check for their body mass before proceeding to meet their nutritional requirements. As these animals are by no means in a state to fend for themselves, they are force-fed with a special diet which caters to their dietary requirements while they recuperate, with the means of a tube suction mechanism. Care needs to be taken that the ‘recipe’ is just right so it provides these parched beings with the required supplements without at once, overwhelming their system.
This exercise comprises of almost 10 people in its entirety, and requires the greater part of the day and a lot of care and meticulousness. ‘Job satisfaction,’ (if we can tag it the term that is) is perhaps never more evident than when these snakes gain in health and their body mass (as measured at every pre and post force-feeding session), redevelop their fangs (although there are cases where the fangs are permanently damaged), and regain their magnificence with time, and are ready to be relocated in the wild.
Thanks to these measures, with the Forest Department’s support, such incidences have greatly dwindled over the years with over hundreds of such Cobras seized some 10 years back to the less than hundred in the recent years. FOSS is constantly striving towards that day when such a practice will cease to be existent for good.
Spectacled Cobras are protected under Schedule II, Part II of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and their illegal possession or any cruelty towards them is an offence for which the perpetrator can be penalized with imprisonment. Moreover, such a spectacular being is best worshipped, not by subjecting it to such harrowing experiences but rather, by not interfering with its natural instincts and conserving it in its natural environs.
Here’s how you can pitch in – By spreading the word among your circles to abstain from such practices of worship to discourage snake charmers, and calling the Telangana Forest Department on 18004255364 or the Friends of Snakes Society helpline on 8374233366 in case of spotting snake charmers in your vicinity, or getting wind of any such activity. Rest assured, your call would be deeply appreciated, and quickly responded to.
Come, join us in our endeavors to promote true worship, for as the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson has quoted, ‘The happiest man is he who learns from nature, the lesson of worship.’ 🙂