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Snakes of India .

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Frequently Asked Questions

First Online: November 01, 2000
Page Last Updated : May 09, 2017

Q Are there snake charmers in India?
A Yes. There are snake charmers all over India, who provide street side entertainment. The snakes are typically cobras (those with a hood and S mark; they are deadly poisonous). The charmer blows a horn (called Pungi) to which the snake seems to dance.

The snake charmers also exhibit other types of snakes like pythons, and sometimes arrange Snake Vs. Mongoose fights for the audience.

Q Why are snakes worshipped in India ?
A Snakes have a very important role in Indian mythologies and beliefs (you can see their depiction in this section at Kamat's Potpourri). 

Snakes are both feared and revered in India. There is a festival called Naga Panchami that is dedicated for the purpose.

Q Are the Indian snakes poisonous?
A There are both poisonous  as well as non-poisonous snakes in India; the viper, the krait, the cobra, and the king cobra have venom and are deadly.  The Indian children are taught to identify these snakes in the schools and also to provide first aid in the case of bites.

Q How does the snake charmer make the cobra dance?
A The snake charmer uses a blow horn to excite the cobra which opens its hood in its defense. The charmer then makes rhythmic, elegant motions with the horn, which is correspondingly followed by the hood of the cobra.

Interestingly, the cobra cannot hear the horn, and instead follows the motion of the horn. (so one could actually take a stick and move it rhythmically in front of the cobra and it would do the same!)

Q Why are cobras so fascinating?
A One must study the elegance and fiery lifestyles of cobras (biological name Naga naja) and king cobras (Naja hannah), to understand the royal and divine status attributed to this animal. The cobras lead an extremely strong family oriented life, with the males taking an unusually large role in the raising of the newborn. The king cobras can make love for hours together, making them among the most potent of the entire male-kind. The fearsome defense of the male cobra can scare away any animal and an venomous attack surely will kill the enemy.

The Indians attributed these qualities of the king cobras to a leader or emperor, and in India the cobra is given a royal status.

Q What are some of myths and stories involving snakes in India?
  • A cobra decorates the the beehive of Lord Shiva
  • A snake decorates the stomach of Shiva's son Ganapati 
  • Lord Vishnu uses a snake as a vehicle, bed and a sofa!
  • A large serpent was used to churn the ocean to produce ambrosia (Samudra Mathana)
  • Parikshit, a descendant of the Pandava kings was very afraid of the snakes and took great pains to avoid them. However, Takshaka the snake took the from of a worm in a fruit and killed the king. Parikshit's son  Janamejaya, then undertook a mass sacrifice of the snakes (Näga-Yajna) and wanted to eliminate all the snakes from the earth. At this juncture, the divine forces intervened and stopped the destruction of the species.
  • The Nagas are a tribe living prominently in the  State of Nagaland, in Eastern India. They are said be descendants of a Naga prince killed by Parikshit (see above).
  • When an evil serpent Kaliya troubled the village cows, Krishna tamed him and danced on his hood.
  • In ancient India, solar eclipse was believed to have been caused by the snakes.

Snakes in Indian Society
Snakes of India

Nagamandala, The Snake WebOfferings Made to the Snake DeitySnakes and GarudaSnake charmer from a medieval sculpture
Ancient Indian Sculpture Shows Mating Snake CoupleNaga-Nagini - The Snakes in EmbraceThe Snake Charmer and his PetA Seven Hooded Cobra Shelters a Jina in Meditation
Boy Krishna Tames the Evil Serpent KaliyaThe Seven Hooded CobraLord Vishnu uses a snake as a vehicle, bed and a sofa!The Snake and the Charmer from a Puppet Show
A street side snake charmer dances his cobraStamps Featuring the Snakes of IndiaMan Blowing the Horn Nagaswaram


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