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Naga – The Snake God.

Being a citizen of India, I admire people’s belief and superstitions. They have their own stories to talk about. Like today i.e. 25th July 2020, is celebrated as Nag Panchami.

Normally in India, Hindus celebrate it as a day of traditional worship of Nagas or Snakes. Mainly, Indians believe that the worship must be offered on the fifth day of lunar month i.e. July or August, according to the Hindu calendar.

They make a Naga or serpent deity of either silver, stone, wood, or LIVE snakes (mainly, cobra) and is given a venerating bath with milk and they consider their blessings bring fortune to the family.

A milk bath to cobra. Image Courtesy: Google.

Well! This was about the belief of Nag Panchami all over India. If I start digging about each states, I believe we will receive tons of stories relating to traditional certitude. Apparently, I have not travelled much around the country yet, but my own hometown has too many stories to share with you all. In one of my blog, I have written about a belief that Tulu Nadu community have on Bhuta Kola (https://misstravelbuff.com/2016/06/21/a-belief-bhuta-kola-part-1/). Let me take you guys again, to the credence among Tulu Nadu community have on Nagas (snakes).

Before I start, allow me to give you a small introduction about my community.

Tulu Nadu Community

TULU NADU is a region in Karnataka which is on the southwestern coast of India. We speak a Dravidian Language called TULU, hence known as Tulu or Tuluva people. Mangalore – my birth place, is considered as the heart of a multi-linguistic cultural city and also the homeland of the Tulu-speaking people.

From childhood, I have been blindly worshipping Nagas irrespective to know the reason? But when I grew up I gave it a thought, it is as same as, in generally we call it a reptile, so why there is a need to worship them?

While, I was jotting down for this blog, out of curiosity I asked my mother, “Why are we so devotional towards Naga?”

I knew, I belonged to one of the Tulu-speaking caste called Bunts. But to my surprise, she told me that “Bunts are claimed as Nagavanshi Kshatriyas“. I was like “pardon me”?

Ok! I did consider ‘kshatriya’ which is commonly known in India as the warrior community. But what is Nagavanshi? I had never heard about that word in my entire life until that day. Looking at my confused face, she smiled at me and said ” Nagavanshi- Naga means serpent and Vanshi means dynasty, in short, we are that warrior community who belong to the dynasty of the Nagas”.

Oh Yes! Even I was literally surprised like you are right now.

Hahaha! That’s what it is about being an Indian, they are full of surprises and keep surprising their own kind! 😀

Well! Let me take you to the small tour of Tuluva people’s Naga World.

Naga Worship

Since childhood, I have been participating in my parents ancestral house and temples. Both of them hold their own clans. The Nagabana (the Serpent Shrine) is one of the important element of the “House of Prestige”. It is a demarcated area which is at the distance away from the house where the Naga is worshipped and is identified by a cluster of trees.

Nagabana at my mother’s ancestral house in Shirva Nadibettu.

A stone carved hooded cobra symbolises the deity. Milk, turmeric, flowers and other offerings are made to please the deity. Like the other people all over India, even the Tulunadu’s look upon the snake god with awe and fear and offer worship with the belief that it would bestow its blessings on them.

I had attended many rituals of worshipping snakes but the only common name I was aware about was Naga Mandala. Whilst, today was a fortunate day to write the blog about this topic. I wondered to call my aunt who stays in Mangalore and ask a little bit more information that I was not aware about.

So according to her, there is a term called Nagaradhane, which means it is the unique form of snake worship, practised by Tuluva community members. She also said, it is believed that snakes must not just be seen as deities, but also should be respected, appeased and protected for multiple social, religious and ecological reasons.

I certainly agree, not only snakes but every possible creatures must be acknowledged in this planet.

She further told me, there are many rituals performed in reverence to the snake; some of them are Aashleshabali, Nagamandala, and many more, these all are sub divisions of Nagaradhane. I will give you a small gist about Aashleshabali because I had personally attended it and I was not much aware about the term but thankfully I had captured pictures, so it gave me a clear vision, and later, will give you a brief on my main topic for this blog i.e. Nagamandala.

As per vedic astrology, the 27th star is known as Ashlesha Nakshatra and on that day this ritual called “Aashleshabali” is performed. It’s quite simple if we break that word into two- Aashlesha means 27th star and Bali means food offering. So, if we put that together, it means offering food to the Serpent Deities with combination of Puja (worship) and Homa (votive ritual). This is one of the unique ritual to appease the snake god.

With that, I just hope you are ready to get into more fun visuals because Nagamandala is an interesting topic to talk about; not only verbally but to watch it physically. 😉

Nagamandala

Tulu Nadu’s variety of folk dance form always fascinated me tremendously, because they are very uncommon to find in other places around the world. The way we worship snakes, popularly known as Nagamandala, which is completely different and unique to be seen in India.

Nagamandala- ‘Naga’ means Cobra snake or serpent and ‘Mandala’ means the traditional design of a big serpent on the ground. It is very appealing to see this colourful Mandala drawn on the ground. Tuluvas celebrate ‘Nagamandala’ to remove the curse inflicted on humans. They also pray for the sake of having children or for the future progress and prosperity or to get cured by the disease like Leprosy.

NagaMandala. Image courtesy: Google.

I have seen two types of Nagamandala- one which is performed in grandeur every year with big mandalas drawn with natural colours on the sacred ground and the whole village participates in the celebration either directly or indirectly. And another one, is a smaller version of Nagamandala, known as Dakkebali celebration, which is held once in every two years, for some villages who can not celebrate in majestically.  

The beauty of such an event is that it fulfils the religious faith giving an artistic look with ‘Snake Dance’ followed in coastal Karnataka & Kerala.

Naga Paatri and Nagakannika

Nagamandala depicts the divine union of male and female snakes. It is generally performed by two priests. The first priest, called Naga Paatri, who is the male snake and the second priest, called Nagakannika/ Ardhanaari or the female snake.

Normally, it starts with an elaborate reverential rituals where Naga Paatri intake some amount of holy water, untie his hair and inhales the areca flower and becomes the male snake. He starts performing the dance to the tunes of a traditional drum namely ‘Dakke’, played by the female snake. The ‘Paatri’ gets possessed with the serpent God by dancing artistically to the tunes of ‘Dakke’ around the ‘Mandala’ holding Areca flowers in his hands.

Sometimes, he rubs those Areca flowers all over his face. And it is quite different kind of experience to see a snake worship like this. And due to the excessive engrossment, sometimes I start visualising the Naga Paatri as a real snake God.

Hahaha! I know it’s quite funny, but often it happened with me.

So, they dance and swings around that elaborated mandala which begins at night and continues till dawn. Sometimes, they also hold fired wooden sticks and point it towards several directions and then skywards.

People from all walks of life come to see this unique celebration. This dance continues till both Naga Paatri and Nagakannika gets united.

It is believed that the serpent God answers to the question through ‘Paatri’ and help the people to seek solutions to their problems. This session of the event when questions are asked is typically called ‘Prashne’ which in Kannada language means “Question”.

Dakkebali and Nagamandala celebration totally indicates a divine union of male and female Serpents. This is believed to make these snake gods happy and shower blessings to the people who conduct it.

During ‘Naga Mandala’ if any of the attendees goes back to their places with some kind of dissatisfaction over the event, then the entire event is believed to be fruitless for those people. At the end, the entire decoration is pulled down and everything on it, including tender coconut, flowers, fruits are offered to all the crowded devotees.

Well, to conclude, this is what we all Tulunadu’s have been grown up watching and believing the traditional rituals performed, since 13th century till now.

As a Tuluva, I would definitely suggest you to be part of this ritual, I can assure you it will be a beautiful experience altogether.

Till then Stay Tuned… Thanks for reading .. I hope you enjoyed it ! (:

And Happy Nag Panchami to each one of you!

8 Comments »

  1. Wonderful dear!! 😇👏👏Can definitely see the extensive effort u have put up!! Keep going🥳🥳🥳

  2. Wow! I think I learnt a lot reading this. Love the research you have done to bring all this information together.

  3. Very nicely explained and something new to know about the culture .. I wish one day I will watch this Naga Mandala event … thanks for sharing and keep it up … ✌🏻👌🏻👍🏻

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