Many animals are revered and celebrated in India for their cultural and religious significance. We pay our respects to the cow for their key role in agriculture during Maattu Pongal, and commemorate the elephant for its divine presence during Hastimangala. Likewise, a special day this week will commemorate the Nagas, or serpents, on August 14: Naga Panchami. Celebrated in West Bengal, Maharashtra, and South India on the fifth day of the fortnight in the month of Shravan, Naga Panchami commends the serpent for controlling the rat population in fields, and for playing a role in several divine tales from the scriptures. Since the festival falls in Shravan, people customarily don’t plough or sow the earth, for it is considered inauspicious and harmful to the snakes in the earth.
Worship of the nagas traces its roots back to the Indus Valley civilization in 3000 B.C. The Indo-Aryans were said to embrace the serpent into their culture, not to mention that the serpent also found a place in Hinduism from then onwards. Moreover, there are several representations of the snake in the Puranas and other religious tales. For example, the asuras and devas used Adisesha, the lord of the snakes, as a rope to tie around the Mandara Hill. Lord Shiva drapes the snake around his neck, Lord Vishnu is represented as sleeping on Adisesha, and it is said that Adisesha protected baby Krishna with his hood when Vasudeva took the baby to Brindavana. Indeed, given the active role it has played for eons, it is no surprise that people all over pay their obeisance to the serpent. Nagapattinam in southern India is named after the serpent god, while the Ajanta caves have several representations of the snake in carvings and sculptures.
In India, people who observe Naga Panchami, perform a pooja either to a snake pit, anthill, snake sculpture, or to snake molded out of mud. People also draw Nagabandha rangolis or rangolis of the five-headed Nagadevata, the lord of the serpents.
There are many Nagabandha rangoli patterns available in the ikolam website.
Here is a recent snake rangoli, drawn by Mrs.Rajam: http://www.ikolam.com/node/14331
The basic dot grid could be found at: http://www.ikolam.com/node/14381
Sandalwood and white lotuses are also commonly used to satisfy Nagadevata. As a form of prasadam, it is common for people to prepare kheer and black sesame ladoos. It should be noted that salty and fried items are strictly prohibited on this day. Moreover, in order to protect themselves from snake-bites and other evils, people also offer silver jewelry and milk to serpents. Although the serpent has been stereotyped as an intimidating creature with supernatural powers, this mood isn’t typically brought out on Naga Panchami. Rather, people enjoy themselves on swings outdoors and sing in praise of Nagadevata. Let us also revel in our worship of the mighty serpent on this day!