The Story Behind Nag Panchmi

The Story Behind Nag Panchmi


Nag Panchami is a festival when snakes are worshipped in hopes of protection from them. One reason goes back to the days of the Mahabharata. A king wanted to avenge his father's death, who died of a snake bite. Another story suggests a farmer accidently killed a baby snake, so the mommy-snake killed the farmer's family. A more scientific reason suggests the timing of this holiday coincides with the rainy season in India, when snakes are forced to leave their homes due to floods.

Once upon a time, there was a King Janamejaya.

Do you know his relation to the Pandav brothers?

Decades after the Pandavs won the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna's great-grandson, Janamejaya, eventually inherited the throne.

But do you know what circumstances led to Janamejaya ascending to the throne?

King Janamejaya wanted to avenge his father's death, who was cursed to die of a snakebite.

Do you know why he was bit?

When Parikshit's grandfather, Arjuna and his four brothers (the Pandavs) were given barren land to rule over, it turns out the town wasn't so... bare, after all. The land was occupied by snakes, so they were not happy with these uninvited visitors suddenly trying to colonize the space.

Takshaka, the head of the snakes, ordered his troops to attack the Pandavas army, so Arjuna retaliated by setting the entire land -- and thus, the snakes, ablaze.

In turn, Takshaka vowed to kill one of the Pandavs' heirs.So, going back to Janamejaya.

He was told he should take revenge on Takshaka for killing his father.

I guess he was more of an "all or nothing" kinda guy so he decided to purge the world of all snakes. With the help of some priests, he organized a Sarpa Satra (a sacrificial fire), to lure the snakes out of their holes and literally slither their way into the fire.

I know.

This went on for days.
But Takshaka was still nowhere to be found... until a super powerful mantra was recited to lure him out.

Just as he was about to fall into the fire, along came a young sage named Astika. Do you know who he is?

Astika, being the voice of reason, said to Janamejaya:

"OK, you made your point. Haven't you killed enough snakes? Wouldn't you rather be celebrated as the king who spared the snakes from dying?"

Janamejaya conceded and ended the horrific act.Thus, the Nag Panchmi holiday -- coming up on July 25th this year -- which is still celebrated by many in India and abroad, is rooted in this story. (As always, there are other versions).

Those who honor it, worship snakes, give it milk and honey, all in hopes of immunity from getting bitten.

Yep, you read that right.

During my research for this week's #TT, I came across one plausible "scientific" explanation for this practice: 

Nag Panchami falls in July/August, which is the start of the rainy season in many parts of India. This is when snakes leave their holes in the flooded fields and jungles and well... have one too many run-ins with mankind (especially farmers while harvesting). It's probably no coincidence that snake-bite related deaths increase during this time. So naturally, the only way of obtaining immunity from snakebite is by praying to Manasa, the goddess of snakes.