Worshiping them to Death – Myths and Truth about Snakes
Let’s start by telling you this little anecdote about a girl and a snake. A woman asked a pundit to offer solutions that would help her daughter marry a handsome and wealthy boy. She was worried that her daughter’s squint would not fetch her a suitable partner. The priest dispensed some piece of “unique” advice to the woman.
He asked her to marry her daughter to a snake on the day of Nag Panchmi. The conventional belief rests on the fact that a snake is a powerful creature and a godly incarnation. The diamond (Nagmani) embedded in a snake’s forehead is believed to cure any disease, or defect miraculously.
The belief follows that if a young girl marries a snake on the day of Nag Panchmi, the snake will turn into a handsome young boy. So, the girl’s family trapped a snake, rendering it unconscious and solemnised the “marriage”. Can you guess what happened next?
Well, when the snake gained consciousness, it was stressed and scared. It therefore bit the girl in self-defence and slithered away. As bizarre as it gets, yet nothing surreal about the whole incident. It’s a matter of grave concern that even in today’s modern and contemporary world, snakes continue to be misunderstood and man-handled.
This Nag Panchmi, let’s probe into the popular myths that beset snakes till date, and are as false as beliefs like the chances of a snake transforming into a handsome boy.
Myth 1: Snakes Drink Milk
The prime belief to besiege snakes is that they drink milk. Following this belief people tend to offer milk to snakes on Nag Panchmi, a traditional festival celebrated in Hindu religion. The reason why snakes drink milk is out of dehydration and not as a miracle. Snakes are usually trapped for a month before the festival, are ill-treated and literally starved. For almost a month they survive on air and are barely offered any food and water. Thereafter, on Nag Panchmi when they are offered milk, the dehydrated and starved snakes just end up going for it.
Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles, and not mammals. Forcing them to consume milk is not a form of worship, rather pushing them to the vortex of death.
Myth 2: Snakes are Revengeful, and Can Hunt Their Victims To Death
Snakes are not revengeful. Neither do they have such sharp memories, or highly developed brains that will remind them of any past doing. The belief that they store the image of the person who hurt, even after decades in a bid to avenge them; is huge superstition created by the Bollywood fraternity.
Myth 3: Snakes can Hypnotize with the Diamond studded in their forehead
This is another popular misconception popularised by Bollywood and also written in some mythologies. It is believed that snakes have a priceless Nag Mani (diamond) studded in their forehead, that helps them hypnotise anyone. This might have a mythologically backing, but scientifically this is a complete myth. A lot of snakes get killed and tortured at the hands of such false believers.
Myth 4: Snakes Dislocate their Lower Jaws to Swallow
The process of swallowing has nothing to do with dislocation, rather attributed to flexibility. A snake’s lower jaw is split into two halves called “mandibles.” These mandibles are connected by a stretchy ligament. Therefore, when a snake swallows its prey, this stretchy ligament enables the mandibles to separate.
Myth 5: Venomous or Poisonous?
These two terms are not synonyms, although the general myth is to use them interchangeably.
Snakes are venomous, and venom is a toxin that is injected into the target though fangs. Whereas, poison is either eaten, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. It is very rare for a snake to be poisonous. According to biologists, the term venomous is applied to organisms that bite (or sting) to inject their toxins, whereas the term poisonous applies to organisms that unload toxins when you eat them.
This means that very few snakes are truly poisonous. The vast majority of snake toxins are transferred by bite.
Myth 6: Snakes Can Fly
Few people tend to believe that snakes can fly. Snakes can’t fly. A few of them can glide through the air by extending their ribs and pulling in the underside. Their free fall or gliding might appear as if they are flying. Let’s leave the flying business to birds!
Snakes have been worshipped for times immemorial, not only by the Hindus, but also by various other world communities. From Vasuki and Sheshnag in Hindu mythology, to the Egyptian Cobra Goddess, Wadjet, snakes have been part of various spiritual practises. Some cultures like Hindu worship snakes and continue to; while some associate them with evil, for instance the Serpent Satan in the Bible.
Unfortunately, the extreme worshipping, the primitive notions, or extreme aversion towards snakes, has made them victims of mistreatment and torture. Liberating ourselves from the misconceptions and conserving snakes, is the only way forward, for us to offer our reverence to this often misunderstood, stunning being.
Photographs by : Chinmay Deshpande | Vineeta Yadav | Vivek Sharma