Nag Panchami is a Hindu festival celebrated in honor of snakes and serpents in the Hindu culture and mythology. The festival is observed on the fifth day, known as panchami, in the bright half or Shukla Paksha of the lunar month of Shravan as per the Hindu calendar. This usually falls sometime in July or August in the Gregorian calendar.
Nag Panchami holds great significance in Hinduism and there are many interesting myths and legends behind the origins of this festival. It is celebrated by worshipping snakes and offering prayers and milk to snake idols or anthills. Read on to learn more about the history, rituals, traditions and significance of Nag Panchami.
History and significance of Nag Panchami
Nag Panchami is an ancient festival that has been celebrated for centuries. Here are some of the stories behind the origins and significance of this Hindu festival:
Stories behind the origins of Nag Panchami
According to Hindu mythology, Nag Panchami started in honor of the serpent king Sheshnag who holds the earth in his hood. It is believed that on this day, snakes and serpents went to drink milk from the bowl of Lord Shiva. So on Nag Panchami, devotees offer milk to the snakes as a symbol of good luck and fortune.
Another legend says that Nag Panchami started when Lord Krishna defeated the poisonous snake Kaliya and danced on its hood. After this, Kaliya’s wives prayed to Krishna who then declared the day as Nag Panchami or ‘snake festival’.
Yet another story traces the origins of Nag Panchami to the Brahmin Kashyapa and his wife Kadru, who was the mother of all serpents. It is said that Kadru asked her children to help her win a bet against her co-wife Vinata. So out of gratitude, snakes are worshipped on this day.
Rituals and traditions of Nag Panchami
Nag Panchami rituals are focused on offering prayers and worship to snakes as they are considered relatives of Lord Shiva. People also worship snakes to appease the nagas or serpent gods.
The customs include fasting, feeding Brahmins, bathing snakes’ idols with milk, and offering milk and flowers to anthills where snakes are believed to reside. Women also draw colorful snake patterns using herbal powder and place images of snakes on these.
Celebrations during Nag Panchami
Nag Panchami is an auspicious day for snake worship. People wake up before sunrise, take bath, wear new clothes, and prepare for the prayers and rituals. Houses and neighborhoods are cleaned to welcome the snakes. Intricate rangolis and torans are made at home entrances. Wheat flour dough is shaped into snake images and offered to ant hills.
The dancing ritual of nagin dance is performed in some parts of India. People visit temples specially dedicated to snakes and offer milk, flowers, fruits, and naivedyam. Priests perform special poojas and recite mantras. In the evening, devotees break their fast after food is offered to Brahmins. The day ends with feasting and festivities.
How Nag Panchami is celebrated
Nag Panchami celebrations involve interesting rituals, customs and traditions focused around snake worship. Here are some of the common ways in which this Hindu festival is celebrated:
Fasting and feasting
Fasting or vrat is an significant ritual of Nag Panchami. Devotees wake up early, take bath, wear new clothes, and observe a fast where they abstain from food and even water until evening.
Foods eaten and avoided during the fast
People typically consume only fruits, milk, or vrat recipes made of sabudana, singhada or samak rice. Salt, grains, onions/garlic, nonvegetarian food, and alcohol are avoided.
Preparing the feast after fasting
In the evening, devotees break their fast once food is offered to Brahmins, cows or snakes. Elaborate feasts are prepared consisting of favorite regional dishes, sweets and savories.
Poojas and pujas
Intricate rituals and prayers are performed to show devotion towards the nagas.
Items used for the poojas
Milk, flowers, fruits, raw cotton yarn, sesame and green gram seeds, turmeric, kumkum, and incense sticks are offered during the pooja. Pictures or idols of snake gods like Sheshnag may also be used.
Mantras and prayers recited
The main mantras chanted during Nag Panchami pujas are the Nagayaksha Stotram, Nagarjuna Stotram, and Nagendraharaya Trilochanaya. Shanti path prayers are also recited for universal peace.
Visiting nag temples
Special temples dedicated to snake gods are popular places to visit on Nag Panchami.
Popular nag temples to visit
Some renowned nag temples are located at Hardevja in Jaipur, Nagaraja Temple in Kerala, Nagathamman Temple in Tamil Nadu, and Bhuvaneshwar’s Naga Keshari Temple.
Rituals performed at nag temples
Devotees bathe the idols with milk and offer flowers, lamp, fruits, coins, and naivedyam. Performing abhishekam, reciting mantras, and singing bhajans and aartis are also part of the rituals.
Regional celebrations and traditions
Nag Panchami is celebrated throughout India but with some regional differences in rituals and customs.
In south India, Nag Panchami is an elaborate affair celebrated with much fervor.
Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu
Married women decorate their front yards with rangolis and visit ant hills to offer puja.
Kerala celebrates Nag Panchami on a grand scale at temples like the famous Mannarasala Temple where thousands congregate to offer snake worship.
People visit nag temples, offer milk to snakes, and touch iron nails or tools as a protection from accidental snake bites.
In north India, people keep fasts and worship nag deities on Nag Panchami.
The Banagaja Temple in Bagpat district sees special aarti and offerings made to snake idols.
Bihar and Jharkhand
Sisters pray for their brothers’ health and prosperity on this day.
At the Hardevja Temple, devotees bathe the main nag idol in panchamrit and offer dhoop-deep.
Significance of snakes in Indian culture
Snakes hold a significant place in Hinduism right from ancient mythology to folk culture.
Snakes in Hindu mythology
Snakes are accorded divine reverence in Hindu texts and legends.
Prominent snake gods and goddesses
Sheshnag, Vasuki, Kaliya, Manasa, and Nagraj are some popular Hindu snake deities.
Snakes and legends associated with various gods
Lord Shiva wears snakes as ornaments. Lord Vishnu rests on Sheshnag. Lord Krishna danced on Kaliya’s hoods. These are just a few examples.
Snakes as symbols and in folklore
Nagas symbolize fertility, luck, protection, and eternity in Hindu iconography. Cobras are worshipped in various folk traditions as snake stones, anthills etc.
Nag Panchami holds an auspicious place in the Hindu calendar. The festival is a day to revere serpents who hold wisdom, eternity, and divinity in Indian culture. It brings people together in celebrating age-old customs of worshipping the mystical nagas and seeking their blessings. Nag Panchami reminds Hindus to respect all forms of life as sacred manifestations of the divine.