Naga Panchami, the Festival of Snakes

Naga Panchami, the Festival of Snakes

Posted Aug 16th, 2018 under Culture & Festivals, Photo Essay,

Any snake lover here? Never mind, you can simply be a curious kind and still get insights and enjoy “Naga Panchami”, one of the interesting festivals of Nepal.

A vendor selling the posters of “Nagas”

Nepali calendar is full of religiosity and festivities. If you are in Nepal, especially in Kathmandu; and stumble into one of the religious celebrations, that’s quite normal. That’s how things work in the Valley especially from August onwards. Out of this myriad festivals in Nepal, Naga Panchami, a unique festival dedicated to the Nagas, is one of them. Naga Panchami, a Hindu festival, falls on the fifth day of bright half of lunar month (Sukla Pakshya) of Shrawan (July/August). This year, it falls on 16th of August. Naga means Snake and Panchami means the fifth day tithi on which the festival falls. Every Nepali household that celebrates the festival pastes a picture of the Nagas at their main door using dubo (scientific name Cynodon dactylon) and cow dung to ward off evil spirits. People also visit Naga temples near to their place. During the puja, they offer milk or a white liquid made from rice paste, barley, black sesame, flowers, vermilion powder, incense etc. and ask blessings from the Nagas for their protection and prosperity.

Naga Panchami Celebration at Naga Pokhari, Kathmandu

Like any of the oldest religions of the world, Hinduism also has Snakes as one of the most recurring motifs. According to the Hindu myth, Snakes are the sons of Kasyap (Son of Brahma, the Creator) and Kadroo, one of his thirteen wives, making the Nagas sibling of Gods and Asuras, the demon race. They live in Patal Lok, the underworld, one of the seven worlds; protecting gems, gold and other treasures which Patal Lok is full of. Not only in Patal, they also live in water bodies like river, lake, spring etc. Lord Vishnu often reclines on serpent coils while resting in Cosmic Ocean, and Shiva wears Vashuki, the King of Nagas, around his neck. In a way, Hindu myths and iconography are  incomplete without the reference of Nagas either in abstract or concrete form.  

A local selling posters of “Nagas” at Ason

So, they have a special honorary order in Hindu pantheon, and are especially remembered as the giver of rain, wealth and protection from illnesses, which is why there is a special festival in their honor. There are many myths on the origin of this festival however. One of the popular tales relates the story from Mahabharat, one of the important epics of the Hindus. Once Janamejaya, the valiant Kuru king (the great grandson of Arjun, the epic warrior hero of Mahabharat), performed Sarpa Satra  Yagya to wipe out all snakes as a revenge of his father Parikshit’s death caused by the bite of Takshaha, the King of Nagas. However, the Yagya was stopped in middle due to the intervention and convincing of Astik, a young Brahmin, whose mother was a Naga. After that, Janamageya had a peaceful accord with them and all the snakes were let free. It was the same day, the fifth day of Sukla Pakshya, which is marked as the day for worshipping the Nagas. Another story from Mahabharat says that the festival has been started after Lord Krishna defeated Kalia Naag, who was terrorizing people.

Poster of “Naga” pasted at the main door

There are some local stories popular in the Valley as well. As per a myth, Kathmandu Valley was once a big lake and the abode of many Nagas. After the water was drained out for human habitation by Manjushree, one of the Boddhisatwas, the Nagas became angry because of their displacement. Then, humans offered them certain areas and started to worship to appease them, which continued as a tradition till date. There are many stories behind the celebration of this unique festival. Whatever the beliefs are, one truth is singular that Nagas are revered as a respectable companion and guardian in Hinduism, which actually makes a complete sense if we are talking about the harmony of our beautiful Earth with every species.   

Offerings for Puja: Milk, Incense sticks, Nag Poster, Barley, Black Sesame Seeds, Vermilion Powder, Kesari etc

   

 

 

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