History of Nag Panchami

Sarpa Satra, the snake sacrifice where Astika, young Brahmin stops the yagna.

Nag Panchami is a traditional and auspicious Hindu festival that is celebrated every year on the fifth day of Shukla Paksha of Sawan. Hindus celebrate it in reverence of the Nag Devtas (snakes or serpents).

History of Nag Panchami

Indian scriptures such as Skanda Purana, Agni Purana, Narada Purana, and the Mahabharata give particulars of the history of snakes.

In Mahabharata, Janamejaya, the son of Raja Parikshita of the Kuru dynasty, performed a snake sacrifice called Sarpa Satra to avenge his father’s death from a snake bite by the snake king called Takshaka. A sacrificial fireplace had been specially constructed, and the fire sacrifice to kill all snakes in the world was lighted by a gathering of learned Brahmin sages. The sacrifice administered in the presence of Janamejaya was so strong that it was causing all snakes to sink into the Yagna Kunda (sacrificial fire pit). When the priests found that only Takshaka, who had killed and bitten Parisksihita, had disappeared to the world of Indra seeking his protection, the sages raised the tempo of reciting the spells (mantras) to haul Takshaka and also Indra to the sacrificial fire. Takshaka had curled himself around Indra’s cot, but the force of the yagna was so potent that even Indra, along with Takshaka, was dragged towards the fire. This alarmed the gods, who then appealed to Manasadevi to interrupt and resolve the crisis. She then requested her son Astika to go to the site of the yagna and appeal to Janamejaya to stop the Sarpa Satra yagna. Astika requested Janamejaya to halt the Sarpa Satra.

Priests then stopped the yagna, and thus the life of Takshaka and Indra and his other serpent species were spared. This day, according to the Hindu Calendar, happened to be Nadivardhini Panchami (fifth day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Shravana during the monsoon season), and since then, the day is a festival day of the Nagas as their life was spared on this day. Indra also went to Manasadevi and worshipped her. According to the Garuda Purana, offering prayers to the snake on this day is auspicious and will usher good tidings in one’s life.

Nag Panchami Regional traditions

On the day of Naga Panchami, Nagas, cobras, and snakes are worshiped with milk, sweets, flowers, lamps, and even sacrifices. Naga or serpent deities made of silver, stone, wood, or paintings on the wall are first bathed with water and milk and then worshiped with the following mantras reciting.

As it is believed that snakes have more powers than humans and on account of its association with Shiva, Devi, Vishnu, and Subramanya, a degree of fear is instilled, resulting in the deification of the cobra and its worship throughout the country by Hindus. In Central India, in Nagpur, Maharashtra State, snakes have a unique identity. The name of the city is derived from the word Naga which means snake, as the place was infested with snakes. This is a sub-temple located on the third floor of Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga temple in Ujjain. This shrine’s specialty is open only one day of the year on Nag Panchami day and remains shut on the rest of the year. The Murthy of Nagchandreshwar is unique, with Shiva and Parvati seated on ten hooded snakes surrounded by Nandhi Ganesha and other murthies.

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