Why Do Hindus Offer Milk to Snake?
“Why Hindus offer milk to snakes? Don’t they have basic minimum knowledge that snake won’t drink milk? Why do they worship such venomous reptiles as God?” a question from Martha Beth from London.
We were chatting further to her greetings on Christmas, when she asked this question. She has been following my articles for quite some time. I gave her my phone number and we talked about it.
“Yes Martha, some Hindus do that. And, yes, snakes do not generally drink milk. Snakes are cold blooded and carnivorous animals, whereas milk is often consumed by the mammals.”
“Not only that – I have seen even fake YouTube video showing that a snake drinking milk…” she replied.
“It may not be fake,” I said.
“Aha- you are blind-folded like those stupid believers Uday? I had imagined that your views are scientific and logical on Hinduism…Even you believe in such things?”
“I don’t mix up beliefs with truth. But there is a chance that snake drinks milk in dire circumstances. To exploit believers, some snake charmers do not give any water or food to the snakes for many days before the auspicious day (Naga Panchami). So these snakes may drink the milk which is offered on this day to satisfy its hunger and thirst.”
“Oh, that’s it. That’s why you said the video may not be fake.”
“Yes. And even if we provide Coca-Cola or Pepsi for drinking, instead of milk, snake will drink it too. When dehydrated, snakes drink almost any fluid offered.”
“As you know Uday, the milk will not digest and the snake dies. It is highly condemnable.”
“Yes, it is deplorable. I have the right to blame it as I follow the path of non-violence and I am strictly against killing of any animals. But at what capacity you point fingers to it?”
“As a human being who is concerned about other living beings…”
“Appreciated. Now it is Xmas season, right? According to statistics 10 million Turkeys are being killed in UK alone. Why do you slaughter those innocent animals? Why don’t you question that in your country? Why are you selectively worried about few snakes dying in India…?”
“Ah…I got your point…But you people are wasting milk, can’t you feed poor kids with that milk?”
“More than sixty million pine trees are cut down in Europe alone, only to be thrown away in few weeks, what’s your opinion about it?”
“It’s part of a great tradition…”
“This is also just a tradition among some believers. The milk that is poured in all of India is not even a drop to what India produces yearly. India is the largest milk producer on earth producing over 140 million tons of milk.”
“You are justifying wrong things by comparing with that of ours…”
“No, the point is that everywhere human beings do injustice to nature and fellow beings. When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you….Such things should be stopped everywhere. We shouldn’t be selective in condemning wrong things…”
“Hmm…I agree with you. Do your Hindu scriptures instruct you that you should provide milk to snake…?”
“Not at all. To best of my knowledge no scripture tell you to feed snake with milk. However, Varaha Purana suggests to bathe the images of Naga (=cobra) in milk on Naga Panchami but it doesn’t mention anything about feeding milk to snakes.”
“Even bathing the idols in the milk are superstitious…”
“It’s a Hindu tradition. We call it Abhisheka – the conceptual meaning is related to purification or cleansing. Pouring milk on all vigrahas and images of deities in carved stone is part of that tradition…”
“Why can’t you use plain water for pouring in the idols then?” Martha asked.
“Of course, they do it first. Water helps in cleaning surfaces. But water won’t help moisten a surface as dry as stone. So, butter and milk were also used during these rituals to wash the idol. Oils from these substances stuck to the crevices in the statue and ensured that they are moistened and softened, thus preventing the statue from cracking further or breaking.”
“Hmm…It is typical of you. Even your way of chatting is very similar to your articles…You will find logic in any bloody Hindu traditions. Please don’t take the word bloody in negative meaning…”Martha laughed.
“Not at all. As a Hindu I always welcome creative criticism. Every Hindu must be prepared to explain his/her tradition. If he/she doesn’t understand, what’s the point in folloing it?”
“Now you tell me, if it is not mentioned in your scriptures, how did it start? There should be a reason behind any traditions or rituals like?”
“There could be multiple reasons. Agriculture began by 9000 BCE with cultivation of plants, and domestication of crops and animals in ancient Bharat. The day of Naga Panchami comes during the rainy season when farmers go to fields. It’s also the time snakes come out to get food. So, experienced farmers developed ideas to put some milk and jaggery (in some places dal and eggs too) near anthills (abode of snakes) – usually they keep stone idols of snakes too in such area – to attract insects, frogs, rats and other small animals. We know milk will attract rodents and other creatures which will be a good source of food for hungry elderly snakes. Thus they make sure that snakes get enough food and won’t come out to the fields. I guess it could be one reason behind the tradition…”
“Ah, you have a point here. But that won’t prevent snakes for long. The snake will populate and create problems, right?” Martha asked.
“Hmmm. Our ancestors developed veterinary medicine and studied about the animal kingdom thoroughly by observing them. We have treatise on veterinary science such as Shalihotra Samhita, Gautam Samhita, Ashva Ayurveda, Hastya Ayurveda, Asvaprasnsa, Asvalaksana Sastram and Visha Vaidyam (treatments for poisonous bites). Ancient Indian sages who wrote such scriptures found that Reptiles smell using the tip of their tongue, and a forked tongue allows them to sense from which direction a smell is coming…”
“What are you going to say?”
“I am just saying that they might have learnt about reproductive methods of snakes too…”
“The right to kill an organism is not there for the followers of Sanatan Dharma in those days. So they tried to control snakes’ reproductive capacity. According to science, snakes use a kind of chemoreception system to attract its mate. Snakes used to secrete a chemical substance from its body. I don’t know its chemical name. It is some sort of aroma (bromine). The chemicals in the scent or trailing marks are used by opposite sex to detect areas that are scent marked by preferred potential mates. By pouring milk and egg on the body of the snake or its trailing won’t produce enough scent to attract its counterpart as the odour of the egg and milk will be overlapped. Thus the mating is reduced and so the population.”
“That’s very clever. But are there any references about it?”
“I do not know. This is just a hunch. There are lot of rituals based on superstitions crawled into practicing Hinduism today…”
“But is it a good tradition?”
“It is not a tradition that is relevant in the 21st century. This tradition seems totally unnecessary but the practice is still being followed by many people, and apparently beliefs triumphs over logic! Coming to that which tradition of which religion is relevant in 21st century?”
“But snakes have special position in Hindu religion, right?”
“Yes. Lord Vishnu is sleeping on a great serpent (SheshNaga). Lord Shiva having ornaments of snakes. Tantric cults believe that Kundalini Shakti is dormant and coiled up like a snake.”
“That’s why Hindus worship snakes…”
“Technically speaking, No Hindu worships an animal, but the divine energy spark in it. A section of Hindus worship Nagas, but not all snakes. In Sanskrit, ‘Naga’ is a cobra. The word ‘Sarpá’ is used for snakes in general.”
“So, you agree that Snakes have a special position in Hinduism…”
“Why not? We have studied in school that a part of Human brain is reptilian in nature. This reptilian brain is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up, and fornication. It also is responsible for certain human behaviour and emotions like dominance, aggression, rigidity, fear which are primarily reptilian in nature. We do not know if our brain memory communicates with that of Snakes since all of us are coming from the same DNA. There have been no studies. I wish if someone should study this subject…”
“Hmm. But you wouldn’t want to mix up science with beliefs…”
“Of course not. For me, belief is something I follow and I would follow it even if it is not scientific, as it forms a part of my tradition. As long as my traditions do not hurt anybody I can follow it…”I said.
“The fact is that there is no difference in any religions when it comes traditions without any logic or rational. In fact, it is very less in Hinduism compared to most of other religions.”
“I know that. Indians do not have even 10% of superstitions that Communist rationalist China has,” Martha said.
Snake worship is no way different from worshipping any God with form or formless. If you can believe that God is hiding behind those clouds, there is nothing wrong in believing God inside the snakes too. Worship comes out of belief. All beliefs have same emotional frequency. We can’t say anyone’s belief is superior or inferior to anybody else. Let all beliefs co-exist. Let’s don’t ridicule other’s beliefs. At least let us understand that Belief is not truth. (Please also check http://udaypai.in/snake-worship-and-other-idiotic-superstitions/)
Tailpiece: A man told me that he is facing Sarpa Dosha (curse of snake) as he killed a snake in his childhood. I told him it is good that there is no mosquito dosha. You might have killed thousands of them!
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