Snake Worship and Other Idiotic Superstitions
Few months ago, my friend’s son, a teen ABCD (=American Born Confused Desi), came to visit me. He said: “Uncle, my grandparents are superstitious and pushy. My dada told me to listen to them. But they are talking utter non-sense and ridiculous things…”
“What’s it all about Arun?” I asked him.
“They want me to participate in Naga pooja (Snake worship) at the Sarpa Kavu smile emoticon also known as nagabana, nagamoola Sthana, Sarpa pūjā sthāna; it’s a small abode or shrine dedicated to the serpent (snake) god). They believe in all those absurd things like – snakes drink milk, snakes will listen and sway according to the tune of the pulluvan paattu (naavur paattu = traditional song to worship snake gods), a snake will take revenge if you kill its spouse and worst part of it is the story of Nagamanikyam smile emoticon a myth that certain cobras produce magical snake-pearls)….”
I couldn’t help laughing at the way he presented and explained this through his American slang.
“Aren’t those idiotic beliefs?”
“Yes. Snakes are cold blooded and carnivorous animals, whereas milk is often consumed by the mammals, normally a snake wouldn’t drink milk,” I said: “Snakes do not have ears and are deaf. When the charmer plays his Been or Pungi he is giving a particular motion- so the snake may sway according to the movement or tapping on the ground. The stories of Nagamanikyam and snake revenge are just kiddish fallacies or folklore – there is no element of truth in it…”
“Yeah, that is what I told them,” Arun said, “Why do these oldies worship snake? Isn’t it stupidity?”
“Did you see the new movies in Avengers and Spiderman series?”
“Yes, of course – what’s that to do with snake worship, those are just movies…”
“The movie makes you believe things and you really enjoy and believe it during that point of time. I have seen a South Indian movie in which the sixty years old weak hero with heavy make-up/alterations hits at 100s of strong villains single-handedly – but you will still believe it and enjoy it.”
“But, that’s a movie, Uncle.”
“True. In movie, the content is fiction, non-sense or ridiculous. But the technology, the science and ambiance behind the movie is truth, right? Similarly, there may be something behind all those snake fictions….Have you ever visited a Sarpakavu?”
“Yeah…It’s there inside the compound in which my ancestral home stood. It’s in is a corner and dark. It looks scary in the night. It is rather a miniature forest – a cluster of trees, old, crowded, hissing and rustling. There is a pond and a rock stage where stone carved snake shapes are kept. My old family members put turmeric powder, kuṅkumam, milk, salt etc there…”
“There may be or may not be snakes in such groves. But instilling fear was the means adopted by our ancestors to evoke in the community the need to respect every species and to respect boundaries.”
The belief of (or real) venomous snakes kept the greedy man away and did NOT allow him to rape that virgin grove of eco-system. To make the fear more solid and to prevent public from axing the forests, our ancestors may have added spicy stories or even worshiped such places. The snake abode is a micro-forest where you can see a great green spot that should open up the mysteries of the nature for a true observer.
Every grove is a perfect blend of fauna and flora that represents the ancient Indian way of conservation of bio-diversity. It had preserved many rare and endemic wild plant species, various endangered reptiles, animals, birds and numerous herbs having significance in the world of medicine and agriculture. The ponds and streams adjoining the groves are perennial water sources too. These condensed forest or natural green spots preserved abundant exotic and rare species of plants like naalppamaram (group of four medicinal plants Ficus carica, Ficus infectoria, Ficus religiosa and Ficus bengalensis), dashapushpam (ten sacred flowers) and many more.
It’s a place where land, religion, myth culture and civilization harmoniously blend together with greenery. It is essential for a peaceful environment. It’s a beautiful concept for preserving bio, socio-cultural diversity.
“Really?” Arun appeared amused.
“You know about symbiosis- interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, right? All trees are grown together in a grove in co-operation. They communicate. Sometimes, when the bigger tree pollinates, the small trees below it too will do it…”
“Yes Arun. I have observed this in a grove. During summer time, the grass in the grove may dry up. The big trees then would absorb water from the pond and let its green leaves (NOT dry leaves) fall. The grass would thus get water content. I have seen such a co-operation in groves. They live like a family. They ARE a family. It’s a micro forest. If something lacks in one tree other trees will come for help…..It is unbelievable, but true.”
In the groves they have a free and fearless life, without any threats from hunters or other interference by man. The trees and the vegetation tiers in the serpent grove help produce life sustaining oxygen and prevent soil erosion, conserve water and purify air.
“Uday uncle, my grandma used to say, “Kavu theendiyal, kulam vattum” (Destruction of this greenery will lead to drought)”
Our ancestors said- all are connected. Our ancestors didn’t know the modern scientific words like eco-system, ecological balance, environmental protection, humidity control and food-chain. But they have seen the unseen bondage between each and everything. You know, in a food-chain, if one creature is extinct, that will affect all creatures – it will lead to mass destruction of human life… Hence these micro forests are very essential for a peaceful environment. In a dire situation of drought or famine, this micro forest can be developed in to a macro one…It would develop itself into a power house of nature…It was a backup storage plan kept intact by our ancestors for future generations to come. They cared for us.”
“Uncle, I believe you…”
“Have you noticed the molehills inside those sacred snake groves…? Our ancestors would prevent us from touching or destroying it. I don’t know the science behind it, but ask a biology or genetics scientist who know about mutation, species (animal and plant) and new species that are produced in molehills during thunder, lightning and rain…”
“Oh! Awesome….But why do you worship such grove? Can’t you reveal those truths as matter of fact?”
“Whatever I told you about snake worship, is based on today’s scientific knowledge. If tomorrow science finds something else about snakes? Worshiping nature and various living beings have been practiced in India, from time immemorial. During later age, people didn’t know the sastra (wisdom) behind it, they just followed it… The common man of this land who believed in the existence of divine presence in all the animate and inanimate things around him worshiped all the elements and phenomenon of nature. And that’s the ONLY perfect way of living in the universe.”
These forests are priceless treasures of great ecological, biological, cultural and historical value; and these forests are never axed. Strict religious and cultural taboos observed by believers had curbed the removal of even dead twigs in many such groves.
“But do you believe in Sarpadosha (snake sin) related to infertility?”
“I don’t think so. But killing any creature is unacceptable. There is a pain and violence in killing. The nature has memory and can record any sounds. Scientific studies say that sound energy of ancient time can be extracted from the atmosphere and replicated. Snake is an important creature in the food-chain. We can’t rule out energy level communications between the memories of the cells. So it can definitely effect on human too. When you destroy a sacred grove, it affects rain and ecological balance. It affects farming and the nutrients around. Nutrients are important to produce enough sperm…” This nature spot plays an important role in stabilizing the ecosystem of the land by conserving soil and water of a region. The small ponds and streams adjoining the grove are perennial sources of water. The rich debris composition enriches the soil and the nutrients thus generated find their way into the nearby agri-system.
The land, religion, myth, culture and civilization harmoniously blend together in a small space replete with greenery. It is a unique and ancient ecological haven.
“So our grandparents were in green party!” exclaimed Arun.
“Thousands of these sacred serpent groves have been destroyed and the land used for building houses. Usually this land was sold to non-Hindus as Hindus were scared to destroy the grove. There were hundreds of thousands of groves – now only few thousands are remaining. Hundreds of thousands of people destroyed the groves and built huge mansions and commercial buildings. Nothing happened to them. No snake came for revenge. But they would not understand the damage they have done to the cosmic system. Probably they never will.”
“Why did they sell it? It was very bad…”
“The atheists, communists, socialists and social reformers of yesterdays didn’t have a faculty in their brain to think beyond superficial manifestos and ideologies. They were in power and pooh-poohed such groves as superstitions. And some blind religious followers, who believed that everything in the universe is made for man to enjoy, destroyed these groves. Even today, the remaining few thousands snake temples owned by families through generations are facing a threat to their existence due to collapse of the joint family system and the changing socio-economic scenario and neo-liberalization.”
“Fortunately, some of the environmentalists and eco-lovers realized the truth about such groves and prompted the state government to step in to conserve them. Will the short-term thinkers in the government run by greedy and petty-minded politicians protect such groves?”
“Somebody should save it…”
“Why should wait for somebody? You can do whatever you can – by sharing this information and creating awareness among individuals,” I said, “So, before branding something as superstition, try to find the facts behind it. Let me tell you, the urban market-media superstitions make our ancestral superstitions look so puny”
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