By Swami Harshananda
Nāgapañcami literally means ‘the fifth day sacred dedicated to Nāga or the Snake-deity’.
Nāgapañcamī falls on śrāvaṇa-śukla-pañcami. It is an important festival, observed as a vrata with religious vows in many parts of the country. Serpent worship seems to be a very ancient phenomenon. Fear of death due to serpent-bite, especially in the rainy season, may have been the origin of the Nāgapañcami, in which worship of serpents, especially the cobra, is the main act.
On this day, considered to be as auspicious as the Akṣayyatṛtīyā, bathing the mythical serpents like Vāsuki, Takṣaka, Kāliya, Maṇibhadra, Airāvata, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Kārkotaka and Dhanañjaya with milk through images, is supposed to give abhaya or freedom from dangers, especially from snakebite. Figures of snakes are drawn on the walls on either side of the main entrance door with cow-dung and worship is offered to them. The same may be done to figures of snakes drawn with red sandal paste on wooden boards also. Images used in worship for bathing may be made of metal or clay. Worship should include karavīra flowers, incense and the food offering of pāyasa. Inviting the snake-charmers and feeding their snakes with milk is common on this day.
In Bengal, Manasādevī is worshiped on Śrāvaṇa kṛṣṇa pañcamī, in one’s own courtyard. The general purpose and procedure of worship are the same. Keeping the neem leaves in the house and eating a few of them at the end is the only specialty.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore