Superstition knows no bounds, and plumbs to bizarre levels when snakes are involved. Two years back, I came across this ritual of ‘freeing’ snakes to ward off an adverse planetary position. I reproduce a description from that ritual carried out a few yards off the Kaimbwala-Saketri road in the reserve forests behind Sukhna Lake.
“The priest had drawn a white circle, adorned it with marigold flowers and lit a dhoop. The sapera coerced the snake into drinking milk. Then the Sikh devotee, with his shoes and socks removed, bathed the snake in milk. The dazed snake was then put across his turban as he bowed his head, and later the devotee kissed the snake and folded his hands before it. The sapera took the snake and flung it to ‘freedom’ in the bushes.”
However, there is a via medium to avoid capture of snakes by saperas from the wilderness for such exploitation and their consequent mishandling. And, yet, satisfy people’s yearning for such rituals. In the Nag Panchami season, tricity’s snake-rescue expert Salim Khan is requested by devotees who are hypnotised by priestly directives. Khan asks devotees to be present when he is releasing snakes rescued from homes into peripheral scrublands. The power of superstition can be evidenced by the fact that the lady in the accompanying picture specially summoned her son from Goa to undertake the kaal sarp yog ritual. The lady and her two sons took off their shoes, bowed to the plastic container containing the rescued cobra and then the lady took the container and circled it above her son’s head. No milk offering or handling of the snake was allowed. Khan then opened the container. The family, heads bowed, watched spellbound as the cobra sped across the jungle floor like a sleek black arrow. If only evil, too, would flee humans with such alacrity!
Chhatbir needs upgrade
The raptor facility at Chhatbir Zoo. (Photo: Punjab Forests and Wildlife Department)
In these columns on July 26, I had discussed the raptor facility at Chhatbir Zoo and its inspection by two foreign experts. Chhatbir has been designated ‘coordinating zoo’ by the Central Zoo Authority for captive breeding of endangered raptors and has secured permission to source four pairs of Shaheen falcons (smaller, darker race of typical Peregrine falcons) from the wilderness. The project’s next phase would entail procurement of Punjab’s State Bird, the Northern goshawk.
I sought the written views of Patrick Benson (Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg) and Dr Munir Virani (The Peregrine Fund) on the suitability of Chhatbir’s raptor facility, built at Rs 56 lakh in 2008-09. This week, I shall take up Benson’s review, which declares the zoo facility not suitable for breeding. I will follow it up next week with Dr Virani’s thoughts. Benson said: “I was quite impressed with Chhatbir and the individuals whom I came in contact with. On my visit, (zoo director) Manish Kumar, (block officer) Harpal Singh and Dr R Suresh Kumar (Wildlife Institute of India) and I had extensive discussions as to the suitability of the facility for a raptor conservation and captive breeding centre. The present facility is not suitable for captive breeding of Peregrines. The facilities suggested (to the zoo) are breeding chambers based on the design used by The Peregrine Fund.
Though the Peregrine is the focal species, there are other birds that may need a captive breeding programme more urgently. The sort of facilities suggested have been used for a wide variety of birds, including Harpy Eagles. This is the standard for breeding chambers and would be suitable for keeping and breeding goshawks.”
Chiraag e qudrat
Lilies flare at Dr PN Mehra Botanical Gardens, PU. (Photo: Arun Bansal)
The oil of these diyas is rain droplets. Their wicker is kindled to a gentle glow by a streak of lightning that descends to earth at the horizon where the sky touches the soil. Indeed, Rain Lilies set the proverbial fire to the rain. These are chiraags in the darkness of a downpour, flickering valiantly like diyas floating on Sukhna Lake under a moonless cosmos. Lilies can be seen in abundance at Panjab University, while at the Chandigarh Golf Club lilies have proliferated under the groves or ‘roughs’ flanking holes 2, 16, 12 and 13. Untended by gardeners, these lilies gallantly face every woebegone winter and scorching summer to emerge magically in the monsoons, like dimpled smiles alleviating a grim, creased earth. (Botanists refer to this lily as Zephyranthes citrina Baker).