People usually give gold, precious ornaments and household goods when their daughters are married. But have you ever heard of snakes being given in dowry?
Snake charmers have become savvy. Now the ‘saperas’ of Aligarh do not go from door to door but give out the snakes on rent on Nag Panchami. (HT Photo)
Interestingly, even today, the sapera community in Akrabad, Gangiri, Atrouli, Khair, Sapera Bhanpur, Kasimpur and Morani villages in Aligarh, observes an ancient bizarre ritual of giving poisonous snakes in dowry to daughters in marriage. Prospective grooms have to learn the skill of making snakes dance to their tunes, which is regarded as the primary condition for marriage.
For this, sapera children are given traditional knowledge instead of proper schooling.
Refusal to do so ends up in a marriage being cancelled. Parents of the bride collect snakes to ensure that this dowry ritual takes place without any hitch. Child marriage is also common.
Bhoop Singh Nag of Sapera Bhanpur village told Hindustan Times, "We are very particular about carrying out this age old custom. Eligible bachelors and betrothed youngsters have to wait for a long time, and sometimes indefinitely, till the parents of their brides are able to collect snakes for dowry. Some marriages are cancelled if the parents are unable to collect snakes."
Kallu of Pilkhana village, who married his daughter Suman to a boy of Nath community of Bimra village in Allahabad last month, said this was an age old ritual. "We have to give snakes at the time of marriage. We have given five snakes in our daughter Lallyavati who was married last month but I have another daughter and things are difficult with the ban on catching snakes."
In fact, the Nath and Nag community (saperas) are troubled by the government ban on taming snakes. The enforcement of the Wild Life Protection Act has also robbed them of means of livelihood.