Nagpanchmi, the festival of snakes, which was celebrated on Sunday, left many Hindu worshippers disappointed when they went to temples but found no snakes. The forest department had taken snake charmers to task for displaying the reptiles.
Nagpanchami is a festival of snakes celebrated on the fifth day of the bright fortnight in the Hindu holy month of Shravan. People visit temples of Hindu god Shiva, worship snakes and offer them milk besides alms to the snake charmer who brings them.
But now, there are no snake charmers seen in the towns and cities as the forest department has warned them of strict action if they bring the reptiles on Nagpanchmi.
In the absence of snake charmers, many people have crafted images of snakes using cow dung on either side of the entrance of their houses to welcome the snake god.
"We have been worshipping snakes on this day for ages but now our right to worship is being encroached upon by the government," said BL Mehra who lives in the posh Kanchan Nagar locality of Bhopal.
Hindu mythology is full of stories and fables about snakes, the most important of them being about Sheshnaga of Lord Vishnu (it is on this snake that Lord Vishnu reclines, while sleeping in the sea).
"It is a tradition to offer milk to snakes on this day but the so called animal lovers and the forest department officials have made even that difficult," said Arun Sachdeva.
The state forest department also finds itself pitted against the Sanskriti Bachao Manch over the issue.
The manch, whose members owe allegiance to the Bajrang Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), termed the forest department's proposed action as an attack on Hindu culture.
For some years now, the forest department has been rounding up snake charmers who traditionally went around displaying cobras on Nagpanchmi for alms. The snake charmers are usually let off with a warning.
The department began taking action after animal rights groups pointed out that the cobras were de-fanged and their poison sacs removed before they were used for display, which amounted to torture as well as commercial exploitation of a species covered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
State president of the Sanskriti Bachao Manch, Chandrashekhar Tiwari, who is a former district convener of the Bajrang Dal said that if the forest department took action against snake charmers, his organisation would launch an agitation against the department.
"The snake charmers usually keep the snake only for a day and release it in the forests after Nagpanchmi," he added.
Senior forest officials, however, said the absence of fangs in the snake renders it incapable of hunting its prey, eating and it eventually dies.
Chief conservator of forests, Bhopal, AK Bhattacharya said that action would be taken against snake charmers who display cobras on Nagpanchmi. He said a decision has been taken to prevent commercial display of snakes and violators would be booked under the Wildlife Protection Act.