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Wildbuzz | Gods love us, humans kill us

The original practice of Nag Panchami entailed rural folk putting out milk and rice when it rained and snakes were in abundance.

punjab Updated: Jul 30, 2017 18:06 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
Snakes,Drass,Black-billed magpie
Three cobras rescued from snake charmers with mouths stitched, fangs uprooted.(Avinash Visvanathan)

An increasing number of creative campaigns are reaching out to people with the awareness that snake charmers exploit beliefs and make serpents sacrificial goats on Nag Panchami. The original practice of Nag Panchami entailed rural folk putting out milk and rice when it rained and snakes were in abundance. Offerings near snake holes would attract rodents and it was hoped that snakes need not visit fields where farmers worked. In other words, festive sweetmeats at the doorstep for snakes.

However, such mutually-benign practices have degenerated and snake charmers catch spectacled cobras several weeks before Nag Panchami. Their fangs are cut with a blade or yanked out with pliers and venom glands pricked with a needle. “Their mouths are stitched, they are locked up in dark, unhygienic baskets for several days, they are offered no food or water, turmeric, ‘kumkum’ and other irritants are sprinkled on them, they are forced to drink fluids (milk) that they cannot digest, they are roughed up and tortured to show their hoods at every devotee’s house. They suffer a slow, agonising death. Here is your opportunity to turn a ‘friend of snakes’: if you spot a snake charmer, inform the forest department, NGOs or the nearest police station,” says Avinash Visvanathan, general secretary, Friends of Snakes Society.

Zoologist and conservationist, Dr Surya Prakash, asks snake charmers and the devout on behalf of the speechless serpents: ‘Why do you kill us when you worship us? When the gods and goddesses you all worship love us’.

In a rain-filled Lilium near Manali, a beetle at night. ( Vikram Jit Singh )


Petrichor. It is a charming, mystical word in English to describe a whiff more enchanting than any Chanel blend: an aroma that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm and dry weather. We also need words to describe those pure moments when children splash around in the rain, when a beauty strains her ear to the sounds of falling rain at night. After a long, parched spell, her cheeks upturned, like a leaf laden with drops.

‘When raindrops of love fall on our hearts, the souls sing like birds, and the faces blossom like flowers.’ (Unknown bard of the internet’s cosmos!)

And, then, quote those words and verses to evoke the joys of a little beetle and a moth writhing in a leaking, natural goblet. The rain had just fallen at our resort near Manali, like Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ Prelude to dusk, the softness of the prelude contrasting vividly with the roaring Beethovian symphony of the Beas river lapping at the lawns. As night fell, the moths and beetles seemed to giggle and fly to leaking, goblet blooms of yellow Liliums. Moths were hyper, snuggling deep inside stamens and coming out coated in nectary rain. In those mothy romps, the timeless joy of rain choreographed another one of those myriad, unknown ballets.

A house sparrow perched at Kargil War Memorial in Drass. ( Sagar Mahamuni )


Soldiers and sparrows share a common grouse. They are never remembered till they die in combat or like humble house sparrows, vanish to the verge of extinction. So, when we get to see a solitary male house sparrow perched daintily on the Kargil War Memorial in Drass, there is a mystical synergy at work here. The 18th Vijay Diwas of the battle was on July 26.

A resident of Palghar in Maharashtra, Shridhar Gavane is an artist and wildlife enthusiast. He has just returned from a trip to Drass, where he was so moved by the lofty Tiger Hill and the emotional resonance of the memorial that he exclaims, “Words fail me. I am still in a trance. I saw all this in movies, TV, but nothing prepared me for the impact of visiting the actual places where our soldiers fought so gallantly at such treacherous heights. I had dreamt of joining the army but my parents did not let me. Visiting Drass and talking to soldiers there was like injecting fresh life into my failed dream.”

Gavane noted that there were not too many bird species in Drass, probably disturbed by heavy traffic, tourists and locals. However, one bird unmoved by commotion was the dapper, Black-billed magpie. It was truly an avian symbol of this iconic and icy, little war town. “This bird was just like a house crow, not bothered by human disturbance. There were many magpies flying around Drass, scavenging on tidbits thrown around by humans,” he said.


First Published: Jul 30, 2017 15:57 IST