Naga puja

15 08 2010

My mother, whom I’m sure is reading this, would be horrified to know that yesterday was Naga puja or snake god day (she hates snakes). Because snakes regularly grow new skin before shedding the old, they represent rebirth. Their worship on this particular day helps guarantee knowledge, wealth and fame.

The day began when a young boy came to help replace the god posters flanking the house entrances. He secured the posters to the walls using cow dung. Cow dung is used in many Hindu rituals since cows are sacred, but it also has practical life-giving properties such as being a fuel source in places where where firewood is scarce. He also used the cow dung to attach paisa (coins) and a halo-like fan of plants resembling wheatgrass blades over the Nagas head(s).

Only men can perform the Naga puja, which doesn’t sit well with my feminist tendencies but one must surpress these feelings in many non-Western cultures. The men of the house blessed the Nagas by putting tikka on the snake images. Tikka is the paste of colored powder that Hindus wear on their foreheads. Each house has a place where the naga resides and only priests can identify this place. I don’t know if the snake area is real or symbolic but maybe it doesn’t matter. Hindus do not kill snakes because to do so brings bad luck. So don’t kill those garden snakes you find near your house. Just cart them further away from the house. This is easier said than done in a country where cobras live!

I asked if there was anything else required for the day, like eating (or not eating) special foods, but apparently the puja was it unless you’re a member of a snake god sect, in which case you might perform other rituals.

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