South Karnataka (or South Canara) can be called the Land Of Snakes. Many snakes, poisonous and non-poisonous, keep roaming around the rural places without harming anyone. Snakes such as rat snakes run away at the sight of humans. One would think that with so many snakes around, death due to snake bite would be common; but that’s not the scenario at all. This place has a story behind it.
It is believed that once Sage Parashurama, angered by the kshatriyas, came in search of a place to do his Tapasya. Not finding any, he stood atop a mountain and threw his axe ahead into the sea. The entire area the axe covered became land and thus south Karnataka was born. All the snakes in the sea cried out due to the loss of their home. The sage blessed them and told them that in that region they will be worshiped and no one will harm them.
From then on people worship the Snake God with utmost reverence. Almost every Brahmin household has a small shrine, known as Naga Bana, dedicated to this God. When people’s prayers are answered, they do a thanksgiving to the lord and the ritual is known as Thanu. When some household don’t keep up their word and forget to offer the Thanu, the lord of snakes King Cobra will appear before the house in order to remind them. I have witnessed such an event at my neighbour’s place. My grandfather, a revered purohit, even used to bring home dead cobras that he found on his way and used to meticulously perform the last rite.
Hailing from such a place, I have a staunch belief in God and this one incident proved the God’s existence to me. I was 5 years old then. My aunt and I were sitting in the yard when a snake passed by. I exclaimed, “Aunt, Snake!” She casually retorted, “Might be a Rat snake”. But the moment she finished the sentence the snake stopped half way, turned towards us and raised its hood! We were dumbstruck. My aunt exclaimed in a terrified voice, “Kshamisi Nagaraja” (Pardon me Lord of Snakes). The cobra slid away into the woods.
This article first appeared in the New Indian Express. I felt like adding a Post Script to it and here it goes –
Rituals are to bring about a structured way to invoke the inner spark. They were formed with strong reasoning as to why they have to be followed. Nowadays, most traditions and rituals aren’t followed and those that are followed are blindly done. We will have to question ourselves as to – Why any ritual is being performed and does it hold good even today? Or do functions at least act as a gathering place where one can get to meet other, make merry and enjoy the food. If doesn’t hold any good or doesn’t create happiness, why bother with it at all? Deities and Idols are to help us concentrate the prayer on a single entity, it is up to the individual to choose this path or the no idol path; but I feel that there is definitely a Power that makes the world go round. Call it as you want – Love, Positive Vibrations, Good Thoughts, Doing Good without expectation or Desire, Evolution, or God! Scientists put out a Black Hole theory and said inside it and beyond it, human mind cannot conceive the sophisticated instruments cannot retrieve. The ancestors gave it a name! Only problem now is the abuse of it. Some believe in God , some believe in Human Beings; no one is correct and no one is wrong. (And some like me believe as per convenience!). Just, Live and Let Live.