Some thoughts on Goa's snake scene this 'Nag Panchami'

'Nag Panchami' is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu holy month of 'Shravan' wherein devotees worship an idol of the snake god
'Nag Panchami' is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu holy month of Shravan
'Nag Panchami' is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu holy month of ShravanGomantak Times

Today, August 21, 2023, many devotees worship the snake god as part of the Hindu festival of Nag Panchami. It is one of the most important festivals of the holy month of Shravan, where an idol of the snake god is brought home and worshipped, and a local dish, patoli, is offered.

This worship of a reptile holds much significance as snakes are part and parcel of our traditions. There is a reference to snakes in Hindu mythology, and they are also associated with Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.

In addition to that, in many forested areas of the country, there is a strong tradition of worshipping snakes.

This might have arisen in order to protect us from their deadly venom, or because of the simple fact that they are an important species in the food chain. They keep the rodent population in control, which is an important task in an agrarian community like Goa.

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Mainly due to their venom, there are many myths associated with snakes, and this, in turn, ends up harming this important species of the wild.

Charan Desai, who is involved in rescuing wild animals, alongside the Goa Forest Department, says, “I have come across myths such as, if one disturbs or hurts snakes, they take revenge. So, it is better to kill the snake. The cobra has a nagmani which is very precious, and so, people sometimes kill cobras in order to get the nagmani. Or, a common one is that the vine snake bites the skull, goes inside the body and kills the victim. Thus, people kill vine snakes which are actually harmless.”

The Green Vine Snake is mildly venomous
The Green Vine Snake is mildly venomousCharan Desai

All these myths lead to the killing of snakes, which should not be the case since snakes are protected under various schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Illegal hunting and possession of such protected snakes/ its body parts / venom are punishable offenses under the Act.

But, due to the innate fear associated with snakes due to their venomous bite, they are killed when they accidentally venture into residential areas. However, nowadays, due to constant efforts by the forest department and wildlife activists, there is awareness about snakes.

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Charan, who is part of SAWE (Study and Awareness of Wildlife Environment) mentions certain norms to follow if one finds a snake in their house.

“First of all, do not panic. Keep children away, and pets in control. If there is an easy way out for the snake, wait for its escape. Don’t go close to the snake or make sudden movements. Do not spray water or throw anything on the snake. Call a rescuer and keep a close watch on the snake. Also, if you don’t have any rescuer’s number, call 108 or any emergency services number,” elaborates Charan.

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He also cautions that when encountering a snake, one should assume that all snakes are venomous as there are no specific differentiation points to distinguish between venomous and non-venomous snakes.

There’s another threat to these wild reptiles, and that’s roadkill. In the year 2019, a roadkill survey conducted by SAWE estimated that around 42,340 animals were killed on the state’s roads. Out of these, many were snakes, especially during the monsoon season. It was observed that burrowing snakes, like shield tails and arboreal snakes like the green vine snake and heavy-bodied ones like the Indian rock python, are prime victims of roadkill.

This recently led to a new campaign titled ‘I Brake For Snakes’. This aims to reduce the number of roadkills of snakes and other wildlife in Goa through an array of conservation driven interventions and media support. Every year, scores of snakes get killed during road crossings, especially during the monsoons months.

This campaign, the brainchild of herpetologist, Nirmal Kulkarni, is aimed at raising awareness among motorists, and hopes to save vital lives as well as ecologically important species.

During this event, many wildlife rescuers like Benhail Antao, Amrut Singh and Alex Carpentar spoke of the need for habitat conservation and tolerance towards snakes in order to reduce human-snake conflicts in the state.

Thus, on this day, when we dedicate a day for snakes, it’s time to also look at their conservation and realise their importance in our ecology.

Arti Das is a freelance journalist based in Goa. She loves writing about art, culture and the ecology of Goa.

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