Nag Panchami, A Festival of India
The festival of the serpent king Ananta or Adisesha occurs on the fifth day of the bright half of Adi (July-August). Women observe a strict fast, and go in groups to the nests of serpents. They offer milk and flowers. In many homes, the serpent deity made of silver, stone or wood, or painted on walls is bathed in milk and worshipped. By piety and prayers, on this day, the protection of the family against snake bite is assured. Real cobras and snakes are worshipped at big fairs arranged on the day. On this day, digging the earth is avoided because snakes live under the ground.
Ancient puranas like Agni Purana, Skanda purana and Narada Purana give details of the practice of snake worship. Nagas or snakes are semidivine beings born of Kadru, the wife of Sage Kasyapa. They reign in great splendour in Patala, the underworld, and wear priceless gems. The most powerful of all is Seshnag, the thousand-hooded cobra, also called Ananta who bears the earth on his crown. When he nods or yawns, oceans and mountains tremble.
Snakes were coasidered semi-human. The serpent princess Ulupi married Arjuna in the Mahabharata. Snake deities are also worshipped as custodians of the treasures of lord of sea. Ananta, the serpent king has six heads. Vishnu reclines on him between the dissolution of one universe and creation of another.
Nag Panchami is an important festival in Karnataka. The preparations start five days earlier, on the new moon day, known as Bhima amavasya. Girls offer prayers for a good husband. They prepare clay images and decorate them with white dots. These are placed in the puja. After vrata and puja, a thread dipped in turmeric is tied on the right wrist. Then the figure of the snake god is drawn on the doorway and worshipped with offerings of milk. Women do puja for the welfare of brothers. On the day before Panchami, a salt-less diet is kept or strict fast is observed. After Nag Panchami puja, a traditional feast is served.