In­dia blesses its snakes as charm­ers face the venom of mod­ern life

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Of­fi­cially the snake charm­ers’ pro­fes­sion is banned in In­dia, but its devo­tees were at the cen­ter of prayers and milk bless­ings of­fered to co­bras and other deadly ser­pents in an an­nual trib­ute Fri­day. The coun­try’s 800,000 charm­ers and their young ap­pren­tices come to the fore each year for the cen­turies-old Nag Pan­chami fes­ti­val, cel­e­brated in honor of a ser­pent god prom­i­nent in Hindu mythol­ogy. Chil­dren sat cross legged at tem­ples in Al­la­habad and other cities around the coun­try with elon­gated co­bras and pythons wrapped around their necks.

Many play with the snakes as though they are toys-in tra­di­tional snake charmer vil­lages, like Ka­pari in Ut­tar Pradesh state, chil­dren are taught the art from a young age to avoid fear. Milk-a tra­di­tional trib­ute-is poured on the snakes’ faces, as the charm­ers play mu­sic. Rice and flow­ers are also of­fered to the rep­tiles. The charm­ers who pre­tend to hyp­no­tize their an­i­mals for tourists out­side mon­u­ments and in the streets say they earn as lit­tle as 200 ru­pees ($3) a day-not enough to keep their fam­ily, or feed their snakes.

In do­ing so, they are risk­ing ar­rest. The prac­tice was banned un­der wildlife leg­is­la­tion im­ple­mented in 2002. An­i­mal rights group PETA (Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals) has called for an end to the “cruel” prac­tice. PETA says snakes are cap­tured in suf­fo­cat­ing bags, kept in tiny boxes and forced to drink milk. The group says snakes’ fangs are of­ten vi­o­lently torn out, and many snakes’ mouths are sewn shut to avoid bites.

But while au­thor­i­ties have tried to dis­cour­age the shows, the charm­ers say it is im­pos­si­ble to com­pletely stop them. “There is noth­ing else for us to do,” said Vikas Penna, a charmer in his 30s. “What do you want me to do, be­come a rick­shaw driver?”—AFP

An In­dian Hindu devo­tee pours milk on a snake as an of­fer­ing dur­ing the an­nual Nag Pan­chami fes­ti­val, ded­i­cated to the wor­ship of snakes.—AFP pho­tos

An In­dian snake charmer plays a flute as fam­ily mem­bers gather around co­bra snakes.

The son of an In­dian snake charmer holds a co­bra snake around his neck in Ka­pari vil­lage, around 40km south­west of Al­la­habad in Ut­tar Pradesh state.

The son of an In­dian snake charmer holds a co­bra snake in Ka­pari vil­lage.

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