Panchami means the fifth and on the fifth day of the bright half of Shravana, the nagas (serpents) are worshipped, since snakes symbolize energy and prosperity. Snake-worship is pre-Aryan and was incorporated into the Aryan religion at an early stage. In the rainy month of Shravana many snakes come out of their holes and a large number of human and cattle deaths are caused by snakebites. Thus, this worship must have been started to appease these snakes. This is an ancient festival and on Ashvina Shukla Panchami, people worshiped images of nagas and Indrani. These images were placed on a platform and on a white cloth. The images of nagas were bathed with water, clarified butter and milk whereas the images of Indrani were washed with water only. According to Agni Purana, snakes are to be worshiped on the Panchamis of Shravana, Bhadrapada, Ashvina and Kartika. Such worship is performed in the honour of Takshaka, the king of serpents and this festival is called Takshaka Yatra.
It is celebrated with more enthusiasm in the rural areas. On this day, women and children visit snake pits and worship the snakes residing there. They perform puja after which, they offer milk and honey to the snake-god, whereas in urban areas, small clay, silver, gold or wood images of cobra are worshipped, but the cloth effigies of serpents are worshipped in Jodhpur
. On this day, people also whitewash portions of a wall, after which, the figures of cobras are painted in black. Then they worship these figures with incense, lamps, sweets, and flowers. Women even observe fasts on this day.
The body of Shiva is entwined with snakes, thus, on Naga Panchami day people worship him, particularly at his temples at Varanasi and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh
, Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh
and at Vaidyanatha and Naganatha in West Bengal
. Manasa, a daughter of Shiva, is worshipped as the snake-goddess, particularly in Rajasthan
and the hill areas of India. On this occasion, snake charmers are also requested to invoke the Snake Queen by playing melodious tunes on their flutes. Some of the other areas of worship during Nagapanchami are the Hardevja temple in Jaipur
, Adishesha temple in Andhra Pradesh
, Nagaraj temple in Kerala
and Nagathamman temple in Chennai
. In the South
, images of Snakes are crafted in cow dung on either side of the entrance to the house as a mark of welcome to snake God. Offerings of milk are given in the holes around the house.
, Nag-Panchami is known by the name of "Guga-Navami". A huge snake is made from dough. Every household contributes the flour and butter needed to prepare the dough-snake. The dough-snake is then placed on a winnowing basket and taken in a procession in which women and children sing and dance and onlookers shower flowers. All the religious rites are performed to invoke the blessings of the snake-god and then the dough snake is ceremoniously buried.
, snake charmers are seen especially on this day, where the snakes are kept in flat and round baskets. They go from house to house asking for alms and clothing. These baskets are opened only when women offer milk and cooked rice for the worship. Women sprinkle haldi-kumkum and flowers on the heads of the snakes and offer sweetened milk to the snakes and pray. In Maharashtra, acrobatics and the magic performances by the tribals in the interior parts attract big crowds.
The village of Batis Shirale
, which is situated approximately 400 kilometers from Mumbai, witnesses the most impressive of all the Nagapanchami celebrations. In this village, people pray to live cobras that they catch on the eve of this pre-harvest festival. About a week before this festival, they dig out live snakes from holes and keep them in covered earthen pots and these snakes are fed with rats and milk. Their poison-containing fangs are not removed because the people of this village believe that to hurt the snakes is disrespectful. Yet it is amazing that these venomous cobras do not bite instead protect their prospective worshippers. After all the obeisance is rendered to the goddess and the ritual puja is over, the snakes are put back in the pots and carried in bullock-carts in procession through the 32 hamlets of Shirala village. Women eagerly wait outside their houses for "darshan" of the sacred cobras. One or two cobras are let loose in front of each house where men and women offer prayers, sprinkle puffed rice, flowers and coins over them, burn camphor and agarbattis and perform "aarti".
Large crowds arrive from Kolhapur
and even from foreign lands to see this wonderful spectacle and enjoy in the fair. The following day, the snakes are released in the jungle. There is one legend associated with the celebration of this festival. Once Guru Gorakhnath was passing through this village. He saw a woman praying before a clay-cobra idol. He turned it into a living snake and told her not to be afraid of snakes. Since then, the Baltis Shirale village and its neighbouring regions worship snakes. Even Guru Gorakhnath`s temple is on a nearby hillock.
There are snake-temples in our country with idols of snake-gods. In these, temples cobras are also reared and live snakes are worshipped on Nag-Panchami day. In Hindu homes, frying any thing on this day is forbidden by tradition.