Keeping the Nagas Happy

Features Issue 107 Sep, 2010
Text by Amar B. Shrestha / Photo: ECS Media

As per tradition, on the 8th day of Dashain (Asthami), hundreds of thousands of goats, buffaloes, chickens, ducks and pigeons are sacrificed to Goddess Kali. Seeing this, it might seem that Nepal is totally unconcerned about animal rights, but then consider this too: every year, there is a special day for Kag Puja (worship of crows), there is one day for Kukur Puja (worship of dogs), there is another day for Gai Puja (worship of cows) and then there is Nag Panchami, a day when serpent deities are worshipped. So, what one can draw from this is that there is quite a confusing ambiguity as far as animal rights in Nepal are concerned.

While the first three pujas are part of the Tihar festival (4 to 7 November this year), Nag Panchami is celebrated on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the Nepali month of Shrawan (14 August this year). The universally held Hindu belief is that this is to commemorate Lord Krishna’s victory over Kaliya, a particularly evil serpent of epic proportions. In the Kathmandu Valley, however, there is another legend associated with this occasion. Once upon a time, the valley was a vast lake full of snakes. It was called Nagadaha (naga: snake deity, daha: lake). Later, there came a time when humans thought of settling down here and so they started to drain the lake (an antithesis to another myth which says that it was miraculously drained by the Buddhist sage Manjushree). The furious Nagas who had power over the rains, brought about a severe drought by preventing rainfall in the valley. Luckily, a king’s tantric powers compelled the Nagas to allow rain to fall again. However, in recognition of their awesome power, the king designated the 5th day of Shrawan as Nag Panchami to pay homage to the Nagas.

He also ordered the preservation of certain lakes as safe refuge for the Nagas. The lakes so chosen were Taudaha in Kathmandu and Nagdaha in Lalitpur. The photograph below is of Nagdaha, which is located in Dhapakhel VDC of Lalitpur district. It is a natural pond that covers an area of five hectares. Besides Nag Panchami, Rishi Panchami, Janai Purnima, Chhath and Teej are other major religious occasions when the lake plays host to throngs of devotees.


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