The Nagas – Adishesha, Vasuki, Shesha, Padmanabh, Kambal, Shankhapal, Dhritarashtra, Trakshaka, and Kalia are the nine snakes that are worshipped by dharmics, especially in India and Nepal. The Naga race is associated with divinity and is considered half-human, half-serpent beings who reside in the Patala or the netherworld; this is observed within as well as outside India, in South East Asian religious beliefs and folklores.
The much-awaited project – Rajiv Malhotra’s new co-authored book is titled “Snakes in the Ganga.” While there is much hype about the book, the title seems off-putting. While the title attempts to refer to unsavory or even anti-national elements as the ‘snakes’ who reside in Bharat, the sacred and pavitra ‘Ganga,” Malhotra seems to not have thought about the title in as much depth as the content of the new book. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the co-author or her background to be upset with her about the title but any Hindu would pick up on the fact that snakes – a revered entity in Sanatan Dharma are made out to be a vicious enemy, at least in the title. If this analogy is peppered throughout the book it’ll make it difficult for many to want to pick up the new read. It seems sloppy that the great Mr. Malhotra who has successfully taught us about non-translatables has goofed up on the title of the new book.
It is not far-fetched to state that Hinduism is based on aspects of universal connectedness and the idea of ‘union’ of the individual jivatman with the Paraatman is the end goal of Sanatan philosophy, culture, and religious beliefs and practices. This essentially means that every life has a component of the manifest divine and thereby there are no hierarchies in terms of the value of life. Means, why should we claim that pigs are less smarter than dolphins, who are less smarter than humans? Life is life and the intricacy of a leaf, and the structure of a grasshopper is no less complex than human anatomy and physiology. There is no doubt that humans are at the top of the so-called food chain and this is because we have the Vigyan or discriminating power of implementing gathered intelligence. Regardless, a human doesn’t contain more of an element of life than a leaf, a rat, or a snake. Dharmics have revered snakes for centuries and snakes are often given a proper burial after death – such is the idea of respect toward these creatures.
Snakes are extremely smart creatures and they have the status of a deity in Sanatan Dharma. According to the Hindu Puranas, Brahma’s grandson Rishi Kashyapa marries two of Prajapati Daksha’s daughters and one of them is believed to have given birth to the Naga race.
It is a well-known fact that Shiva Bhagwan is shown with a snake around his neck, automatically depicting the snake as an entity associated with the divine. Shiva has placed the snake around his neck and the hood at the level of his head, or in some instances even above his head to indicate that the snake possesses yogi-like stillness and qualities which Shiva appreciates. The Maharishi who is considered to be the father of yoga – Maharishi Patanjali – is also considered to be an incarnation of the serpent Ananta, the endless one.
Naga worship is mentioned in Hindu scriptures such as Skanda Purana, Narada Purana, Agni Purana, and the Mahabharata. One such ritual of Naga Panchmi occurs during the month of Shravana – July/August where the serpents or snakes are celebrated by dharmics – Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. Live snakes are often worshipped during Naga Panchmi and Naga Chaturthi and the festivities also include bathing the Naga deity constructed with silver or stone to seek blessings and welfare of the entire family. Devotees also offer flowers, sweets, light lamps, and recite specific mantras to the Naga deva on this day.
Hindus pray to snakes and feed them milk on certain auspicious days. Snakes are also important in yoga and healing; the transcendence of humans from gross to subtle is often described as the rising of the kundalini – which moves like a snake, up the human spine. Snakes are elaborately worshipped when one is afflicted with kalsarpa dosha and specific rituals are conducted to reduce the malefic aspects of the dosha. Snake venom has continued to inspire Ayurveda and is often used in medicinal research. For example, Captopril, Aggrastat, and Eptifibatide are all venom-derived drugs and a few others are at different clinical stages of development. Snake venom is complex and is also utilized for anti-inflammatory purposes, as well as for rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain.
Also, the naga mani or the gem atop a snake’s head which is often shown in crime TV shows or associated with tantra is nothing but the calcified poison glands of a venomous snake. This naga mani is known as the serpent stone or the snake’s pearl in popular culture. It is a terrible disservice to dharma and to snakes, in particular, to be equated to vile creatures set out to destroy the Ganga, even figuratively. The snakes and reptiles and other creatures in the holy Ganga are part of the larger ecosystem and integral to what constitutes the Ganga. To conclude, snakes are taken seriously in Hinduism and ironically, the snakes and reptiles of the Ganga and the Gangetic plains are interesting topics of scientific research.
Rajiv Malhotra’s contribution to India is immeasurable. However, the new book title seems sloppy, or at least not well thought out. Snakes in the Ganga belong in the Ganga; they are not outside imports. For a genius who has armed us with other great works, especially the detailed arguments in the non-translatables, it is disappointing to see the ill-fitting analogy in the title of the new book. Snakes are only considered to be evil in Abrahamic faiths and that too, wrongly; if it weren’t for the “evil” snake, mythological Adam and Eve would have never procreated to bring forth the human race. There is no doubt that there are spies and harmful Abrahamic as well as communist elements in academic and bureaucratic institutions around the world, including India. Perhaps there is no good analogy – what else could Malhotra have called these elements other than their actual names? Sometimes it’s best to stick with original terms such as leftists, communists, anarchists, etc., who infest government and academia. Simply put, there are no dharmic equivalents or traslatables for adharmic elements.