Nag Panchami is an important festival that falls in the auspicious month of Shravan which corresponds to July-August of the Gregorian calendar. It falls on the fifth day of the moon’s waning in the Shravan Month. On this day, women worship the ‘Nag Devta’, and thus the festival is called Nag Panchami( Nag-Serpent; Panchmi-Fifth day).
Snakes are believed to be powerful as they are associated with important Hindu deities, like Lord Shiva. The festival is very important from the Vedic astrology point of view as natives with Kal Sarpa Dosha (which brings bad luck and hardships in one’s life), are advised to do special poojas and rituals to appease the Serpent God on Nag Panchami.
There are many legends described in ‘Agni Purana', ‘Skanda Purana', ‘Narada Purana', and Mahabharata, associated with this festival.
The most popular is about the ‘Sarpa Satra’, the snake sacrifice ‘yajna’ performed by Janamejeya, the son of King Parikshit who was killed by the serpent- Takshak. Janamejeya performed a powerful Dhawan to eliminate all snakes, to take revenge, and kill Takshak. Legend says that a snake got stuck around Surya Bhagavan's chariot and it also got pulled into hawan kund. Sensing the threat of ending the regime of Sun from the universe. The gods pleaded to stop the Yajna. Astika Muni stopped the yajna before Takshaka was killed, and hence the serpent lived.
Although there are many Serpent Gods in Hindu mythology, the images or idols of the following 12 are worshipped on this day:
Ananta, Vasuki, Padma, Shesha, Karkotaka, Kambala, Pingala, Takshaka, Kaliya, Shankhapala, Dhritarashtra and Ashvatara.
On Nag Panchami, the images or idols are first bathed with water and milk and then offerings are made to the Serpent God. Women offer milk, sweets, flowers, and lamps to live snakes, which are normally owned by the snake charmers, in the belief that their prayers would reach the Serpent Gods and seek its blessings. Digging the earth is considered inauspicious on this day as it could disturb the snakes residing there. The significance of this festival in a farmer’s life cannot be underrated as farmers are always at a risk of a snake bite while working in the fields. And so, they worship the snakes for protection.
In many villages, a ‘rangoli’ of a five-hooded snake is made on the floor, with sandalwood or turmeric paste. In front of this rangoli, a silver bowl with a lotus flower in it is placed. Offerings are made to this image on the floor after worshipping it. Women pray for the health and protection of their brothers and happy family life.
At many places, images of snakes are drawn on the doorways and walls outside the house in the belief that it will ward off poisonous snakes. People also worship Lord Shiva, as he is the protector of snakes. Many people keep fast on this day and feed the Brahmins.