Monday, May 11, 2020

That Serpentine Allure...

Indians tend to be strangely fixated upon snakes though most tend to piss their pants and run screaming in terror should they chance upon one in the wild. But there is a certain attraction to their fatal beauty and deadly grace. Which is probably why people insist on getting photographed with the poor creatures slung about their shoulders (after they have been de - fanged of course) while on holiday and throng to creature features starring Anacondas that wrap their muscular bodies around their hysterical prey all the better to asphyxiate them or swallowing them whole to be regurgitated later for the shrieking pleasure of the audience. Let us not forget the snake pits in zoo where adults and children point and howl at the slithering reptiles and the baby chick shaped bulge in their abs or those blockbuster movies and shows made about the infamous icchadari nagins popularized by Sridevi back in the day. Even Voldemort couldn't help but unleash the Basilisk or rely heavily on his beloved Nagina.

Janamejaya's great sarpa satra! 
Indian mythology is replete with tales of the fascinating Nagas or the snake people and the curious attraction and revulsion they evoked in people which led to some pretty devastating consequences for them. There is the story of the great serpent sacrifice performed by Janamejaya over the course of 12 years to avenge the death of his father Parikshit by the serrated fang of the serpent King Takshaka which nearly annihilated the serpent race. Then there is the one where Garuda who would eventually become the mount of Vishnu, the Protector was venerated while his half - brothers the snakes would be vilified and the former even receives a boon making snakes his natural prey.

Yet another tale features Ruru's  (a sage who was the descendant of Cyavana) intense dislike of the serpents and his vow to kill any that crossed his path. According to legend, Ruru was all set to marry the beautiful Pramadvara, who had won his heart when she was bitten by an ill - advised serpent just before their wedding. She lay in a swoon, life, youth and beauty being slowly leached from her being as death in the form of Yama drew ever closer. The unfortunate maiden was the daughter of Menaka, the apsara and Vishwavasu, the Gandharva King. Having been forsaken at birth, she was raised by the sage Sthulakesa. Distraught with grief, Ruru pleaded with the greater powers and agreed to give up a portion of his own lifespan to bring Pramadvara back to life. Vishwavasu and Menaka were so grief - stricken by the fate that had overtaken the daughter they had abandoned and moved by the sacrifice her beloved and betrothed meant to make, they interceded on Ruru's behalf with Yama and the God of death and dharma stayed his hand. Pramadvara came back to life having received a portion of Ruru's life essence and the duo were united in holy matrimony and were happy together.

But Ruru never forget the serpents who had nearly taken his wife away from him and he took the dreadful oath to slay every single Naga to cross his path. On one occasion, he came upon a snake belonging to the Dundubha species and raised him staff to strike it, though these snakes were known not to harm humans. The old snake appealed to him most piteously and Ruru stayed his hand briefly to explain the particulars pertaining to the oath he had taken.

The Dundubha listened but told him a tale of its own. In a former life, he had been Rishi Sahasrapat who had played a prank on his friend Kagama. While the latter was at worship, he had fashioned a serpent from blades of grass to frighten him. His friend had not been amused and cursed him to spend long years as a snake (Don't you hate it when people can't take a joke?). When Sahasrapat pleaded with his hot - headed friend, begging to be spared insisting that he had merely done his deed in jest, Kagama relented somewhat and said that he would be restored to his old form if Ruru, the son of Pramati and grandson of Cyavana were to show him mercy. Ruru relented on hearing this story and in gratitude, Sahasrapat having been restored to his original form, gave him some valuable advise in return. He said that the highest virtue a human being could aspire to was to save or spare the lives of others and this was the most sacred lesson bestowed by the Vedas. He then told him the story of Janamejaya's snake sacrifice and the King's decision to show mercy to the Nagas at the behest of Astika and the untold merit he accrued as a result. In this tactful manner, Sahasrapat convinced Ruru to set aside his vow and to leave the snakes alone.

I always remember this story every time I whack a cockroach or lizards with a broom, incinerate flies, mosquitoes with my electric bat, and crush ants with whatever heavy object I can find. It makes me feel a little bad but not enough to desist from crushing creepy - crawlies that insist on living rent - free in my home. Oh well!

Do check out my story of Janamejaya's great snake sacrifice in episode 1 of Mahabharata with Anuja.
You can also watch and re - watch the other episodes right here. 

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