Dates with Snakes

Of late it is increasingly being realized that humans are no different from other animals except the complex brains which have triggered us to develop culture and logic. Culture in the perspective of Charles Darwin’s ‘Evolution’ is nothing but extra somatic means of adaptation, which means culture, evolves through the process of human beings’ natural selections from their surrounding world. The adaption and brain put together spurts human creativity that are expressed through myriad rituals, art, music, dance, and so on.

When we talk of adaptation to environment, it includes all forms of life, water, weather and climate, mountains, earth, and so on. People living across geographical regions have adapted deeply to these surroundings and their relationships are best expressed through means of art, painting, rituals, food and songs. Sometimes the interactions are hostile, as in the case of snakes. Snakes bite and kill many people, who live on floors of mud houses that are venerable to snakes. People fear and to get rid from snake bites, pray. They offer milk and other food and perceive them as gods. This, in process turns into an intense rituals activity. Creativity springs through this act resulting depiction of murals in the house walls.

This creative expression of humanity is best viewed in the old city of Ahmedabad, where in most of houses one finds murals depicting snakes and its related material and natural elements.

In 2008, when I lived with Jagdipbhai’s family in Khadia locality of the walled city, Ahmedabad, on weekends I was randomly visiting houses after houses exploring the riddles of pol life. In most households, especially in puja (prayer rooms), I noticed murals painted neatly in black against the walls depicting snakes, centipedes and scorpions along with household objects, such as pots, palna (cradle), butter churning rods and natural elements like sun and moon. These paintings are hardly noticed by any visitors, but those who find them and enquire into the idea behind them they discover a close interaction between the common people of Ahmedabad and their practice of non-violence, even to hostile animals like snakes and how this practice has famed Ahmedabad far and wide.

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These paintings are mostly drawn on the occasion of Nag Panchami during monsoons, when snakes most likely come out of their hides in search of prey. In the past, most of the house floors were not paved forming an ideal space for snakes’ hideout. In monsoons, they often came out from their hides and bite members of families. This curious looking mural evolved as a part of fear. Some of the household elements are painted to please snakes. These include a cradle meant for the snake’s sleeping, pots for water and butter for diet. They believe as – if these items are provided to snakes, they might not come out of their hid to disturb humans. Sun and moon are also painted to show day and night.

Many elderly people I came across told me about the madaris (snake charmers), who before the implementation of the central wild life protection act used to come from nearby villages to the houses of every pol members and then snakes used to be fed by the house members. This was the practice of non-violence in its truest form as it even cared for the wellbeing of wildlife that often harms us.

During my stay at Jagdipbhai’s house, Nag Panchami was celebrated with great love and care. In the morning of the day I saw Jagdipbhai who had woke up early in the morning was preparing the puja room while Suchi bhavi was busy arranging the ritual offerings. In my presence Jagdipbhai painted the mural and then offered puja. When I came back from office, there was another surprise, the yummy prasad, bajra nu laddu and a sweet made of banana and milk. I relished on both the sweets along with other family members.

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Today, when I read and hear about polarized Ahmedabad, which is often known for creating tension between communities, a practise like this raise hope for a different Ahmedabad that is invisible yet vibrant, in a positive spirit of cultural harmony.

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