Naga Panchami is celebrated across the nation in honor of the snake god Naga. Naga literally means 'serpent' and panchami is the 'fifth day'. So Nag Panchami is the festival which is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright fortnight in the lunar month of Shravan. The roots of this celebration is clearly not known, but fear is said to be one of the major factors driving the celebration as it is believed that if the devotee bathes the snake on this day, he gets the freedom from the dangers associated with snake bites for himself and his family.
It is also theorised that the custom of snake-worship has come from the "Nag" clan, a highly developed tribe who lived in ancient India. The Indus Valley civilisation of 3000 B.C. gives ample proof of the popularity of snake-worship amongst the Nagas, whose culture was fairly wide-spread in India even before the Aryans came.
Hindu myth is also populated with several beliefs regarding Snake gods. References about Snake gods can be found in the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna tells Arjuna that Vasuki and Ananta represent him amongst the Sarpas and Nagas. The Hindu Puranas also mention the Nagas and the Sarpas. In the Bhagavata Purana, Vasuki and eleven other Nagas are mentioned as forming the string of the sun's chariot, one serpent being held to be sacred to each month. The Markandeya Purana embodies the well-known story of the marriage of Madalasa, a Naga princess of superb beauty, with King Kulvalasva.
The period in which the festival is observed is significant in understanding the belief about Nag Panchami. It is observed during the month of Shravana (July/August) which corresponds with heavy rains and harvest season across the sub-continent. During this time, snakes leave their holes in the flooded fields and jungles and enter the habitations of man. A large number of snake bites are also documented during this period, as farmers to reap the harvest of their crops have to expose themselves to the bites of poisonous snakes such as the cobra lurking among the dense crop. Pleasing the Snake gods provides a psychological relief for the poor farmers and inhabitants of rural areas.
In South India, Naga Panchami is celebrated with great devotion in the many snake temples that exist in the region. On the festive morning, thousands of people throng these temples and worship stone or metal icons of the cosmic serpent Ananta Naga or Shesha Naga. They pray for the prosperity and happiness of the entire family and offer milk and other food items to the deities. The Nagaraja Temple in Kerala is one such place where elaborate worship of the snake-god can be seen complete with the performance of the rituals associated with the occasion.
In Malabar, the Nag Panchami is observed on the fifth of Sravana when the star Aslesha is in the ascendant. On this day, the Nambudiris worship the snake-god by bathing the god (most likely a stone or metal image of ophidian deity) in milk and paying obeisances to the divine being.
The rituals followed in different parts of India, for Naga Panchami, are unique in their own terms. For instance, in Punjab, one can see a large dough snake being created and then paraded around the villages of the state. The parade is often accompanied by singing and dancing. The virtual snake is buried at the end of the parade, to mark the culmination of the ritual. Coming to Maharashtra, women offer milk, flowers, haldi (turmeric powder) and kumkum to the dangerous snakes that are carried by snake charmers.
Wish Naga Panchami brings happiness to people all across the nation.