In India, animals, birds and living things have been given a special status. Since ancient times snakes have been worshipped. The Puranas and religious scriptures have described the worship of the snakes and their importance. It is said that the earth (Prithvi) is supported underneath by Sesh Nag (the snake on which god Vishnu sleeps). Therefore the worship of snakes is in gratitude to this reptile.
Snakes are our friends as the saviour of our crops, who eat away the rats, insects and frogs. Their poison is made use of in treating the inflicted diseases. Thus because of their social and scientific reason, Snakes are worshipped.
This festival is held on 5th day of the light half of the Sravan (July-August) in honour of the Nagas. Milk is placed at various places in wide utensil, anticipating their drink by the serpents (Nagas). They are worshipped out of fear and believed to be the earliest form of religion prevalent among men in all parts of the globe, because they are indigenous almost everywhere.
On Naga Panchami day, the women draw the figures of snakes by black powder mixed in cow dung and milk, on the walls of their houses. Then milk, swain (sieved wheat flour), ghee, water, rice, etc., are offered as oblations in worship of snakes. It is believed that the award of this worship is freedom from snakebites in the family.
There are many legends in relation to this festival prevalent in different parts of India. It is said a snake named Kaliya lived in Yamuna river waters. The venom of this snake poisoned the water and damaged the vegetation in the region. Lord Krishna killed it and since then Naga Panchami worship commenced.
Another legend states that once a woman trampled a snake at night. The snake followed her to bite there it saw that the same woman was giving milk to offspring of a snake. The snake changed its mind and went off. It was the day of Naga Panchami.
These legends prove the love and safety of the living ones. Therefore on this day no digging of the earth is done. Nagas are offered milk because Naga is the form of death. The milk taken by snakes and Nagas soothes their anguish. This belief is supported by Gautam Buddha (founder of Buddhism).
The story states that in a certain village, there was the horror of a snake. When Buddha heard that, he went in front of the snake with a vessel full of milk, that day was Naga Panchami day. He said, “Oh! Lord, accept this and save the villages from your bites.” The snake drank the milk and went away. Since then no snake ever bites anyone in that village. This is way Naga Panchami festivals is celebrated and milk is fed to the snakes.
A legend related to this festival is that once, while ploughing his field, a farmer incidentally killed three offspring of a snake. The snake mother took revenge and in the darkness bit the farmer, his wife and his two sons. The only one left in the family was a daughter.
Next morning the mother snake came out to bite the daughter. The daughter put a vessel of milk before her and asking her pardon, stood in prayer. The snake mother was pleased and restored life to her parents and brothers. Since then this festival of Naga Panchami is celebrated in veneration of the snakes.
Hardevji temple in Jaipur, is a special attraction on this day of the Naga Panchami festival.