Durlabh Singh, a poet, artist and writer, gives the remarkable account of an Indian village coping with an invasion of snakes.
The greenery then takes over with miles and miles of paddy fields cover the long stretches of countryside with men and women in muddy fields planting the stalks of the crop. Some transplant the seedlings with a definite plan when the insert these up to three centimeters into the soil, at definite distance. The others do the transplants at random distances. Most plant it during rainy season as it increases vegetation for mutual shading of the growing plants.
While wading through the deep mud, few people come across other small creatures usually the crawling ones liked worms or other creatures like snakes who are usually try to find a higher ground s of the village from the flooded lowlands. The planters are bound to step on theses creatures unknowingly and during the years there has been fatalities from snakebites but not many as majority of theses creatures are of non poisonous type but when is bitten he/she is likely to get into shock and panic whatever type the snake may be. There is a hospital few miles away which keep the antidote serum and one is lucky to reach it, the fatality can be cured.
Some years back the crops began to fail due to lack of seasonal rains or decrease of yield from the paddy field and most people could not account for that sudden change. There has been droughts before but were offset with adequate monsoon the following years but it was difficult to pinpoint the reduction yields from the harvests regularly. The priest performed some rituals for enhanced yields but without much success. They consulted other specialist in the farming industry but no one could explain the reason for it. Villagers put some extra labor and hard work into their fields and then left the whole thing in the laps of gods as they have done whatever they could do.
Then the rains came with a vengeance and it rained perpetually for four days without any stop. All the land around the village was flooded and so were the low-lying surroundings villages. It did not do much damage to Sunder Gaon due to its elevated position on the and. The villagers observed that besides people coming from the adjacent districts to take shelter on the higher grounds of the village, there were other creatures too doing the same thing. There were snakes too seeking shelter in the village by swimming through the flood-waters.
On the first day of such happenings, people sighted about half a dozen of these creatures but soon their numbers began to increase to the dread of the villagers who tried to lock themselves behind their doors and watched the panorama through the windows or through chinks of their doors. The strange thing that they noticed was that the army of snakes kept themselves to a piece of a plot outside the village and did not move into the vicinity of village where most people were inhabitant. In order to discuss further action they decided to have a meeting in the village temple. They discussed all the options opened to them. Firstly to leave the snakes alone but there were many flaws with this proposition. Suppose their numbers even increased to enormous proportion? They would take over the village and then the villagers had to leave their land and this was impossible to envisage. They could not leave the village, they depended on their lands and farms to make a living and they could not simply be driven out by those lowly creatures. They had to take a firmer action and a united stand, they had to either kill them or drive them back to the territories where they had come from.
Before mapping out their strategy they observed the creatures from a safe distance. There were creatures of all sizes and colours. The majority were the king cobras but others were there including rat snakes who lived mostly on catching the rats of which there were plenty in the village and the fields. They would be useful in protecting their crops from the vermin. There were so many other varieties and they called a snake expert to identify those.
The expert identified numerious varities both poisnous and non- poisnous. He explained that most of these were king cobras. Most of these are near sighted creatures and are all colour blind and do not have eye lids to cover their eyes. They can smell pretty well by their sensitive tongues but not much by their nostrils. The tongue normally picks up odour molecules. There were few pythons and pit vipers too and these have sensing pits, which can help them to and catch detect warm-blooded animals like rodents and birds even in complete darkness.
Dog-faced water snakes can catch and swallow fish and other marine creatures. When they come on the land, their movements are rapid and so sometime are called ‘side winders.’ People were anxious to know how the venomous snake kill their victims and the expert explained that their venom is not composed of a single substance but was toxic saliva made up of a mixture of chemical enzymes. Their victims are killed in two ways.Through blood toxin, which attacks the blood circulatory system damaging muscle tissues and causing excessive scarring and gangrene, which may result in amputation of a limb.
The poison attacks the central nervous system too resulting in heart failure, breathing difficulties and eventually to respiratory paralysis. The death then occurs due to collapse of the whole bodily system. At this time, the chief priest intervened and put forward reasons for not killing the creatures. He directed the audience to ancient mythological scriptures where the serpent has been a symbol of the flow of energy in human body as in kundalini yoga where the serpent power lies coiled at the lowest chakra or energy center of the body and when it is awakened and made to travel upwards earth, water, heat, air and space charka and comes to eye center where yogi can control its flow to master the lower charka and becomes controller of material reality and further when this female force Paravati meets its consort Shiva residing in brain chakra, a yogi tastes enlightenment.
Furthermore ancient Indian sculpture depicted union of Naga and Nagini as significant metaphysical truth of universe as the creative union of male and female forces. Further example of such visual arts being Lord Vishnu riding in a snake vehicle and seven hooded cobra protecting Jina in his meditation. During the festival of Nag Panchmi the snakes are revered as cobras are trapped, worshipped, fed with rats and then set free. Due to its intrinsic power the snake is both revered and reviled. Krishna has to battle with a king snake to subdue its power and sometime is depicted in blue body color as a result of snake poison.
The people heeded the pleas of the priest and asked him how they could win the co-operation of the snakes for their benefits as otherwise they have to get rid of all those creeping creatures. The priest thought about it but stated he could not give an answer straight away and the matter needs to be thought over and he would have a plan ready in two days time and the people agreed as most of them were inclined to abhorrence of killing any living creatures however revile they might have looked in appearance.
They gathered in village hall again to listen to the priest again. He need to perform a ritualistic ceremony to charm the snakes as not to bite people or used their venom against any of the village inhabitant. Recitation of simple mantras would not do, he had to organize some dramatic and theatrical performance. In the meantime people saw that the snakes were getting lethargic and there was alack of movements among them and people
Concluded that the creatures were getting weaker on account of lack of food and the women of the village took jugs of milk and earthen pots near that place. They poured milk into those pots and waited whether anything happened. To the amazement of people
The snakes began to move towards it attracted by the prospects of food and sensing the milk due to their acute sense of smell and people were happy that they done a good deed by dint of saving a few snake which otherwise might have died due to hunger. Children were especially entertained by that strange spectacle and imitated their crawling movements in the village to the amusements of the adults.
The priest recruited some dancing girls and separas (snake charmers)for the performance and schedule it for certain day. The villagers began to tempt the snakes by placing the food in and around the temple and they succeeded so and when any snake strayed into the people’s home, they chased it to the temple by show of raised sticks and other threatening gestures. In that way the snakes began to be trained by spoken words and gestures just like a dog gets trained by its owner.
The performance took place one afternoon in the temple. The dancing girls were dressed like snakes in their stripped costumes, as snake goddesses, with hoods on their heads and when people thronged to the hall and sat, the snakes were invited too by putting saucers of milk around the stage. Few guards stood with their sticks ready in case of any mishap and then the show began. The separas came with their beens or musical pipes made of dried bottle gourd plant and started an orchestra of their specially composed tunes. They were dressed in saffron robes and made an impressive scenes. The dancing girls began to dance first in slow movements putting a spell on the snakes and with the snake charmers movements and music, the creatures were impressed and came under a sort of spell. The cobras stood with their hoods erect and danced to music too, swaying with the movements. The people in the hall were spell bound too, with the misty evening sun rays filtering through the windows. This impressive show lasted for sometime.
Things changed for the better for the village and that year there was an abundant yield from the village crops and sine year in and out it has not diminished and people are becoming prosperous and most people attribute it to the presence of snakes in the village. More snakes have come to stay and now there are nearly three thousand of them or one snake for two of the inhabitants. The creatures have learnt to keep away at arms length from people. In the morning they go to houses for their daily breakfast and are fed by the woman folk. Most people have become used to their sight and are not alarmed accept the strangers or the travelers to the village.
Recently the village was accorded with a certificate for preserving the wild life the district and gets mentioned in prestigious publications.
Durlabh Singh is an artist currently living in London, England. He was born In Nairobi, Kenya of Indian parentage. He has lived in London for over 40 years, though he serves as an international artistic ambassador to the world. You can find out more about him and view his art on his websites: