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Snake Festival

The Snake Festival of Battis Shirala, a village in Sangli district of Maharashtra is one of the most amazing festivals one comes across in the state. The queerest thing about the festival is that villagers worship live, poisonous snakes which are not defanged. The otherwise sleepy hamlet comes alive on the Nag Panchami day as thousands of snake devotees, curious visitors and locals come here to experience this astounding festival firsthand.

History of the Battis Shirala Snake Festival

The village Battis Shirala is situated about 60 km from Sangli city in the western region of the state. Battis in Marathi means 32, and indicates that there are 32 small villages in the Shirala taluka. The Nag Panchami festival which falls on the fifth day of Shravan Maas (July/August) is observed all over the state but at Battis Shirala, it is a major festival. According to folklore, the Snake Festival is more than 100 years old. It reflects the faith the ancestors of the villagers had in Lord Shiva. Nag or Snake is one of the embellishments that Lord Shiva has on his body. It is coiled around the neck of the Lord according to Hindu mythology.

It is believed that only the villagers of Battis Shirala are allowed by the Lord to catch the snakes for the festivals. The villagers seek the permission of their native Goddess Amba Bai by placing a flower on the head of the deity. Those whose flower falls on the left side of the idol only are allowed to catch the snakes.

Preparing for the Snake Festival

The preparation for the Snake Festival begins at least two weeks before Nag Panchami. Villagers, especially the farming community, clean their cattle and decorate them. They are fed specially prepared delicacies. Soon after this they go looking for snakes. They are adept at snake catching and can track the location of the snake by simply looking at the marks made on the soil by the snake’s movements. Even the most venomous of snakes such as the hooded cobra are caught by tracking then down to their holes. Interestingly, the incidents of snake bites are rare during the festival. If it does happen or if the snakes get hurt during the process of catching them, it is considered by the villagers to be a bad omen.

Battis Shirala is believed to have about 70 to 80 groups of snake catchers. Each group catches about five to six snakes for the festival. The snakes are kept in an earthen pot and the top covered with a cloth. These pots are then kept suspended in the homes of the farmers. They are fed rats and frogs every day in a ritual that’s called Dav Pajane or feeding food.

On The Day of the Nag Panchami Festival

The pots are taken to homes of neighbors for women to worship them after which they are taken to the temple of the Goddess on Nag Panchami Day to seek the blessings of Devi Amba Bai. The snakes are then showcased by the groups in open space, on vehicles, tractors etc in a rally that’s performed with high decibel celebration and pomp. The rally continues till late in the evening. Adequate precautions are taken in the form of ready availability of snake treatment and medications.

There were even prizes given away for the longest snake and the most unique looking snake etc. However, a few years back, the courts ruled that the handling of snakes in this manner was inappropriate and banned their catching.

How to Reach Battis Shirala

Battis Shirala is about 50 km from Kolhapur and 65 km from Sangli. It is approximately 20 km from Peth Naka, a by-pass en route Kolhapur. State transport buses, cabs and autos are also available to take you to Battis Shirala from Peth Naka. The nearest railway station is Kolhapur which is 60 km away. Mumbai is approximately nine hours away and Pune is about four hours from Shirala by road.

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