Friday 22 February 2013

Praying and playing with scorpions

This is one festival that is sure to send shivers down your spine. It is also sure to sting your senses as it has a lot to do with belief and tradition rather than science and rationality.
The festival is unique as people from all communities, irrespective of their class, creed, religion and even age participate enthusiastically.  Children join their parents and men and women who have gone away from the village on work or job return on that day to specially take part in the festival.
The festival is held once an year and the entire village empties out onto to a nearby hillock with scores of other devotes to climb a hill. It is here that the festival acquires its “stinging” character.
The villagers and devotes, including children, sing songs, pray to the deity and then begin searching for scorpions beneath boulders and rocks on the hill.
On this particular day, a scorpion is found under every boulder and the devotes take it put and place it on their hands, legs, stomach and even their face and tongue. The scorpions come in all sizes and shapes and all of them are poisonous and they have their tails up ready to sting.
However, on this day they neither sting nor shy away from human contact. Scorpions generally are shy creatures and they scurry away to the safety of a nook or corner. They rarely sting unless they are touched. But  in this case, they neither flee from human touch nor do they sting. Rather, they remain in touch with the human beings with no discomfort.
This is how the villagers of Kandakoor in Yadgir district celebrate Naga Panchami, the festival of snakes every year.
Naga Panchamani falls on the fifth day of the bright half of Shravan month of Hindu calendar and devout Hindus worship Nagao s snake on this day. But the people of Kandakoor, which is about 20 kilometres from Yadgir, worship the idol of a scorpion and play with scorpions too. Of course, they worship snakes too.
The villagers worship scorpions as Chelina jatre  or fair of Scorpions. What really makes this festival truly secular is that all people in the village, irrespective of  their religion and social standing, celebrate Naga Panchami  by preparing sweets in their houses and then trekking up to a nearby hill called Cholina or Chelina Betta or hill of scorpions.
Even women, born in the village but married to men living in other villages, come back for this festival to worship the Scorpion Goddess who is locally called Kondammai.
The villagers go to Chelina Betta between 3 p. m., to 6p.m., on Naga Panchami. They trek up the hill, singing folk songs. They then gather and worship Kondammai and a statue of a snake. After this begins the bizarre ritual of hunting for scorpions.
The villagers are absolutely certain that there will be a scorpion under each big boulder or rock. The children too seem to enjoy playing with scorpions. They place the scorpions on different parts of their bodies, including tongue and face.
So far, there has not been a single case of scorpion bite on this day. After playing with the scorpions, the villagers bring them to the temple and place them before the deity. They then offer saree, oil and coconut to the deity, pray to it and then start their descent.
A strange fact, which I can personally vouch for is that no scorpion will be found from the day following Naga Panchami.
 The temple belongs to the Boyin community.
Kandkoor is an isolated village and borders Andhra Pradesh. The bizzare ritual, the inactivity of the scorpions on Naga Panchami, their disappearance the next day and the fearlessness of even children have all confounded the district administration and even scientists.
Yadagir is approachable by both road and rail from Bangalore. It is 492 kms from Bangalore.

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